How Scientists and Engineers Can Communicate Effectively with Non-Experts [Video]

Jargon significantly slows down communication, and most people tend to tune out when they hear complex theories or research statistics. This is problematic when scientists and engineers need to explain their work to non-experts. Scientists use jargon for a reason–other words simply don’t fit–but if they cannot communicate clearly with non-scientists, they can’t get effectively get their points across.

Melissa Marshall is a communication professor who taught engineering students at Penn State. She describes her experience as Alice in Wonderland; she was a wide-eyed traveler seeing an entirely new world for the first time, scared of the the big words thrown around by educated engineering students.

“Great conversations can’t occur if our scientists and engineers don’t invite us in to see their wonderland,” Marshall says. “Talk nerdy to us.”


Marshall recommends focusing on relevance to get across the point of research. Relevance isn’t always clear, but it’s a constant with scientific research. Listeners need to understand the point of science or engineering concepts in order to appreciate them, and experts can greatly improve their communicative skills simply by focusing on relevance when interacting with non-experts.

She also recommends making ideas accessible through clear language. Marshall notes that Einstein once said to “make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler,” and notes that there is a definite distinction between simplifying a concept and dumbing it down. Examples and analogies can also make for more of an interesting presentation.

Marshall recommends dropping bullet points from scientific presentations, since they can create an overwhelming effect, and illustrating ideas through more creative ways. Scientists and engineers need to think of how their audiences will see their work, and with the right approach, even the most specialized, jargon-filled field can make for great conversation and communication.

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