Publishing psychological works, language for the laymen or idiom for the educated?

I do not believe that psychological papers are written in a way to alienate the laymen, it seems the language is used is intended to make the work succinct; I do however concede that some work can be laborious to read.

When writing psychological works we are often confronted with complex language that can be difficult to decipher. If psychology that studies humans is to be published than perhaps there is a case for those humans to understand it without having to spend extreme amounts of money and time gaining a degree in the topic. Whether a person is reading in a waiting room or they have just had their interest sparked in psychology it makes sense to write in a way that can be understood as to encourage interest in the field and even to dispel myths about it. I don’t know about you but i am sure some of my relatives think I’m studying how to be like Derren Brown.

Often i hear people speak about the jargon used in psychological works and how it can be frustrating when reading a particularly dense and long article to have to keep looking up words. I felt this way in first year i won’t deny it, however as I progressed and had to write many essays with an increasing amount of background research I learnt that they aren’t putting these complicated words in for the sake of it. Of course they aren’t going to write with the voice of an angst-y sixteen year old as they aren’t writing novels they are writing in a professional tone often about very serious topics. The scientific language used is so used as to increase efficiency, it is much easier to name a particular part of the brain than to spend a few hundred words describing where it is, what it does, what it looks like and why the hell it’s there.

From my understanding which may be flawed as will no doubt be pointed out, I have come to the viewpoint that much published psychology is read by students advancing their understanding and also by the qualified looking for new theories so they can stay aware of their expanding field, also for research into new studies they wish to run. While i believe this is the main purpose of the works in no way means it should be exclusively for them, anyone should have access, if they don’t understand it they probably also have the means to look it up, which, without the wish to appear condescending, will increase their vocabulary and understanding. When writing results section of a study run using the quantitative method people unfamiliar with the format will undoubtedly be confused by the stats as we all once were and might still be, however most papers usually explain what all the p = 0.5 figures mean. with graphs and other diagrams and lengthy and informative discussion sections i believe that current work uses language for the scientists but does not entirely alienate those outside the realm of study, also that this method may increase the vocabulary and individual understanding of those who attempt to read it.


11 responses to “Publishing psychological works, language for the laymen or idiom for the educated?

  1. I guess if someone is interested in reading a research paper in psychology, they are going to have to go looking for it, and have some knowledge of the topic to go looking for it in the first place.
    But isn’t research supposed to be available to all and beneficial to all? This sometimes confuses me. I have always been interested in research in one form or another, but I’d never go looking for it, I’d usually just hear it the news or read it in the newspaper, this is usually how people who are not researchers or studying tend to find out about research. This way it is broken down into ways in which everyone can understand, and if that person is then wanting to learn more than they can do so. I think most people will have an understanding of some areas, but when they are hit with big words it my put them off.
    I have to disagree with you when you say there are usually reasons for them using complex language, I can understand in terms of the brain, but when it seems they have just thrown in a word to describe something as simple as ‘people run when they are in danger’ it seems pointless and as if they are trying to demonstrate that they are highly educated. I don’t mind looking up words that I don’t understand, but when it is written in such a way that you are glued to a thesaurus then you start to think whether they have in fact just swallowed a dictionary.
    I belief that research should be easier to find for the ‘layman’, as it may concern them too.

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  3. I think one way this issue could be improved is if media reporting on psychological studies was better. As it is, they often misinterpret studies or report results incorrectly. If this reporting was better, then psychologists would be able to be confident that their research was being made accessible to the public.
    Another problem is that psychology is often scrutinised for how ‘scientific’ it is or isn’t. I can imagine that there would not be a good reaction to researchers being asked to ‘dumb-down’ their results. I think research should be more accessible, but it is hard to say exactly how we should go about it.

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  5. I agree with you. I think that, like is noted in the comment above, psychology does have a problem with being classed as a science, and to remove psychological lexis, vocabulary, and statistics will only make matters worse. Also as you said, we didn’t necessarily understand the papers we read in first year (and even now!) but we had to read around the subject, which is surely something someone who wishes to read a research paper is both capable of, and willing to do.

    Just because people perhaps don’t understand every word, doesn’t mean it isn’t beneficial to them – don’t researchers want external validity for a reason? Research is undertaken to understand human behaviour, and these findings are applied to real life situations (counselling, hospitals, medicine, jails etc., etc.) all of the time.

    And aren’t we also taught how unhelpful it is to try and simplify something that is incredibly complex? (e.g. the brain and memory). There are some aspects of psychology, like with any other science or profession, that simply cannot be put in layman’s terms. Those that it can be actually tend to all ready exist – self help books on depression and raising children, for example.

    So like I said, I think that reading around the subject is needed rather than simplifying a complex topic.

  6. I disagree where you say these papers dont alienate the laymen. I agree that the papers should be written in a professional manner which will obviously include terminology. But the average Joe definitely isnt catered for in these papers as the jargon can be overwhelming for us students let alone for someone who hasnt attended uni. I argue this as my boss has recently attempted to get some qualificiations through the open uni programme and she couldnt read the books she had to pay for. The jargon was way too overwhelming for her, she took her time and slowly read through the psychological works but it didnt help or even encourage her to pursue it.

  7. sorry pressed post comment too quickly then.
    I think one way we can compromise (without the papers being too dumbed down/made too informal) is to include a glossary explaining the terminology and possibly a short paragraph to summarise the results.

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  9. I think u have covered the key points of this topic in your blog but I will have to disagree with as I think some of the papers do alienate the layman. I have been reading papers around my project topic for my project proposal but with some of them I feel like I have walked into a brick wall because of the jargon and them trying to sound too formal and this is a topic I know about! I am not bad with understanding literature but I do think some papers go too far with the jargon and psychological terms. I have a rule of thumb to always explain something in a clear way so that even people who do not have a clue what you are talking about will understand (and that does not mean it is informal). Someone in the comments briefly mentioned the ethical issue of if it is too complicated then how is it benefitting everyone (which ethics say research should). Everyone should be able to access and understand literature if they wish. I think that last idea of having a glossary of terms included in a research paper is a really good idea (in previous comment) as then the paper can say exactly the same thing and remain formal and scientific but people without a scientific/psychological background can benefit just as much.

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