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Recently, I started writing articles about different subjects I learn on my own (programming, logic ...etc).

While writing, I have this tendency to overexplain, I know that readers are smart, but I still think that there is room for misunderstanding, so I tend to repeat myself and oversimplify things unconsciously.

Is is just a feeling? how do I know if I am over-simplifying and over-explaining the material?

Edit

This is an example :

The first argument is a Deductive Argument, in that it has Premise 1, Premise 2, and a conclusion .. And we may also consider it an Inductive Argument, in that we can verify Premise 1 and 2 inductivly, by means of observation, to determine whether Socrates has a beard, or whether all Greeks have beards, and to conclude whether the conclusion is probably true or false.

So, to some extent, we can consider some Deductive Arguments to be also Inductive Arguments. You can think of our argument this way inductively :

Premise 1: Socrates is a Greek (Inductively Probably True, because most records and accounts about Socrates refer to him as a Greek, and his name is a Greek name).

Premise 2: All Greeks have beards. (Inductively False, because many Greeks today apparently do not have beards, and many statues of ancient Greeks have no beards, therefore the statement is false).

Conclusion: Socrates has a beard. (The statement is probably Inductively True, since we have statues, paintings and references depicting Socrates as a man with a beard, therefore we know that this is probably True). Notice that our argument, although deductively valid, has one inductively false premise (Premise 2), and this does not make the conclusion necessarily inductively false.

Which means that the relationship between induction and deduction is very tricky.

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    Hi SmootQ, and welcome to Writers SE. Your question is certainly legitimate, but it relies a bit too much on the external links. Could you please elaborate more in the question itself? – Liquid Feb 22 at 16:16
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    Liquid took the words out of my mouth. The articles are also very long, maybe you could provide a specific example where you think you might be overexplaining. That would be very helpful! – Spectrosaurus Feb 22 at 16:17
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    I edited my question, thank you both. – SmootQ Feb 22 at 16:24
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    Hi SmootQ! Welcome to Writing.SE. There is sort of a problem with your question. "How do I avoid over-explaining" or "how do I know when I've explained the subject adequately, and when I'm over-explaining" are great questions. "Do I over-explain" borders on being a critique request, which we don't do. Since my guess is you're not interested only in whether you over-explain, would you like to edit your question? You can find out more on what we consider "great questions" under How to Ask. :-) – Galastel Feb 22 at 16:37
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    @Galastel , yes I think it is better : "How to know you are over-explaining and oversimplifying a subject?" , I edited the question, thanks again. – SmootQ Feb 22 at 17:18
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The example you give is not overexplained. I assume that shortly before this section you define deduction and induction, and now you are giving an example for it. This is fine. Especially when it comes to logic and science, it is actually often quite important to emphasize the points of the explanation that are different from what we intuitively think to be true. You do that here by giving an explicit example and going through it piece by piece. That is a good thing.

However, I agree with wetcircuit that the bigger picture is something that is very important. There is a rule for scientific talks: Only ever dip shortly into the complex stuff, and then come back to the big picture. This means: Start at the surface, with things that are easy to comprehend for laymen. Then slowly go deeper to explain the first complexity of the topic you are talking about. Then go back up to the surface, i.e. to the big picture. Repeat this pattern until you have explained every complexity that needs to be explained to this audience, then summarize again in Big Picture Mode.

There's another rule: Assume that your audience is clueless. If you give a talk in front of scientists, assume they are not scientists, but students who have never heard of your topic. The reason for this is that we always underestimate how difficult it is to follow someone else's reasoning. If you design your explanation in a way that you think a child can understand it, you have actually designed an explanation that a teenager can understand, etc.

So these would be my tips for the complexity of the content. Now to the style itself - I think what you interpret as "overexplaning" is actually redundancy and imprecision. Example:

So, to some extent, we can consider some Deductive Arguments to be also Inductive Arguments. You can think of our argument this way inductively :

"To some extent"? "Some"? This is imprecise bloat. Consider using a bold font and to keep the statement on point, i.e.

Conclusion: Deductive Arguments can also be Inductive Arguments.

And I am not quite sure what "You can think of our argument this way inductively :" is supposed to mean. I believe what you mean here is that the argument, which was probably something like "Socrates had a beard because he is Greek and all Greeks have beards", can be analyzed on the basis of whether the individual statements are inductively true.

In general I am not quite sure whether the content is correct here. As far as I know, a conclusion is logically false if it is based on a wrong deduction, even if the statement itself is true.

