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Research in Plain English

Page history last edited by Sue Folley 8 years, 11 months ago

Following the useful discussion in #phdchat on 6th April on writing for non-academic audiences, some of us have tried blogging about our research in plain English. The links to our blogs are given here. We all welcome readers and comments on our contributions. However, it has become clear that this has been far more than an intellectual exercise, as each of us has learned something about how we express ourselves and how we relate to others. Some of these experiential accounts are found after the list of blog links.

 

Do have a go too and add to the list appearing below:

 

Ian Robson - http://changingpractice.blogspot.com/2011/04/my-research-in-plain-english-v1.html

 

Gillian Light -http://macgirl19.wordpress.com/2011/04/16/my-research-in-plain-english/

 

Liz Thackray - http://lizit.me.uk/2011/04/06/my-research-in-plain-english

 

Ailsa Haxell - http://amusingspace.blogspot.com/2011/04/thesis-in-almost-plain-language.html

 

Jenna Condie - http://virtual-doc.salford.ac.uk/jennacondie/2011/04/08/my-research-in-plain-english/ 

 

Carly Tetley http://virtual-doc.salford.ac.uk/cheetahphd/2011/04/09/my-phd-in-plain-english/ 

 

Bex Hewett http://orgmotivation.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/my-phd-in-plain-english/

 

Martin Eve https://www.martineve.com/2011/04/08/speaking-plainly/

 

Ariana Yakas http://systemsphd.wordpress.com/

 

Naomi Jacobs http://naomijacobs.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/plain-english-my-research/

 

Liz Gloyn http://lizgloyn.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/my-ph-d-research-in-plain-english/

 

Sarah-Louise Quinnell http://sarahlouq.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/my-research-in-plain-english-2-0/

 

David A Ellis http://www.davidaellis.co.uk/#3e3/custom_plain

 

Caroline Cage http://ccageresearch.blogspot.com/2011/04/my-research-in-plain-english.html 

 

Sue Folley http://25thingssuefolley.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/my-research-in-plain-english/

 

Experiences:

 

Sarah-Louise Quinnell - (I am adding a section here where people can add comments on the experience of creating their plain English summary). I completed my PhD last year so thought this would be a doddle. I based my summary on the abstract which appears at the very front of my thesis, as I believed this to be a good summary of my work. However, what I didn't realise was how difficult it was to turn this academic summary into a piece of plain English writing. I decided rather than stress about it to post my first draft on my blog, get feedback and try again. What became evident very quickly was that while everyone could interpret my abstract, they were all completely missing what my thesis was actually about! This is very useful but also very scary stuff. I realised the key wasn't just the type of language you used, but how you ordered the summary. Initially I started off talking about risk and thus everyone assumed my PhD was about the risks associated with GMOs, it isn't, its about how organisations engage with capacity-development activities to support the implementation of environmental agreements. I just happened to use the agreement regulating GMOs as my case study.

 

It was interesting as my examiner said my abstract provided a very clear, articulate summary of my work. However, after this exercise I wish I could go back and change it. I worried it was too long because I kept feeling the need to explain everything but in the end it's the explanation that gives it clarity for the non-technical specialist - I use the term non technical specialist because we are all specialists in our own areas just not in each others and it is interesting to see how people hook on to the first bit of information and how that then frames the way they view the following paragraphs. I think my abstract, even though its an academic summary, was the thing I paid less time to when putting my thesis together so for those of you who aren't at that point yet take that into consideration.

 

Liz Thackray - I guess my starting point with this exercise was that it would be easy After all, I am used to speaking to people about my research, including friends and people with an interest in the area I am researching and they seem to understand what I'm talking about. However, when it came to it, I had a number of problems. The first was a sense that I had to provide some kind of model - foolishly, or otherwise, I has suggested doing this, so I has to take up the challenge myself if I expected others to do the same. That meant there was a pressure not only to put pen to paper, but to do it well. Secondly, I realised when I began to write that I was not sure how much I actually wanted to say about what I was doing. I was happy to give an impression, but what if somebody out there was working in a similar area and nicked my ideas - silly when you think about it, especially as a lot of my ideas and thinking are present in various guises on my blog and on my personal wiki. In short, writing a brief account of my research in plain English was a far more difficult task than I anticipated.

My learning from the experience is not just one of what I learned from my own attempt - and I will have another go some time soon and try to improve - but what I learned from the comments on my effort and what I have learned from the other descriptions people have posted and the discussion stemming from those postings both in the blog comments and on Twitter. Apart from learning to hear the constructive comments of others, I have had to consider how to comment on others work - just saying well done is generally not very helpful, so what can I say that is positive and how do I frame 'negative' or critical observations. But through this process, I think I have seen something else happening in terms of how we function as a community. Everybody who has participated in this exercise has taken a risk and exposed themselves to a peer group - and a peer group that includes known and unknown people. That risk taking seems to have opened us up to being able to work together and share beyond the bounds of the exercise. I suspect we are seeing #phdchat developing from a network into a community - at least an embryonic community. If we are indeed becoming a learning community (in the broadest sense of the term), how can we foster that growth? How does a community of peers operate? How do I relinquish my 'need' to control how this wiki is organised?

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been challenged, encouraged and enabled and have a very real sense of collegiality with a group of people I may well never meet face-to-face.

 

Ailsa Haxell I used my thesis summary, the one that goes off to prospective markers. I got feedback on the use of some academicese which i expected, but also on the fascination of topic, which is affirming that i am studying something innovative and important. My methodology is not well suited to thesis writing- it doesnt like to pose a question and a solution so i got feedback also on the lack of clarity around a question. I also got positive affirmations for considering a different approach, that of writing the summary so it would fit in the 160 characters of the small mobile ph screen (the arena of my study). Nice process, thanks all.

 

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