Simplicity is one key to clarity despite complexity
WHY is simplicity important for scientific communication?
The objective of scientific communication (as one form of technical communication) is to enable an audience to faithfully understand specific information presented by the author. Understanding technical communication can be challenging because people can only process a limited amount of information at any one time (Marois and Ivanoff, 2005). For example, "Miller's Law" hypothesizes that the number of discrete concepts that a person can hold in working memory averages 7 +/- 2 (Miller, 1956). However, the capacity of some types of working memory may be even more limited to as few as 3 elements (Fukuda et al., 2010). Therefore, to faithfully communicate, authors must limit the amount of information presented to audiences at any one time.
Technical communication often involves communicating complex principles or reasoned arguments that can involve a large amount of information. Therefore, to avoid overwhelming audiences with too much information, clear technical communication uses simple frameworks and language (Lebrun, 2011). A useful rule of thumb is:
To present more complex information, use simpler structure and language.
Consequently, scientists and other technical writers consistently work to make their presentations simpler: clearer, more concise, and more accurate. The following sections review WHAT are some general principles that can contribute to simple presentation, and HOW we can simplify scientific writing in practice.