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Technical Writing: Research on Science Communication Helps Itself

T.R. Girill Technical Literacy Project leader, STC and LLNL

T. R. Girill
Society for Technical Communication/Lawrence Livermore National Lab.
trgirill@acm.org

Technical Writing: Research on Science Communication Helps Itself

One of the valuable features of scientific research is that
it is recursive: science can study itself and improve itself as
a result of empirical feedback. Anyone following these posts has
seen scientific research on effective technical communication in
action.

On the grand scale, recursive research is actually a formal
policy of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). NSTA's
website (www.nsta.org/about/positions/research.aspx) explains that
they encourage research that "is focused on the goal of enhancing
student learning through effective teaching practices,"
especially by
* viewing "every day experiences as opportunities
to conduct research," and
* sharing "research results with the wider science
education community inside and outside the classroom."

On the small scale, this means applying research on effective
technical communication to help both students and teachers
communicate science better. For example, every summer I introduce
the (10 to 20) pre-service teacher interns in Lawrence Livermore's
Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program to these five
empirical studies of what makes effective nonfiction writing
effective (within and about science):

Patricia Greenfield, "Technology and informal education,"
Science, 323 (2 January 2009), 69-71.

Kenna R. Mills Shaw, Katie Van Horne, Hubert Zhang, and
Joann Boughman "Essay contest reveals misconceptions of high
school students in genetics content," Genetics, 178 (March
2008), 1157-1168.

John Benfield and Christine Feak, "How authors can cope
with the burden of English as an international language [EIL],"
Chest, 129 (2006), 1728-1730.

Rudolfo Mendoza-Denton, "Framed," Greater Good, 5 (Summer
2008), 22-24.

Daniel M. Oppenheimer, "Consequences of erudite vernacular
utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long
words needlessly," Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20 (May 2006),
139-156

For a broad comparative discussion of these and many other research
results related to text usability, always with an eye toward
improving student skills, follow the links that appear in "Technical
Writing in Science Class: The Handbook" at
www.ebsct.org/TechLit/handbook/handbooktoc.html
A review of such communication-relevant research is a great way
to refocus for the school year ahead.

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