how to talk about what you do in an easy to understand way

A new blog has sprung up recently, inspired by xkcd’s ‘Up-Goer Five’ comic and the list of the ‘ten hundred’ most used words in the English language.

The blog is called Ten Hundred Words of Science and it challenges scientists to describe what they do using only the 1000 most commonly used words, though there are a few work-arounds for less common but still crucial words (like ‘Mr Hydrogen and Ms Oxygen’). What you’ll see when scrolling through the posts are the many creative, interesting ways various people describe the science they do – most impressive considering ‘science’ isn’t even one of the thousand words you can use!

The Ten Hundred Words of Science blog just goes to show that with a little bit of creativity and effort almost anything can be explained (to a certain degree) in easy-to-understand language. My only critique is how long some of the explanations are – I’d love to force people to get *really* creative by imposing a word limit, but maybe that’s just cruel.

Here is Jessamyn’s attempt to explain nanoscience and electronics – no easy feat!

“My work is about studying really small things. It turns out that if you take a big thing and make it small, it does something different than what you’d expect. We understand some parts of why this happens, but there is a lot left to learn. So what I do is build something made of lots of tiny things, and look at what they do together. I can make things that respond to light, or put out light, or respond to air! And I figure out what’s happening by putting power in and looking at how it comes out. So I could build something that turns light into power, or power into light, or that moves power around like a computer does, but works more like the brain than computers do. And all this comes from the fact that small things are very different from large things.”

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2 responses to “how to talk about what you do in an easy to understand way

  1. Have you ever read “A Void” by Gilbert Adair?
    it’s a book without the letter “e” in it.
    The grammer’s actually okay, but the plot?

    • I’ve heard of it but never read it – seems like an interesting style exercise if not the most compelling page-turner!

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