Should Statistics Be written in laymans terms?

Firstly when considering this question you have to define what “laymans terms” is. I think that laymans terms are terms that anyone with basic mathematical skills could understand. Personally I think that stats should be written in laymans terms, as it doesn’t come easily to every individual and I believe that it would help greatly when trying to understand what is going on it was written like that.

I think this would benefit not only people like us that are trying to understand how to do statistics but people in the wider public who would like to know more about how companies and researchers have gotten the results that are presented in papers.  I don’t think that the way statistics are written know benefits anyone who struggles to understand the different terms, in fact in my opinion is isolates them because it is so hard to get round and understand the different terms. I can’t see what disadvantages there would be to having more people understand what is being written? (if anyone can please say!)

This is a short and sweet post, but my view on it is pretty straight forward!



11 thoughts on “Should Statistics Be written in laymans terms?

  1. As you said, this was short and sweet and, might I add, a goop point to make.

    Perhaps for illustrative purposes you might have compared the prescribed reading for this year and last. In first year, we dealt with a book that dealt only in stats and, while fairly clear, made no attempts to make the subject relateable for the reader. This year, Andy Field’s book was recommended to us, and it had an extremely different approach – here stats was broken down to its most fundamental components and presented in all manner of situations and curious stories. While some may scoff at the unscientific tone of the book, it must be said that Field’s book is still comprehensive, and by presenting stats in layman’s terms, makes everything more approachable. With a greater need for improvements in scientific comprehension, such methods must be applauded and encouraged.

  2. I agree that often research papers can be very difficult to understand, even for people that are familiar with the concepts. I have recently started reading a lot more papers for my project proposal and I have to say, some of it just goes straight over my head. It’s difficult to comprehend all the jargon and the numbers among other things. However, everything has its own set of jargon for a reason. Should we really make everything the same and accessible to all? The jargon, as such, that is often used by particular fields in psychology, science, medicine etc has been developed to aid the individuals in that field. For example, ABG, ACE, WBC, ancef? Could anyone really make sense of these abbreviations without a knowledge of medical jargon? I couldn’t and to be completely honest if I was rushed into hospital with people shouting all sorts of things above my head, I don’t think it would do me any good to know what they were saying. These abbreviations ensure that vital information is transferred between doctors, nurses etc quickly so they can get the job done! Therefore subject specific jargon does have its uses. However in psychology reports we’re hardly likely to have an emergency like in an A&E department and it may be more useful to the public if we wrote in laymans terms but it is so much easier for researchers etc to write in terms they work with everyday. And after all research is often reviewed by other researchers.

    Turney (1996), however, added an interesting point into the debate; suggesting that people have an appetite for scientific information but scientists have a responsibility to explain research in a way that the public can use. Therefore suggesting that “we need to improve the scientists understanding of the public” to help to ensure that they have access to the literature.

    My opinion, on the other hand, is really that if someone wants to read a scientific paper badly enough then they will spend the time researching what the different terms etc mean 🙂 after all it is possible to learn to read scientific journals etc with practice (even if it can be incredibly tedious!)


    If anyone wants to know what the abbreviations above stand for they are from:

    Turney, J. (1996). Public understanding of science. The Lancet, 347, 1087-1090.

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  4. I agree with your view that science and stats should be written in layman’s terms, however it is also important to consider the downside to this.

    Although ‘ecstatic’ above, make a really good point about the Andy Field’s book, this is not always the case and more often than not, scientific and stats books are often written in a ‘dumbed-down’ manner or have far too much jargon in them for the average student to be able to comprehend. It is also important to remember that we are psychologists undertaking an undergraduate degree, and thus it is important to have not everything written in layman’s terms as we need to maintain a certain level of professionalism to allow us to communicate effectively with one another in an efficient way. For this, I feel that it is important to find the balance and have the right amount of jargon.

