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Choose the Right Words

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While scientific or technical terminology is useful in a particular field, it is often difficult for non-scientists to understand. For example, consider how biologists and physicists may use similar language with vastly different meanings. Imagine how difficult it must be for individuals who do not regularly encounter scientific terms to understand their meaning.

How do you communicate so that individuals outside your field can understand the meaning?

  • Experiment: Try out language on friends, families and colleagues who do not hold the same technical background as you. Use their feedback to learn which words work and which words don't. For example, your musician brother or lawyer friend could help you practice explaining how you "break open cells" instead of "induce lysis" to make your message more digestible to a wider range of audiences.
     
  • Learn from Others: Actively read and follow other successful science communicators in your field to help expand the terms and analogies you can use that work with public audiences. You can start by reading science news, following blogs, and viewing multimedia. Check out public events that demonstrate communication with audiences holding varied degrees of scientific background, such as AAAS public engagement events, science festivals, and science cafés.
     
  • Trial and Error: Learn from your experiences and take the chance to adjust your word choices when you notice situations where communication hasn't gone as well as you had hoped. Take note and try out other ways of saying or explaining what you want to convey. It may even be useful to literally take note – start a journal or blog of your science communication experiences.