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How to Translate Science Speak

Posted February 13, 2014 12:00 AM by cheme_wordsmithy

Scientists and engineers know things that laypersons don't know. This is just fine, except when the engineer/scientist has to or wants to communicate with said layperson(s) about their field. Then the "science speak" comes out. In these situations there is often a high probability that one of the two parties will either become extremely confused and frustrated, or extremely bored and sleepy. Neither of these is the desired outcome...

I often find that no matter how boring a certain topic of conversation may be, if someone has a passion for it and can communicate that passion to me, I can find it interesting. Unfortunately, even though I have an engineering background, I often am bored out of my mind when talking to scientists and engineers. Why?

Scientists and engineers know so much and (hopefully) have a love for the things they know and do, but science speak often garbles and confuses that passion. And bridging the communication gap between the technical and non-technical can be difficult. But there is one operating principle to successful science speak translation - simplify. Einstein put it well in his famous words "everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."

Here are a few pointers from Melissa Marshall (from TEDtalks) that are helpful when attempting to simplify your communication:

Be Relevant - Bridge the gap between your work and your audience. From the perspective of your audience, answer the question "So what?".

Avoid Jargon - Avoid or replace language that is specific to your field or that your audience would not understand. Don't use 'spacial' and 'temporal', use 'space' and 'time'.

Be Visual - Images, graphics, and comparisons are great tools to help your audience understand and remember what you're telling them.

Avoid bullets - Long bullet points can be a language overload to the audience. In presentations, try using a single straightforward sentence to present an idea. And link these sentences to visuals when appropriate.


Even if not in the realm of science or engineering, we've all been in situations where explaining technical things presents difficulty: just try explaining to your 95 year old grandma how to work a smartphone... But especially when trying to explain the technical aspects of our field of work, it's important that we can properly simplify our communication. Following basic principles like the ones mentioned above can help make science and engineering concepts palatable and interesting to even the most non-technically minded. And in a world so driven by media, communication, and awareness, that's a very important thing.

What about you - can you think of situations where you have had to translate your science speak?

Source: TEDTalks - Melissa Marshall "Talk Nerdy To Me"

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#1

Re: How to Translate Science Speak

02/13/2014 2:59 PM

Back to the old challenge:

Using only words, describe a safety pin to someone who has never seen one.

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#5
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Re: How to Translate Science Speak

02/14/2014 9:36 AM

"A safety pin is a stiff wire, pointed at one end, and bent into a rough 'V' shape, where the bend of the V is a full loop, such as you would see on a roller coaster. The non-pointed end has a cover attached to it with a slot on the side. You 'close' the safety pin by squeezing the sides of the V until you can sip the pointed end into the slot, at which point the spring action will hold the pin closed and safe. You open the pin by squeezing the sides of the V, which now looks more like a U, until the pointed end can be slipped out of the slot in the cover."

How's that?

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#6
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Re: How to Translate Science Speak

02/14/2014 9:45 AM

I just saved a buncha words.

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#7
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Re: How to Translate Science Speak

02/14/2014 10:11 AM

That is clearly succinct, but I believe it goes beyond the rules of the challenge: "Using only words, describe a safety pin to someone who has never seen one."

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#8
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Re: How to Translate Science Speak

02/14/2014 11:59 AM

Nicely done. However, I'm having difficulty sipping the pointed end. Every time I do, I get poked in the upper lip.

....the sides of the V until you can sip the pointed end ....

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#9
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Re: How to Translate Science Speak

02/14/2014 1:56 PM

Sorry, I thought it was still December.

"No L, no L, thi-is word has no L."

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#2

Re: How to Translate Science Speak

02/14/2014 3:24 AM

Surely the most useful tool is a good analogy, or a demonstration.
Failing that I carry a wooden mallet, it's good for acountants, customers and HR people
Del

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#3
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Re: How to Translate Science Speak

02/14/2014 9:14 AM

I have learned to apply the KISS principal and use pictures, sketches ect.

Attempting to explain to a VP about using gyroscopes to determine pipe bow i just used a dual spirt level example to measure the X/Y changes in the travel of the length of the pipe. Its easier than trying to explain how a parallex mesmic 2125 PWM sensor works.

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Re: How to Translate Science Speak

02/14/2014 9:27 AM

Picture is worth a thousand words as the saying goes, and I found it very effective to include a kind of "show and Tell" approach when doing presentations. Handouts with pictures, or some non-operational samples of the subject that can go around to give the audience some idea they can relate to physically. All these helps relay the point across during presentation.

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#10

Re: How to Translate Science Speak

02/15/2014 8:05 AM

On a project management test, to test our communication skills, we had to verbal creat an operations manual by words only to an audience who never did it before. Such as changing a bicycle tire on a bike. You have to be very detailed.

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#11

Re: How to Translate Science Speak

02/15/2014 2:02 PM

Just try using a term that has multiple meanings and see what happens.

"What type of file is that?" or "Would you file something for me?"

Analogies and visual representations can usually clear things up!

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#12

Re: How to Translate Science Speak

03/28/2014 7:15 AM

I don't think all technical people are like how you said Cheme. I found the following tutorial in web in which, the author has explained the technical topic in a simple and understandable manner to everyone.

http://beyond.insofe.edu.in/category/essentialskillstoolkit/estimation/

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