Before I get started, I am not looking for "layman's terms". That involves "dumbing down" concepts to make them simple to understand, but often result in the analogies and descriptions being inaccurate.

What I am referring to is the phenomenon of a subject matter expert writing a poor or unclear explanation due to not realizing that some aspects of what they are describing are not obvious. or common knowledge in the target audience. It is something that I see repeatedly happening when reviewing software documentation and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) but am unsure if a word to describe the whole thing without having to explain it every time exists in english.

For example, you may write extensive documentation on how to resolve Alert 1875 on System X. Your document goes into extensive detail about what logs you are looking for in order to establish the root cause of the alert, etc. And a neophyte to the team raises their hand and asks "Ok, how do I check the logs?" because the expert took for granted that people reading the document would be familiar with what convention/system/application is used to access said logs.

If such a term exists in english, I would want to use it when telling someone I want my SOP to be reviewed by a person who is my contemporary but is not knowledgeable on the subject in order to catch myself being guilty of <insert-word-here>

Or "Dan hasn't touched System X yet, be sure to have him review your SOP to avoid <insert-word-here>"

  • 1
    "Making assumptions about the audience's level of knowledge"? Commented May 24, 2021 at 16:18
  • 1
    Does it have to be a single word, or will an idiom, or phrase do as well?
    – cigien
    Commented May 24, 2021 at 16:19
  • Any expression will do. But in my case the focus isn't necessarily on the audience lacking something, but on the author (who is now an expert) has forgotten the thought patterns and common assumptions made by neophytes and failed to take that into consideration. Kate's phrase is more of a description of one facet of the phenomenon, but doesn't quite summarize. It's possible that there is no word or short idiom exists for this.
    – Lee
    Commented May 24, 2021 at 16:31

3 Answers 3


There's an idiom talk over someone's head that describes the situation well

To talk about things that one cannot follow, understand, or comprehend.

This may be because the speaker doesn't realize that the audience lacks some basic knowledge of the subject matter, or because the speaker simply doesn't care to bring their explanation down to the audience's level.

In your sentence, you could say

Dan hasn't touched System X yet, be sure to have him review your SOP to avoid talking over people's heads.


This is related to Dunning-Kruger effect...

Most users here are aware of this phenomenon and its terminology.

Dunning and Kruger called this pattern the ...

false consensus effect.


A nice explanation from the article When The Highly-Capable Don’t Understand That They’re Highly-Capable

Simply put, these participants assumed that, because they performed so well, their peers must have performed well likewise. The highly-capable group only has themselves to go by, so they assume everyone is at a similar level... [emphasis mine]


In context:

"Dan hasn't touched System X yet; be sure to have him review your SOP to avoid 'false consensus effect'".


Caviar to the general

Something of an exceptionally high quality or intelligence not befitting or appreciated by those who consume, see, or partake in it. "General" here refers to the general population, not a military general.

This phrase comes from Shakespeare 's Hamlet, where Hamlet commends a play with the words: ‘the play, I remember, pleased not the million; 'twas caviar to the general’.

I wrote several novels earlier in my career that were very well received by academics, but they were caviar to the general and never achieved popular success.

[The Free Dictionary]

  • I like this term, will probably add it to my repertoire, but I feel like this would be more apt for describing me submitting a detailed SOP to every resident of an old-age home rather than submitting it to my co-workers who are able to follow 98% of the document but lack that 2% due to the fault of the author neglecting to put themselves in someone else's shoes.
    – Lee
    Commented May 24, 2021 at 16:35

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