Notations for conversation


Our conversation are often supported by some sort of notation.

Text in prose being the most common (used in emails, Skype, etc.), we don’t argue about the power of a quick drawing, an image or a schematic diagram to make something easier to understand.

These artifacts use specific notations. They make description shorter, easier to understand, faster to explain. And it is often simpler to make and identify changes.

When used efficiently, notations enhances the communication of a complex idea. It makes a conversation more focused, and people can get to agreement faster. A good notation doesn’t break the flow of the conversation: it drives the conversation.

But… it comes with limitation

The limitation of notations is the audience. I cannot use a musical score with everyone. Same for an electronic scheme or an HTML page. The audience is trained. Musicians, electricians, or computers.

Notations are complex and therefore need to be used wisely. Only a few people master the meaning of all the elements and can get the real value of a notation, and let themselves guided. In most conversation, there will always be someone who doesn’t get the sense of a given element of the notation. The conversation will be paused so it can be explained, and resumed once everyone agreed on it. Valuable time is lost on the notation rather than the actual topic that was discussed.

Having to explain the notation breaks the flow of the conversation instead of making it faster. Which is the primary aim of a notation. Otherwise we would just write prose.

Notations are powerful; but dangerous. Use them wisely.


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