The Hairy Lemon, Your Colleague’s Grandmother, and Making Information Accessible

By guest blogger Stephanie Stewart-Hill


Say you are a researcher working in Dublin and your colleague’s grandmother comes to visit. She takes you and your coworker out to lunch at a popular, yet quirky, pub called the Hairy Lemon. You order food and a couple of pints, and as you are waiting for it all to come out, she asks you about your current research. Your colleague’s grandmother is no doubt an intelligent woman, but she does not have the same level of education in your specialized field. If you tell her exactly what you do using your specific jargon, despite your best intentions, she may feel belittled for not fully understanding your work. That is certainly no way to make your coworker’s grandmother feel. Therefore, like the wise researcher you are, you will alter the way in which you explain your project.

Instead, you tell her what your work involves in a way that fully encapsulates the project without the need of the Oxford Dictionary or J Stor database. As you go along, you build up her base of knowledge about your research little by little with more general concepts to create common ground. By creating this common ground, you are both on the same page about your research. In other words, you each know what the other knows. Your coworker’s grandma begins to understand what you are talking about while you simultaneously are aware of the extent of her knowledge. You will be able to have a productive conversation without skipping over any important details. This is essential because without common ground, it is easy to make assumptions that often lead to poor understanding on the listener’s part, simply because you expected them to know something they do not. Your grandmother is now able to understand what you are doing; she could even ask questions or make further comments. By simplifying your work, you have made the research accessible to someone outside of your field.

What use is research if the people it is studying cannot understand it? Essentially our research is designed to further society and help people. If it is only presented in such a way that lends itself to experts in that specific field, then the majority of its importance is lost. It cuts the information off from interdisciplinary use or an everyday reader being able to access it fully. By producing a form of your research that is readable by a general audience, you are actually fulfilling its true purpose more than ever. By presenting your research in an approachable manner, everyone from different fields of work to your colleague’s grandmother will benefit.

Posted July 5, 2018. Copyright Conor Mc Guckin