Skip to main content

Can you explain your research using only the 1000 most common words?

Do you think you can explain your research using only the 1,000 most commonly used words? It might be harder than you think.

One way to test your skill at clear and simple communication is to try out the Up-Goer Five text editor. The text editor was created by parasitologist Theo Sanderson who was inspired by this truly excellent xkcd comic. The comic explains a diagram of NASA's Saturn V (or Up-Goer Five) using only the one thousand (excuse me, ten hundred) most commonly used words.

To use the text editor you simply pick a topic you'd like to explain—how water boils, your thesis project, or some international diplomacy challenge—and begin typing. Words that don't make the cut on the 1000 most commonly used words list will be underlined in red squiggles and will show up in red below (and then you try, try again).

I tried my hand at explaining my research, which in scientific jargon involves "studying how alternative splicing regulates the functions of calcium channel proteins" (I've highlighted the only allowed words). Considering most of my highly educated friends and family don't understand this explanation, I knew I had work to do.

Here's what I came up with using the Up-Goer Five text editor:

"I study little doors in brain cells. When they are open, these doors let stuff go into the cells. The in-coming stuff makes it so brain cells can talk to one another. There are different types of doors in different parts of the brain. There are also different types of doors in babies and big people. There are tiny little things that control which doors are found in different brain parts and at different ages. I want to know how these tiny little things make there be different doors in different brain parts and in babies and big people."

Whew, that was hard!

The best part of Up-Goer Five is that it's become a web phenomenon, with many scientists from various fields explaining really complicated topics (like atomic physics, how the ear works, and discovering new galaxies) in very simple speech. To see a great compilation of these, check out the Ten Hundred Words of Science tumblr and follow new explanations on Twitter via #UpGoerFive. There's even an Up-Goer Six text editor, which is a twist on the concept—instead of limiting you to ten hundred words, it color codes your words by how common they are.

Why am I most excited by Up-Goer Five? Maybe soon my two year-old will be able to understand what I do! 

Blog Name