# Sharing Cupcakes (Ep. 1)

### Linking abstract concepts to a narrative • Our brain works in funny ways

My daughter started learning about division in maths. I was asking her a few quickfire questions before dinner the other day. "What's ten divided by two? What's eight divided by four?"

Then I was a bit mean: "What's three divided by two?"

A few Ums and Ers later, she complained they've not done this at school. I insisted a bit further, but I had no luck. This was a step too far.

**Sharing cupcakes** • So, I asked her the following question: "Imagine there are three chocolate cupcakes on the table. You and I will share them. How many cupcakes do you get to eat?"

Without hesitating, she told me that we could each have a whole cupcake, and then we'll split the remaining one, one half each. "So how many cupcakes do we each get?" I asked again. "One and a half, of course", was her decisive answer.

**Our brain works in funny ways** • I'll assume my audience on this Substack doesn't include primary school children. And therefore, *you* didn't need the narrative version of the problem to solve this maths question. But it clearly made a difference in my daughter's case.

The "technical" topic I described above is simple for you, but it's challenging for her.

But we can translate this anecdote to technical content that's more challenging, such as what you and I write about when we publish articles and books. In the same way that my daughter struggled with 'three divided by two' but was perfectly fine understanding 'sharing three cupcakes between two people', we can frame our technical content in a way to trigger similar thought processes in our readers.

After all, to state the obvious, the purpose of a technical article is to convey information about a technical topic so that the reader understands the topic as clearly as possible.

**Connecting the dots** • Back to sharing cupcakes. The narrative framing of the example is not the end of the story (pun intended). There were three parts to the chat with my daughter:

In the first part, I asked her what 'three divided by two' is. She didn't know.

In the second part, I framed the question differently, using a more narrative approach. She answered the question perfectly.

In the final part, I connected the first two parts. I pointed out that sharing three cupcakes between the two of us is "dividing the three cupcakes between two people" or, more simply, "dividing three by two".

That's when the "Aha!" moment happens. Linking the narrative to the abstract is the final step in the process.

**Afterword** • It will take me a few Episodes of *Breaking the Rules* to settle into the flow of what I want to write and how. I *do* want to keep most Episodes brief, focusing on a single point or observation.

Also, I know that many *Breaking the Rules* readers come from the Python and programming communities since that's the domain I reside in for my actual technical writing. However, I'm also aware that not everyone is. And over time, I hope more non-programming readers will be part of this conversation. Some of my examples will be specific to programming. But others, like today's thoughts, will be more general.

Well said. Analogies and metaphors are very powerful in learning new things and understating new concepts!

Brilliant analogy Stephen. The whole article itself could be an almost perfect example of this very mindset.