Tuesday, August 18, 2009

choosing simple words for technical talks

Author Carl Zimmer offers this index of technical terms he banned from his class in science writing--a class in which most of the participants were science majors, not writers. He created the list as a reminder of sorts to keep things simple when attempting to address a broader public audience, a reminder that works for speakers as well as writers:

Time and again, as I reviewed the assignments from the students, I came across words would fit comfortably in a textbook or a scientific paper, but, like an invasive insect, wreaked havoc when they were introduced into a piece of writing intended for the wide world....If you talk to them face-to-face, they will never say, “I utilized my spear gun.” But somehow they can’t avoid using utilize when they are writing, when use will do just fine....What’s most important about pushing people to use plain English is that they will have an easier time expressing the passion and poetry of the scientific life.

Clearing the clutter of technical terms will not only make it easier for you to express yourself, but will ease the way for your listeners, too. I think it's essential for scientific and academic speakers to use simple, clear words when reaching a wider audience. I've been fortunate to facilitate the American Association for the Advancement of Science workshops for scientists on communicating science and to coach technical speakers from all fields. To find out more, email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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