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Introducing Students to the Challenges of Communicating Science by Using a Tool That Employs Only the 1,000 Most Commonly Used Words

    Author: Justin A. Pruneski1
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    Affiliations: 1: Heidelberg University, Tiffin, OH 44883
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2018 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1417
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    Abstract:

    Overcoming the complex and technical language used in science is a major barrier to scientists being able to communicate their work with the general public. This can lead to misunderstanding and mistrust of science, with many negative consequences. Scientists are increasingly seeking to improve their ability to communicate their work effectively with a variety of audiences. As such, students should recognize the challenges and importance of communicating science with nonscientists. This short classroom activity takes advantage of a free, web-based tool, called Simple Writer (https://xkcd.com/simplewriter/), which facilitates the writing and revising of text using only the 1,000 most commonly used words in English. Students are asked to write a paragraph in response to a prompt and use the Simple Writer tool to convert it into a form using only the 1,000 most commonly used words, while still maintaining the same message. By experiencing the difficulty of converting a relatively simple paragraph to meet to this criteria, students gain an appreciation for the challenge of removing jargon from scientific and other technical writing. Beyond the initial activity, the Simple Writer platform can be used in various other ways to engage students in learning science and developing essential writing skills.

References & Citations

1. Sharon AJ, Baram-Tsabari A2014Measuring mumbo jumbo: a preliminary quantification of the use of jargon in science communicationPublic Underst Sci23552854610.1177/0963662512469916 http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0963662512469916
2. Peters HP2013Gap between science and media revisited: scientists as public communicatorsProc Natl Acad Sci110141021410910.1073/pnas.1212745110239403123752168 http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1212745110
3. Fischhoff B2013The science of science communicationProc Nat Acad Sci110140331403910.1073/pnas.1213273110 http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1213273110
4. Brownell SE, Price JV, Steinman L2013Science communication to the general public: why we need to teach undergraduate and graduate students this skill as part of their formal scientific trainingJ Undergrad Neurosci Educ121E6E10243193993852879
5. Davies SR2008Constructing communication: talking to scientists about talking to the publicSci Commun29441343410.1177/1075547008316222 http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1075547008316222
6. Munroe R2014What if? Serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questionsHoughton Mifflin Harcourt PublishingNew York, NY
7. Munroe R2015Thing explainer: complicated stuff in simple wordsHoughton Mifflin Harcourt PublishingNew York, NY
8. Yong E2010On jargon, and why it matters in science writingNational Geographic Not Exactly Rocket Science bloghttp://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2010/11/24/on-jargonand-why-it-matters-in-science-writing/

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2018-03-30
2018-04-22

Abstract:

Overcoming the complex and technical language used in science is a major barrier to scientists being able to communicate their work with the general public. This can lead to misunderstanding and mistrust of science, with many negative consequences. Scientists are increasingly seeking to improve their ability to communicate their work effectively with a variety of audiences. As such, students should recognize the challenges and importance of communicating science with nonscientists. This short classroom activity takes advantage of a free, web-based tool, called Simple Writer (https://xkcd.com/simplewriter/), which facilitates the writing and revising of text using only the 1,000 most commonly used words in English. Students are asked to write a paragraph in response to a prompt and use the Simple Writer tool to convert it into a form using only the 1,000 most commonly used words, while still maintaining the same message. By experiencing the difficulty of converting a relatively simple paragraph to meet to this criteria, students gain an appreciation for the challenge of removing jargon from scientific and other technical writing. Beyond the initial activity, the Simple Writer platform can be used in various other ways to engage students in learning science and developing essential writing skills.

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FIGURE 1

A) Screenshot of the Simple Writer tool (https://xkcd.com/simplewriter/) in which a sample response (from the instructor) to the writing prompt is pasted into in the box labeled “Put Words Here.” Words not found among the 1,000 most commonly used words are highlighted in red and show up in the box below labeled “You Used Some Less Simple Words.” B) Screenshot of the text after it was edited to remove the highlighted words while trying to maintain the same message.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2018 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1417
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