George Lucas Educational Foundation

Technical Writing: Research on Science Communication Helps Itself

Technical Writing: Research on Science Communication Helps Itself

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T. R. Girill Society for Technical Communication/Lawrence Livermore National Lab. 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 ( 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 A review of such communication-relevant research is a great way to refocus for the school year ahead.

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