Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ten Hundred Words

One of my friends from Boeing sent my this article:

Science in Ten Hundred Words: The `Up-Goer Five' challenge.

Related Content

View Photo
View Photo

A central question of communicating science to a wider audience often boils down to this: can you take a complex scientific topic and explain it in a way that someone unfamiliar with the field can understand? The commonly-cited techniques for meeting this challenge, such as cutting out jargon and using relatable analogies, sound easy in principle but are often quite tough in practice.
Thus is born the Up-Goer Five Text Editor and its younger sibling,  the Up-Goer Six Text Editor.

I loved (and hated) the Up Goer Five xkcd comic.
Any good trainer/teacher knows that you gotta do something like this to help students understand the basic concept of a thing. (Why I love it.)
But, then you need to move them on to a broader vocabulary (which is why I hate it). 
My old girlfriend used to upbraid me when I'd use a 'big' word to answer a question posed by the Swedish au pair.  I was trying to stretch her vocabulary. 
As far as lawyers..., if you think legal documents are wordy now, try doing with only ten hundred words.  The point of a broader/specialized vocabulary is to say something in as few words as possible.
We've gone from fairly literate newspapers, to USA Today, to infographics.  A "ten hundred" word vocabulary would be a serious handicap to anyone. 
Kind of reminds me of many of my ITT students...
And, yes, it does help understanding to strip something down to as simple a statement as possible.  Like explaining "grabity" to a bright 4 year old.  If you can do that so she understands it, it's a certainty that you do, too.
As the U.S. Marine mondegreen motto says, "Simplify!"

UPDATE!  Just for grins, I took the paragraph I quoted above, and ran it through the Up-Goer Five editor, replacing all of the flagged words.  I could not find a replacementy for "jargon" that I was happy with.  Here is my effort:
The problem of talking about our world to lots of different people often comes down to this: can you take something that's hard, and explain it in a way that someone who doesn't know about the field can understand? The usual approaches, such as cutting out the strange words used only in the field and using simple stories, sound easy, but are often quite hard to do.


ZZMike said...

Isn't "ten hundred" really "one thousand"?

"Ten hundred" is military talk for "10 a.m.".

leelu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
leelu said...


Yeah, it is one thousand. But, the word "thousand" is not in the list of the thousand most used words.