Clarity in Communication — Top tips for not getting lost in translation

Clarity in Communications | Hindawi Blog

Today, guest blogger Fernando Gomollón Bel tells us about the importance of clear communication, and provides some tips for authors whose first language is not English. Fernando is a Science Communicator at the Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia, and also a blogger and freelance science writer for various newspapers and magazines.
Contact: @gomobel,

Communicating results to the broader public is one of the duties of a scientist. In fact, demonstrations and public lectures have been considered of great importance since the very beginning of modern science. However, somewhere between impact factor craziness and meaningless bureaucracy, science communication got lost. Luckily, it is back, and it is starting to recover its original relevance.

But explaining to people what you do in the lab is not always easy. Partly because science has a very specific, often complicated jargon, but also because most scientists are not native English speakers. From writing papers to talking to journalists, one must deal with the struggle of thinking in a different language all day long, no matter how fluent you are. Don’t worry. This (short) article gathers a few tips on how to effectively communicate your science, and how to do it in English without the fear of being misunderstood by your public.

...simplifying a concept is good — as long as you don’t lose any scientific accuracy.

Firstly, communicating is easier than you may think. As a scientist, you are already trained in a broad subject area. Hence, you should be able to find real world examples or common applications of the work you do. Although some may argue, simplifying a concept is good — as long as you don’t lose any scientific accuracy. While I worked on my PhD thesis on enzyme inhibitors based on chemically modified glucans, I used to tell people I designed drugs to kill dangerous fungi. It was technically true, and people could easily understand my work could have real life uses. This book is a fantastic example of how complex scientific ideas can be explained with simple words.

Don’t be afraid of asking for help from native English speaking colleagues...

Then, remember that you are part of a community. Another of the main foundations of science is collaboration between peers. Don’t be afraid of asking for help from native English speaking colleagues, who may or may not be scientists, for proofreading and revisions. They will most likely give you very helpful advice, not only regarding how you misspelled irregular verbs or misused complicated idioms, but also providing a fresh view on the general structure of your work. Sometimes a simple reorganisation can completely change the way an article looks.

Each paragraph should have a single key idea, make sure this is maintained in the English version.

Personally, I would recommend you to draft your work directly in English to avoid duplicating work and — perhaps more importantly — losing concepts in translation. Nevertheless, if you feel more comfortable writing in your own language, do so, and then carefully plan the translation. Read your complete piece one more time before you start translating, and then proceed one paragraph at a time. Each paragraph should have a single key idea, make sure this is maintained in the English version. Avoid literal translations and don’t hesitate to look up synonyms in a thesaurus. Also, don’t forget that less is more. Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication. Moreover, consider taking a course on scientific writing. Most universities and research centres organise them periodically. If this is not the case of your institution, you may find some very interesting alternatives online.

Finally, consider releasing in your own language. Sadly, this doesn’t work for scientific papers — publishing in your native language will certainly reduce your impact — but it is a brilliant idea for science communication. Blogs, newspapers, YouTube, even Twitter or Instagram are great platforms for sharing your results. If you write in your native language (or find some time to translate English content) you will target your local community, and surely bring science closer to public that normally wouldn’t have access to it.

Opinions in this blog post are that of the author, and not necessarily that of Hindawi. The text is by Fernando Gomollón Bel, and is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The illustration, by Hindawi, is also CC-BY.

Since you are reading this blog post, you might be interested to know…

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