Simple Writer Exercise

The xkcd Simple Writer (https://xkcd.com/simplewriter/) is a simple website that tells you whether the words you are using are among the 1000 most common words. While 1000 words seem to me to be a little bit unnecessarily limiting and there’s a lot more to good writing than just using common words, it’s good practice for science writers to try writing without complicated scientific terms. So, I decided to take a paragraph out of a recent article I wrote and use the Simple Writer to re-write it using only the 1000 most common words. Here’s how it went:

Original text:

Atmospheric variables that can be used in climate models include the wind (which moves both horizontally and vertically), temperature, pressure, water (in the form of clouds, vapor, rain, snow, etc.), and chemistry. Physical processes that influence these variables include radiation (heat entering the atmosphere from sunlight or from the ground after it has been warmed by the sun), convection (movement of air caused by relatively warm air rising and cooler air sinking), condensation (the process by which clouds form), turbulence (small-scale wind patterns that help mix the air in the atmosphere), gravity wave drag (an effect produced by the earth’s gravity at very high levels in the atmosphere that helps account for the temperature and air flow patterns at those altitudes), and the influence of the land surface.

Now, the bolded words are the words that Simple Writer told me not to use:

Atmospheric variables that can be used in climate models include the wind (which moves both horizontally and vertically), temperature, pressure, water (in the form of clouds, vapor, rain, snow, etc.), and chemistry. Physical processes that influence these variables include radiation (heat entering the atmosphere from sunlight or from the ground after it has been warmed by the sun), convection (movement of air caused by relatively warm air rising and cooler air sinking), condensation (the process by which clouds form), turbulence (small-scale wind patterns that help mix the air in the atmosphere), gravity wave drag (an effect produced by the earth’s gravity at very high levels in the atmosphere that helps account for the temperature and air flow patterns at those altitudes), and the influence of the land surface.

As you can see, this paragraphs relies almost entirely on uncommon words, and it wasn’t a quick fix. Here’s what I came up with. What do you think? Which is easier to read and understand?

 

In order to understand what it might feel like to live on earth in the future, we have to understand the earth today and be able to put that information into a computer that uses it to see what the future might be. This means understanding every part of the earth: land, sea, and sky, and being able to tell the computer how those parts are supposed to act. This isn’t very easy to do because within each part, there are many things we must think about. In the sky alone, we have events such as clouds forming, wind blowing, and hot and cold air moving around the earth and up and down. None of these events are simple. Consider the way the wind blows. There are lots of things that change the direction and force of the wind, such as mountains and the sun’s heat. Wind can also happen in just small areas, or it can blow around large parts of the earth. The wind also carries water, either as clouds, rain, snow, ice, or in drops so small you can’t see them, and brings this water along with whatever else might be in it to different parts of the earth. The sun can change the way that all these events are happening as well, either making them happen faster or slower or not at all. This is because, when air heats up, it rises (like the heat that rises off of a hot road in the sun), and when it does, it makes wind or can change the way that the wind is blowing. These are just a few of the many things that we need to know to understand what’s happening in the sky above us. But once we have that information, we can tell the computer to try to create an picture that is the same as what we actually see on earth. If it can do this, then we can tell it to make a picture of what the future might look like.

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