  • Thank you, this is the article, it is very long and I do not know if this is supposed to be good, otherwise there is something I oversimplified : mohamedtaqi.com/learn/logic/introduction-to-logic/… +1 – SmootQ Feb 22 at 16:54
  • That's exactly what I feel I am doing : "Assume that your audience is clueless." ... But I think that it leads to long articles. – SmootQ Feb 22 at 16:56
  • "which was probably something like "Socrates had a beard because he is Greek and all Greeks have beards", can be analyzed on the basis of whether the individual statements are inductively true." - Yes that's what I mean, I will re-write this article ... Deductive Arguments can be studied on two levels : the logical form (deduction), and then the premises themselves (and whether they are inductively true or not). – SmootQ Feb 22 at 16:59
  • Now that I read that portion, I see a potential for confusion. – SmootQ Feb 22 at 17:00
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    I do not feel that you overexplain in the example. I would even say, looking at the article itself, that you should add some general explanations of deduction and induction before diving into the example. It is also unclear how that all connects to evidence. So there are some problems here, but I do not think overexplaining is the problem. Rather staying on topic, being concise and clear, not reiterating what you already explained, etc. But overexplaining as in "Everybody knows inductive reasoning, just get on with it!!"... nope, that's not a problem here. – Spectrosaurus Feb 22 at 17:03
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Your approach might be too fundamentalist for general use.

Try to gauge your audience. Beginners need simple, easy-to-follow steps that focus on how to, rather than why. They also need a 10,000-mile overview of the entire process, without too much granular detail.

The fundamentalist approach is not for beginners. Even though it is extremely thorough, it is more for an intermediate or advanced user who is already familiar with the 10,000 mile view and needs to know more about the details and the whys (the "fundamentals").

Beginner audiences receive less information over a broader view, fundamental audiences get granular detail about a narrower topic (or sub-topic).

  • Thank you ! I see, so .. what to do when you feel as if the reader will not understand you easily (or misunderstand) , would that mean that you will have to re-write the previous paragraphs, or you continue and add in more explanation? +1 – SmootQ Feb 22 at 16:28
  • And the second option would make the article longer. – SmootQ Feb 22 at 16:28
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    I think you have to respect the limits of how much the audience can take in and still be 1 topic. Better to sectionalize fundamental discussions so they are separate sub-topics. No matter the topic or level of detail, readers want to understand HOW MUCH information they are taking in, and HOW MUCH TIME it will take to get through it. Obviously a technical book, is not an online tutorial…. Medium and format (practical limitations outside your control) will dictate how much scope will fit within 1 section. – wetcircuit Feb 22 at 16:41
  • that's the mistake I fall in, I start writing and when I finish I find that what I write is quite long... As if I write it for me. – SmootQ Feb 22 at 17:13
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Are you over-explaining? No.

The rule of thumb in explaining something technical is to assume your reader is intelligent, but lacks expertise in your subject. Such a reader probably needs an example of something fitting a definition, and (as per your excerpt) only one example. Sir Gilbert Ryle had an unfortunate habit of giving 3-5 examples of most of his points, at least in The Concept of Mind. There's one context you may need to discuss more than one application of the idea: if you know people tend to erroneously think X is an example of Y, highlight that and explain why it isn't.

Another general point about explanation, not necessarily applicable here:

Stephen Pinker's The Sense of Style defends classic style for this purpose. Classic style tries to orient a reader's perspective so they can "see" that which they're asked to reason about. Pinker calls such an approach "congenial to the worldview of the scientist"; good exposition is symptomatic of good understanding. He quotes examples of authors, such as Richard Dawkins and Brian Greene, who use this to address an intelligent but inexpert reader when explaining scientific concepts. I'm not saying you should read the whole book, but classic style is worth learning about, if only to give you some ideas.

Are you over-simplifying? Yes.

One other idea I think would help with the case at hand is to make sure you spell out your points well enough you can't be accused of misunderstanding something you haven't. If you can flesh out what you know that well, your reader's less likely to get confused. Essentially, the point you're making in the above excerpt is that a concise deductive argument's premises may have inductive justifications separate from that deductive argument. It'd be all too easy to misread you as implying this threatens the classification of arguments themselves. Plus you haven't mentioned other kinds of reasoning (e.g. abductive), which may give the false impression there aren't any.

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    Thank you so much, I will check Stephen Pinker's work ... By the way , my bad I removed the link to the lessons , I started them and now I feel I do not like my style, there is a lesson on abductive reasoning too mohamedtaqi.com/learn/logic/introduction-to-logic thanks again, +1 – SmootQ Feb 22 at 17:56
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A textbook I used to use for technical writing had this on the cover

Nobody wants to read what you write.

That sounds discouraging, but often people are looking at technical information to answer a specific question or solve a problem. Even if I'm getting lost in a Wikipedia Hole, it's because I had a question. (It then became three more questions...)

Always consider audience and purpose. Who is reading and why?

My drafts are long, too, but when I edit, I try to focus on the reader's next question.

A great resource is www.plainlanguage.gov .

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    That website shows, encouragingly, that it's not so much about a lowballed estimate of people's vocabulary (which always bothers me) as crafting a sentence well. – J.G. Feb 22 at 22:42
  • @April Thanks for your answer, I check plainlanguage, sounds interesting. As am not a native speaker, I usually tend to use plain easy English, but sometimes I throw a difficult word here and there. +1 – SmootQ Feb 23 at 9:17

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