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Gobbledegook, or how to avoid it by entering the SSHRC Storytellers contest

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Carla Funk, Doctoral Candidate at Royal Roads University and a Top 25 finalist in the SSHRC Storytellers contest

gobbledegook
British Dictionary definition for gobbledegook
/ˈɡɒbəldɪˌɡuːk/
noun
1.       pretentious or unintelligible jargon, such as that used by officials

Has this happened to you?

You are out socializing when a friend asks you about your research, and you answer. They ask another question, and you reply again, this time a little more in-depth. Then, said friend turns to others and says, “Isn’t it funny? She just talked for 10 minutes and I don’t understand a word she just said!”

As a doctoral candidate I struggle to communicate with friends and family about something I am passionate about: my research topic. The specialized academic discourse that is instilled in students during their rigorous courses of study does not translate well into the everyday discourse of those who are not steeped in the same language. In essence, we are speaking a different language than the people we socialize with and, for those of us in the social sciences, the people we study. If I were a physicist, perhaps a language gap might be excusable, but even the genius physicist Albert Einstein proclaimed, “It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid”.

My research needs to be understood by people that don’t necessarily speak the academic language of a social scientist. At the front-end of the research process, I need to deliver the message of the importance of my research to informants and participants, otherwise I run the risk of narrowing the pool of people that might be willing to engage and share their views. At the tail-end, I need to ensure that the results of this research are placed in the hands of practitioners and decision makers, who certainly won’t give my results the time of day if they are communicated in some form of academic gobbledegook. So while it is critically important to the academic process that I understand and speak ‘academese’, it is equally critical that I am able to engage with a broader audience.

The SSHRC Storytellers contest challenged me to communicate my research story beyond the confines of the academic world in real language that everyone can understand - in three minutes or less. This means that by simply watching a short video almost everyone, including my friend, is able to understand the objectives of my work without having to spend years in higher education. I think Albert Einstein would approve, don’t you?

Join Carla and the rest of the Top 25 Storytellers finalists at the SSHRC Storytellers showcase June 1, 10 am in the East Expo Event Space, Monpetit Hall.

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Congress 2015