We often hear the suggestion that journal articles should include a lay summary of the work described, but writing those summaries is harder than it sounds. Some journals go so far as to employ professional writers to make it happen.

But what if you had to explain your work using only the 1,000 (that’s “ten hundred”) most commonly used words in our language? The folks at Minute Physics and xkcd took on that challenge to explain how “up goers” that “burn fire water” work.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is a Senior Consultant at Clarke & Esposito, a boutique management consulting firm focused on strategic issues related to professional and academic publishing and information services. Previously, David was the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He oversaw journal policy across OUP’s journals program, drove technological innovation, and served as an information officer. David acquired and managed a suite of research society-owned journals with OUP, and before that was the Executive Editor for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, where he created and edited new science books and journals, along with serving as a journal Editor-in-Chief. He has served on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc., as well as The AAP-PSP Executive Council. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.


6 Thoughts on "Space Travel in Layman's Terms"

It is an obligation for science to be explainable to those outside the discipline. For good or for ill, it’s probably a way toward better funding as well. That’s not to say get rid of jargon. Science needs to communicate with science, after all. But science brings such benefits in process as well as product. We all should know in order to celebrate that. Yes, bad things can happen in science, but they can (and do) happen everywhere. With all of us in what we strive to do. By the way, consider letting poetry define the work of science. Mostly, though, thanks for all the extraordinarily difficult and measured work.

I agree that outreach is important. But I’m not sure whether journals (a highly evolved mechanism for sharing information among experts) is the right place for that sort of communication.

I agree, description of scientific research must be accompanied with a description for the educated layman. In regards space travel … insane should suffice.

“Esoteric” is a big word meant to keep out non-members by using jargon. It’s too bad tyros think they must use big words to get ahead.

If you wish to reach real people, not just your mates, you must use common language.

The late Nat Bodian, who retired from John Wiley & Sons in 1988 after years of marketing STM books, was a big fan of short words and clarity. His point was noted in the NY Times by William Safire.

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