Simple English please!

Simple English please!

Experts: More research required to understand them.

And it's a pity because we need experts and their expertise to understand the world. They're the ones studying climate change, developing medicines and pushing technology for decades, but everyone thinks it was Apple, Bayer or Al Gore. Why? Because they know how to make the discoveries understood by the masses.

Jargon gets in the way of communicating knowledge. Among the team here, we are also guilty of speaking tech-drive gobbledygook (»I automated the deployment process with a GitHub webhook.« or »We could reduce the algorithmic complexity by switching to a Delaunay triangulation.«)

As experts, we understand our language and – worse – no longer know when we cross the line into the incomprehensible.

Randall Munroe (also known as xkcd) has developed an interesting approach. In one of his comics, he detailed the blueprints of the Saturn Five rocket using only the 1,000-most-common words in the English language.

Based on this (and Munroe's book »Thing Explainer« book), we decided to develop a tool that would use the frequency of words to recognize uncommon terms, like technical terms.

Using large text collections from Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg, we extracted data and counted how often a word appeared. The data was then built into a web app that highlights uncommon words in yellow, orange and red according to how little it appears in our everyday language.

We've spent the last weeks experimenting with the tool, especially to see if it helps us guide our content for products like children's books or presentations.

Try it yourself

We currently support English and German. If you want to try it, here it is:

Füge deinen Text ein. Komplizierte Wörter werden hervorgehoben.

häufige Worte     seltene Worte

Enter or paste any text. Uncommon words will be highlighted.

common words     uncommon words

The code is available on GitHub for everyone. Feel free to use, fork and improve.