Drinking from the Fire Hose


Image source: DanSkognes.com

This week my days will be spent “drinking from the fire hose,” a colorful turn of phrase that usually hits when a technical communicator is about to dive into a new job or project and has to assimilate a lot of information in a short amount of time.

Reading the information is one thing. Organizing it is something else. Fortunately, certain types of information lend themselves to specific organizational strategies. Another way to cope with a large volume of information is to focus on the task at hand. The application for your information–status report, marketing material, training session–will help you sort the wheat from the chaff and allow you to concentrate on what’s most important.

However, all that organizing comes later, after you’ve drunk from the fire hose. The important thing when you’re in meetings taking notes or reading a pile of paper is to get it all in your head first. Collect, then sort. If you’re in meetings with subject matter experts (SMEs), you have an opportunity to do some preliminary sorting by asking leading questions:

  • What’s most important about X?
  • How does X relate to Y?
  • Is (your audience) going to know that or want to know that?

Your audience, situation, and intended outcome will help you bring the flood of information down to a manageable size. In the meantime, my best advice for surviving fire-hose mode includes:

  • Listen carefully
  • Take good notes–use your own mental shorthand if you have to, and then translate the information back to proper form later
  • Try to absorb and understand as you go along and ask if you have a question, but don’t stress yourself out trying to understand everything right in the moment–drinking from the fire hose is about absorbing information; making sense out of it is a subsequent activity
  • Record a SME session if you’re concerned about missing something, but ask their permission first
  • If you’re a pen-and-paper person, as I often am, make certain you have plenty of paper and backup pens

Best of luck…and drink up!

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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