Physician, explain thyself: science English vs lay English

A lot of times I’ll hear a doctor speaking and I will wonder to myself just what the heck that fellow is saying. And I have watched a LOT of House episodes.

My wife went back to college and is now working in a hospital and I hear an awful lot of medical jargon getting tossed around.

So I get a lot of what this blogger is talking about.

SO – how many of you writer-types out there have characters in medical professions?

Stroppy Editor

Doctors and scientists may be brilliant in their fields but some may not be great at communicating their knowledge to the rest of us. This is obviously important when doctors are explaining things to their patients, as it is when research scientists are seeking to engage the public with their work. To succeed, the experts need to tailor their language to a lay audience.

There’s a lot of good advice you can get on how to tell engaging stories about science, and on how to apply principles of clarity and coherence to scientific prose. But, like Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, what strikes me most is the little differences between lay English and the English of biomedical science.

I’m going to talk you through a few of the things that I notice again and again as a copyeditor. Biomedical science is my patch, but some of these points…

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