Getting the Message Across

My speech is chopped and changed and reordered continuously. How can I describe the enormity of the last three years of my life in just three minutes? I have to try. It's for the good of my research, and of science!

Next week I will present in the first heat of the Three Minute Thesis Competition at Melbourne Uni. A now international initiative, this event challenges PhD students, like myself, to distill their complex research into just a three minute talk.

Three minutes only! One second over and the participant is disqualified. 

But don't be fooled. This isn't a mini conference paper, or completion seminar. It's more like what researchers explain in a radio interview, or an op-ed piece. 

 Scientists need to get the message out there.

Scientists need to get the message out there.

As a PhD student, in the meaty part of my doctorate, this competition could be just another time-waster taking away from my writing commitments. But even while I have been rehearsing for the first round, I have noticed how useful it has been.

KISS Principle

When you only have three minutes, you really have to know what the main messages are. Make. Every. Word. Count.

My scientific writing could benefit from this approach. I looked over some early drafts of my lit review and found this shocker of a sentence:

Researchers, academics, policy-makers, the media and other players in public discourses have contributed to understandings of young people who offend – of which a crucial component is the theorising of why youth offending occurs.

Looking back on this now, it is incredibly complex. I have to do a double take to make sure I understand my own words.

I coordinated a Linguistics and Phonetics subject this year for Speech Pathology Masters students. I taught them how to draw syntax trees for basic and complex sentences. But nothing came close to this:

This isn't just bad writing. It's an example of the kind of linguistic obscurity you'll find so often in academic texts.

It needs to stop...

You can be clear and accurate in scientific writing, without the super-complex nominalised subordinate-claused drivel I wrote above. In fact there are movements to make clearer writing the norm in academia, and courses on offer to achieve just that.

Research uncovers amazing things. But so much of it is locked away in dusty library chronicles, or trapped behind journal paywalls. An essential part of research is translating it and making an impact.

If I can't start to change some of the problems I unearthed during my PhD, that ninth of my life was probably a waste of time.

I could have spent the last three years catching Pokémon instead.

three minute resolution

So here I go. I promise to make all my writing as transparent and concise as possible. No matter how complicated an idea is -- It should be broken down into its parts, so that a wide audience can understand it.

If you aren't doing this already, you should try to do the same.