The Curse of Knowledge in Science Writing and Marketing

Knowledge can be a curse.

What song is this?

Dumm, da, dum-dum,
Dum, dum, dum
Dum, dum, dum
Dum, dum, dum
Dumm, da, dum-dum,
Dum, dum, dum
Dum-dum, dum-dum, dumm

Pretty hard, right?

The answer is “Mary had a Little Lamb.” Now go back and see how easy it is.

This is an excellent example of the “curse of knowledge.” When you know something, you see the world through a different lens.

My “dumm, da, dum-dum “s makes perfect sense to me but are difficult to decode for someone else. From my perspective, I am doing an excellent job of communicating. From your perspective, I am writing gibberish.

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that makes it difficult to imagine what it’s like not to know something. Once we know something, we can’t help but think everyone else knows it too. As a result, we find it hard to explain complex ideas to others and often make the mistake of underestimating how much they already know.

The curse of knowledge can be a serious problem for science writers and marketers. Writing about complex scientific products or concepts requires both clear and compelling communication. Creators must overcome the curse of knowledge to create engaging work.

How do you overcome the curse of knowledge? Here are some tips.

What is the Core Concept?

One of the best ways to overcome the curse of knowledge in science communication is to simplify a complex concept into its core idea. What is the essential thought you want to communicate? By breaking down complicated concepts, writers can better explain them clearly and concisely.

By reducing a complex concept to its most basic form, you create an easily understandable message that resonates with your target audience. For example, when selling a new medical device or treatment, most people don’t care about the intricate details of how it works. Writers and marketers should focus on how it can benefit patients’ lives. This can help engage potential customers and generate more interest in the product or service by demonstrating how it solves real-world problems.

To ensure clarity, you need to distill your messages down to one main thought that is simple yet powerful enough to grab the attention of viewers or readers. What is the benefit offered by this product? Why are you trying to communicate this concept? You should avoid confusing your audience by keeping your eye on this idea.

Of course, be careful to not become too repetitive or pushy. Scientists hate to be talked down to.

Understanding the Audience

Understanding the audience is essential for science communicators to overcome the curse of knowledge. Specifically, what does your audience know about, and what do they care about? It is tough to create content that starts at square one, so if you understand where your reader or viewer is coming from, you will be better positioned to cover the topic they are interested in.  

One way to better understand your target audience is by conducting market research. Interview your potential customers and get a sense of their knowledge of the subject and what they care about most. Market research can also help marketers understand what type of content resonates most with the audience and how they prefer to receive it (e.g., text-based vs. video). Even individual writers can conduct interviews with their target readers to better understand their knowledge of a topic and their interests.

By taking the time to understand their target audiences’ backgrounds, interests, and needs, science marketers are better equipped with the knowledge necessary to effectively communicate complex concepts without falling victim to the curse of knowledge bias. A thorough understanding of one’s target customers enables science marketers to craft more relatable and engaging messages, resulting in better conversions and higher ROI for their companies.

Avoid Jargon

Jargon can be a major roadblock when it comes to science marketing. Jargon is an industry-specific language that can easily confuse potential customers who may need help understanding technical terms or concepts. As such, it is crucial for science marketers to avoid jargon when communicating complex ideas and products.

By eliminating industry-specific terms, marketers can make their ideas more accessible to a broader range of people. This helps them convey their message in clear and concise language that everyone can understand. Additionally, using non-technical language allows writers to focus on the core theme of an article rather than getting bogged down in overcomplicated explanations of how something works.

Removing jargon is relatively easy. Once your writing is complete, reread it explicitly looking for technical terminology. Ask yourself: would my mother, dad, or neighbor know what this term means? If the answer is “no,” consider if it needs to be there. Some jargon is necessary or even helpful, depending on the audience, but you should always take the time to verify that it is required.

This relates to a broader issue: overcomplicated writing. As a rule of thumb, your writing should be aimed at a 6th grade reading level. Your writing will be easier to consume, which will lead to better impact.

Overcoming the Curse of Knowledge

Science writers and marketers routinely face the curse of knowledge bias when they become so familiar with a product or service that they can no longer think from their customers’ perspectives. This often leads to jargon-filled explanations and an inability to simplify complex concepts, which can be significant roadblocks in marketing products or services.

However, by avoiding jargon, science content creators can make their messages more relatable and accessible to a broader range of people. By considering how customers interpret complex terms or concepts, science marketers can better explain these ideas in understandable ways, even for those unfamiliar with the industry.

Jesse Harris, M.Sc., M.A.Sc.
Jesse Harris, M.Sc., M.A.Sc.

Jesse is a Marketing and Communications Specialist at ACD/Labs. He has graduate degrees in Chemistry and an MASc in Chemical engineering. Jesse has been writing on the internet since 2016, and is passionate about science writing and marketing.

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