Simplifying Science

Bridging Worlds: The Art of Simplifying Science for Everyone

By Nancy Peiffer


The language of science is often riddled with complex terminology and concepts that can be impenetrable to the layperson. For international PhD students, who are not only masters of their scientific domain but also navigators of cultural and linguistic nuances, the challenge of communicating their work to a broader audience can be particularly daunting. Yet, effective science communication is essential for fostering public understanding and support for science. Here's how you can translate the intricacies of your research into layman's terms without losing the essence of your scientific inquiry.


1. Know your audience

Understanding your audience is the cornerstone of effective communication. What is their level of scientific literacy? What might they find interesting about your work? Tailoring your message to the interests and comprehension level of your audience without assuming prior knowledge is the first step towards meaningful engagement.

2. Apply the power of storytelling

Humans are wired for stories. They help us connect and remember. Frame your research within a story that illustrates why it matters. Introduce a protagonist, perhaps a community that benefits from your research, or use your journey of discovery as a narrative arc to engage your audience emotionally and intellectually.

3. Simplify language, not content

Simplification does not mean dilution. Avoid jargon and use analogies familiar to the audience to explain complex concepts. For instance, describe nanotechnology as the manipulation of materials at a scale so small that a human hair is like a giant tower. The key is to make comparisons that resonate with everyday experiences.

4. Include visuals and interactive elements

Leverage the power of visuals – infographics, animations, and diagrams can convey complex ideas more effectively than blocks of text. Interactive elements like models or simulations can also provide hands-on understanding. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words, especially when it comes to science.

5. Establish two-way communication

Engage your audience by encouraging questions and discussions. This not only clarifies doubts but also reveals which aspects of your communication are most effective and which need tweaking. Be open to feedback and willing to adapt your explanations as needed.

6. Remember: practice makes perfect

The art of simplification takes practice. Work on distilling your research into a clear, concise message. Practice your delivery with friends or family members outside your field. Their questions can help you identify areas that need further clarification.

7. Utilize social media and blogs

Platforms like X, LinkedIn and personal blogs offer avenues to share your research with a wider audience. Craft posts or blog entries that highlight the importance of your work in a relatable context. Use hashtags to increase visibility and engage with a community interested in science.

For international PhD students, transforming complex scientific concepts into layman's terms is a valuable skill that bridges the gap between academia and the public. It promotes a broader understanding of science, highlighting its relevance in everyday life. By knowing your audience, using storytelling, simplifying language, utilizing visuals, engaging in two-way communication, practicing your delivery, and leveraging digital platforms, you can become an effective ambassador for science, making it accessible and interesting for all.

Are you or your research group ready to get started with understandable science communication?

Take a look at our training course Taalcentrum-VU | Scientific storytelling.


Writer: Nancy Peiffer

Nancy Peiffer is our in-house academic writing specialist and curriculum designer, in addition to teaching business English, presentation workshops and private courses. Nancy hails from the US, a suburb of Chicago to be precise, but she has been living in the Netherlands since 2001.

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