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An Argument for Accessibility

Parthenon temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Attica, Greece.

No matter how dense the subject, complicated the field, or convoluted the material, every interested reader should be able to access and understand the argument in any nonfiction book.

This can be a difficult imperative to accept. When we’ve spent years/decades/a lifetime gaining expertise, we usually bury the assumptions, connections, and relationships that make up the foundation of our work. If we condense that work into a book, we implicitly demand our readers do the work of excavation.

But readers won’t.

Even so, authors often resist the directive to make their argument more accessible–protesting that it’s a directive to dumb things down or pander to casual passersby.

This is not true. Accessibility is not synonymous with simplicity; it’s synonymous with functionality. When it comes to argument-driven books, functional means readable, and making a book readable is an authorial responsibility.

Authors of functional, readable nonfiction books adopt the conventions by which thinking can be shared. Importantly, they explain the foundations of their argument and expose the scaffolding from which they’ve built its tenets.

This is harder than it sounds. The foundations of complicated arguments tend to be deeply buried and are hard to unearth. Many authors give up their search during the drafting stage, deciding that if readers can’t do the work themselves, then they’re either not sufficiently motivated or the author’s thinking is too complex.

Possibly. More likely, though, this is what we tell ourselves to avoid what we prefer to see as unnecessary effort.

While it’s true that not every reader will be interested in evolutionary biology and the future of genetics, or in the philosophical foundations and future of AI, those who are interested enough to purchase our books are already motivated to follow the most complicated of thoughts.

We write for these readers–interested, motivated readers–readers who have sought out our work and want to know more. However, to understand our thinking, they must be able to access it.