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Linda Alstead | all galleries >> Relight my Fire - 2013 > 13th February 2013 - language of the people
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13th February 2013 - language of the people
13-FEB-2013

13th February 2013 - language of the people

This hippo skull is massive. Just look at the size of those teeth and that mouth. They provide a tenuous link to my subject, science communication. A more eloquent person than me (W.B. Yeats) said “Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.".

So, in good market researcher (OK a good ex-market researcher) style, here are the questions I posed to myself today:

1. 9am this morning scurrying along a cold, wet Plymouth street - Q: On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is not at all good and 10 is excellent, how informative do you expect the trip to the museum to be today? Answer: 1.

2. 1pm this afternoon, also scurrying along a cold, wet Plymouth street (but in the opposite direction this time) – Q: On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is not at all good and 10 is excellent, how informative was your trip to the museum today? Answer: 9.

It just goes to show how wrong your preconceptions can be. I’ve been on a special student visit “behind the scenes at the museum” today as part of my “Science Centre Communications” module. The module is a sort of cross-over between science and commercial in as much as it’s all about how to communicate a difficult subject to lay-people, keeping them interested, stimulated and feeling as though the pitch is right. It’s all too easy to patronise at one end of the scale and go over people’s heads at the other.

We spent a couple of hours sitting round a table thinking about different techniques for writing and getting messages across to people. I learned a couple of really useful things, including something called the Flesch-Kincaid score which can be accessed as a tool embedded into Word that tells you what age group your writing can be understood by. I have never come across this tool before despite considering myself a reasonably experienced Word user. After all, I’ve been using Word since around 1995 as part of Microsoft Office.

The whole session was an excellent, hands-on demonstration of how the choice of language you use makes a huge difference to what people take in from what you’ve said. I came away from it with a couple of really useful “crib sheets” for how to write better, some excellent newly discovered writing resources and a bag full of enthusiasm. The only downside of the session was the depressing realisation that the average reading age of a British person is 11. All materials in museums, galleries and “attractions” such as zoos are written so they could be understood by an 11 year old. I have heard this stat before but it makes it no less uncomfortable reading.

I’m not sure whether the session could have been any better and the only reason it didn’t get scored a perfect 10 was that the curator of the museum, who is a communications expert and a scientist, did a live demonstration of a twitter feed, posting a tweet which contained a spelling mistake and a shockingly bad photo (underexposed and the key part of the subject –the students – were in a fog of gloom). I know that probably sounds really picky because the morning was the most stimulating morning at Uni I’ve had in ages. I suppose that what I’m saying is that “live” demos should be fool proof! Perhaps that’s why the phrase “here’s one I prepared earlier” became so iconic. That notwithstanding I think that communicating science to the public might be something that’s a future string to my bow.

Having just criticised the photo posted on twitter earlier, I am ashamed to have to apologise for the poor quality of this image. The G7 was at full stretch in a semi-dark museum room with who-knows-what in terms of lighting temperature. The iso is high, the aperture is wide and there loads of yellow noise.

Hmmm - not so good on the old Flesch-Kincaid grade level - the Word test reckons a Grade 11 person could understand it. Could anyone out there in cyber space tell me what a grade 11 person is in age terms? I only have sketchy data up to grade 9.

Aside from the continued beige-ness of my PAD, I am happy with my world today. Will I get knocked off my perch again tomorrow? Who knows.

Canon PowerShot G7
1/60s f/2.8 at 7.4mm full exif

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JW19-Mar-2013 21:11
I think the newspapers aim for Grade 8
JW19-Mar-2013 21:10
Grade - 6 = old 'year'. So Grade 11 = fifth year of secondary school (er, I think)
Chris Morton23-Feb-2013 08:55
I am so pleased to see a hippo skull, somehow never come across one before
Sheena Woodhead13-Feb-2013 21:15
So interesting, and I've not heard of the Flesch-Kincaid score either even though, like you, I thought I knew a lot about MS Word. Must investigate!
faye white13-Feb-2013 17:15
Very interesting story and image, Linda.