Science (and engineering) is often considered a highly exclusive domain, with participation requiring significant education and practical experience. One of the ways that science and engineering maintains its exclusivity is through its highly specialized language and rhetorical conventions. For example, the scientific paper has traditionally had a gatekeeping function, inaccessible both in terms of language, rhetoric, and restricted access (via paid journals). In the past, the public has relied primarily on translators – science communicators and journalists – to bridge this gap. This mediation, however, introduces many challenges, including different priorities and values, to the process, and prevents the direct communication between scientists/engineers and multiple public(s) that could facilitate better understanding between the parties. Further, in an age of social media, this intervention is especially not always possible or helpful. 

The plain-language movement addresses this need for direct communication by emphasizing the importance of “writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience” [1]. The concept is enshrined in the Plain Writing Act of 2010 in the United States, which seeks to remove the linguistic barriers to understanding existing government legislation and accessing government services.

But how plain language can be applied to science and engineering practices, particularly on the part of scientists and engineers themselves remains an important question. Kira Dreher, in her ProComm 2020 talk, will explore what the research says in this area, producing a meta-analysis that intends to identify:

  1. What are the goals of plain language in these areas and for what audiences?
  2. What are the most effective strategies for plain language in science-related communication according to the existing research?
  3. What role plain language may play in social justice and ethical communication in the sciences?

Listen to her paper on July 21st, 2020 at our virtual ProComm2020 for more on how plain language can be applied to communication in science and engineering. 

[1] Plain Writing Act of 2010. US Gov. Accessed on: July 3 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-111publ274/content-detail.html


Kira Dreher is an Assistant Teaching Professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s campus in Doha, Qatar, where she teaches courses in first-year writing, rhetoric, and technical writing. She received her PhD in Rhetoric and Scientific and Technical Communication from University of Minnesota- Twin Cities. Her research currently focuses on plain language in technical communication and the history of “plainness” in rhetoric, medicine, and other traditions. She has published in journals such as IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, in various edited collections, and as a co-author of Arab Women in Arab News (Bloomsbury, 2012).