The Problems With Assumed Knowledge


I’ve been writing for almost two years now. In that time, I’ve written short stories, chapters of books that may never be finished, poems, research papers, but above all, I have written many essays. These essays focus on a range of topics including culture, social issues, media, philosophy, and ideology. I love writing. Writing these essays is something I’m passionate about. Though there has been one problem I, and I’m sure many others, have always come across when writing essays. I’ve always had trouble with Assumed Knowledge.

Assumed Knowledge is all of the wisdom, intellect, logical prowess, and of course knowledge that the author assumes is in the general reader’s repertoire. This is a crucial aspect for how authors communicate certain ideas to the reader.

Writing essays about topics is not inherently hard. Depending on the topic and focus, an essay’s difficulty can change wildly. But usually my essays present a type of argument or an analysis of something with a focus on ideology. So usually my essays present a complex idea, and this means I regularly have to wrestle with writing for the prerequisite/assumed knowledge I assume the general person possesses. There’s constant debate with myself over how to structure sentences, word choice, and what to/not to explain. There are two components of Assumed Knowledge I struggle with when writing these essays: Tangential Information and Logic Expression.

Tangential Information is any information relevant to the topic at hand, but not exactly a part of the central focus of it. Side information, if you will. It’s information not exactly at the core of the essays discussion but is important in understanding the point and perspective as a whole. It also aids in providing context and components possibly necessary for full understanding. Tangential information needs to be kept under control though. Too much tangential information and you run the risk of having your work become unfocused, incoherent in its overall communication of the idea, excessively long, over-explaining, and influent. Possibly resulting in the reader being lost, misunderstanding the overall message, or needing to reread. Implement too little Tangential Information and you risk your full concept not completely coming across to the reader; resulting in confusion and misunderstanding. So every essay is a battle of what I should and should not say and how short or long I should make each statement.

Logic Expression is exactly what it sounds like, explaining the logic behind something. Some statements don’t need any explanation because the reader will just click with the A-B logic and understand (like this statement). It’s not so easy when you’re talking about more complicated ideas. Ideally you may not want them to necessarily agree with, but at least understand the concept you’re presenting. The more logical intricacies your concept has, the more parts you have to explain. With a lot of parts in a complicated concept you can’t just say it and expect people to click on your wavelength, you have to explain why it is that way. So when you’re writing these essays it’s like a little kid in your mind constantly going “why, why, why”. You try to explain it, but even your explanation requires some form of prerequisite knowledge, of things too numerous to count, to understand. You try and write the most bare-bones logic to explain it, but even that doesn’t feel like it will properly explain things 100 percent. It doesn’t ensure understanding. Then you begin to wonder if you can explain and use pure logic behind a complex idea. There are even balancing problems with Logic Expression.  Write too much and your reader may feel patronized to, or get bored and fed up because you’re over-explaining and/or taking too long. Write too little and your concept won’t click, will be misinterpreted, and not understood.
So as much as writers would like to explain all of the incredible little details to the smallest of thought processes, we can’t. Either because of time’s sake or because the logical ball is in the reader’s court. Truth be told I don’t know if you can ensure understanding, but that shouldn’t be a discouragement. Sometimes it just comes down to a clash in the thought process; as the reason why a reader doesn’t understand. If you think your statement doesn’t fully explain things, you should go into detail. But just know that sometimes you may not be able to guarantee the effectiveness of your work, and some ideas can only make it across through discussion with the reader. It’s really all a balancing act between a quality of the essay and a lecture.


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