Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cut to the chase

I’ve been writing for the Web for decades, and the first lesson I learned was to get to the point. The necessity of doing so was reinforced recently after I was stung on the thumb by a bee.

My first thought: Eeeeyow, this hurts.
My second thought: What do I do now? Better check the Web for the best treatment.
My third thought, after having checked the Web: CUT TO THE CHASE!

When time is of the essence, and my thumb is swelling to the size of a big toe, I don’t want tips about how it’s best to avoid bees. It’s too stinging late for that. Now what?

Several articles began by listing the side effects of bee stings. Yes, it’s hot, red, swelling, and really, really painful. Tell me something I don’t know – like what to do now.

I sprinkled some baking soda onto the sting, based on a hazy memory of kitchen home remedies. But would an onion have been better? Steak sauce? A steak itself? I couldn’t remember.

C’mon Web, cough up an answer.

I stumbled upon a promising article titled, “How To Treat a Bee Sting,” and the first words were less than encouraging: Bee stings are either annoyingly painful or deadly… Then followed tips about avoiding bees. Argggggh.

Slate had a long article about the best remedies for a bee sting, but it was probably meant as future knowledge rather than a prescription for an immediate need. Before getting to any useful answers, I had to sort through the author’s own experience, his research, and then a laundry list of possible fixes, both good and bad.

While wading through all the words, I wrapped my thumb in ice – which, I eventually read, was a good thing. I also took Benadryl and Excedrin. Two other good things.

By the time I read that I had already done what was appropriate, the situation was well in hand (sorry, I couldn’t pass up the pun). The anxiety that was listed as a possible side effect was only a result of not finding the information fast enough.

My thumb returned to normal size and function in short order, but I learned a long-lasting lesson. When writing for the Web, especially “How to” articles, get to the point quickly. Don’t tell someone who asks the time of day how to build a watch.

Just cut to the chase.

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