Can you explain your research using only the ten hundred most used words?

Check out Colleen’s award-winning attempt!

We study big green things that use sun light as food and littler things that use some parts of the air as food and live in the ground that the big green things live in. The big green things give the littler things food made from sun light, and the littler things give the big green things food they made from the air. This makes both the big green things and littler things happier. We want to know how the big green things and the littler things talk to each other and decide how much food to give and take.  

Maren, Prateek, and Colleen took on the challenge at the Science Communication Workshop hosted by Danielle Whittaker at BEACON Congress 2015. Here is Maren’s description:

I study how tiny cells make friends with big green things to share good things with each other. The tiny cells make food out of air and the bigger things make another kind of food. When they live together, they are both better off than when they are alone because they are good at different things. A lot of people think that tiny cells that don’t make food are mean and bad for the big green thing, but it turns out that these tiny cells aren’t happy either.

If you want to try this on your own, head over to and type your text in the box. It will alert you if you use a word that isn’t in the ten hundred most used words. This was a fun and silly exercise that illustrates how difficult it can be to explain your research simply, without the jargon and buzzwords scientists take for granted. Admittedly, I would not recommend using this level of language to actually explain your research to anyone-that might be a bit insulting! But it will definitely improve your creativity. On a side note, can we talk about how alarming it is that “plant” is not among the ten hundred most commonly used words? We need to work on changing that.

We also learned about writing great Twitter “hooks” to promote an article you would like your followers to read. It’s important to make it something exciting and intriguing that will leave your reader interested enough to actually click on the link you posted. You can see the tweet that won the contest at the workshop below, plus Maren and Colleen’s entries.

Prateek was also terribly brave and tackled explaining his thesis in three minutes or less, with a single slide. Prateek did a great job explaining how he is exploring how plants make friends with their microbial partners and how many friends plant actually need to be happy. This exercise taught us how important it is to translate your research into succinct, easy to understand sound bites to effectively communicate your research in a short period of time. Check out his slide below!