    However, when it comes to research articles, I also agree with your other point about how it important for research articles to be written in layman’s terms, especially when the article has an impact on the general public. Some may argue that all research has an impact on the general public, but I’m talking about research such as that with children with ADHD, where the parents of the children may be reading an article that has been pumped full of jargon and the parents have no comprehension of it due to this. I think that science sometimes becomes a bit too elitist, and you see it sometimes when you read journal articles that have been published in the “top” journals, where [as ‘Psychmja1’ has said above], you finish reading the article and you have no idea what you have just read. I think it is important to remember that although professionalism is important when scientists are addressing other scientists [such as in text-books, etc.], sometimes it is not always necessary when addressing the general public, especially in research articles. We have to remember that most research is funded by the tax payer, so it is important to cater the publication of research to this.

    Anyway, you make a really good point. Sorry for the rambling, I do agree that research should be written in layman’s terms; however it should be a balance between complex jargon and simple terms, however it is difficult to state where to cross the line on what is considered too complex and what appears ‘dumbed-down’. I think it is important to take into consideration that not all information is apriori and we were not born with the innate knowledge of what a two-way ANOVA and sometimes simple explanations are the most effective.


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  6. I agree with you the the use of scientific terminology can be alienating for those who do not understand the subject. However, I would contend that the use of such terminology has allowed science to progress, rather than being held back by endless amounts of typing and retyping. I totally understand how annoying it is to read a journal that is visibly written in English and not understand a sentence of it, however I also see it from the perspective of the researcher. The researchers are conducting large quantities of research into in-depth areas of science. It would be extremely frustrating for them to have to write everything down in a way that is understood by everyone. They have studied these areas for years and having to reduce this information into ‘laymans’ terms would be both annoying and almost insulting. I’d find it rather insulting anyway, having studied psychology for three years by the end of my degree I want to proudly be able to waffle on in ridiculous language and know that I know what it means. This is a comment based purely on my pride for completing a degree, but it extends further than that.

    Previously I made a comment on this topic on another blog that writing in a scientific manner is unethical because it makes the research less beneficial to everyone. Not everyone can understand it and therefore cannot benefit. However, surely if researchers are wasting time rewording their work to ensure everyone can understand it, then we may be preventing further research being conducted that could also benefit everyone. Much research uses terminology to refer to a background of other pieces of research and information that the reader should be able to recall on the presentation of this one word or phrase, for example a piece of research may mention the V1 area of the brain, it would be hugely time consuming for the researcher to have to explain what this is, where it is, how it was found etc. Science uses this vast web of jargon to summarise years of research and knowledge, to rewrite these years would be ridiculous. Therefore I would contend writing science in layman’s terms is unrealistic, scientist write the way they write because it allows them to refer to and use previous knowledge and research without having painstakingly write each piece of evidence down, aiding the progression of science.

  7. An interesting blog, and if psychologists decided to write stats in laymens term just imagine how much easier our job as undergraduates would be. However is it really realistic to do? When you read through results sections in papers, it is not always just numbers they have, it has already been simplified in terms of figures and graphs for the more commonly interested, and then if you are further interested in the actual analysis carried out you can read the section in the paper.
    I Personally think that it is unrealistic to write stats in more laymen terms, as it is a techinal discipline, and if it is written in laymens terms some of the scientific value might get lost.
    That some people do not understand stats is just unfortunate, but luckily it is one of the things that can be learnt, through a lot of hard work, but it can still be learnt.

  8. I think statistics should shouldn’t be written for the layman but I also think I should only be taught to people who are going to use statistics in their professions. If I had read my stats book from last year before I came to University I may well have changed my mind about studying psychology, as the amount of information I needed to learn about statistics was staggering, and bears little relevance to my desired profession of being a educational psychologist. And unless statistics are presented in the simplest terms possible many people will struggle to understand them, for example according to the Dyscalculia forum between 3.6-6.5% of the population has dyscalculia, meaning they would struggle with even the most basic mathematics. Meaning if a person with dyscalculia wanted to become a clinical psychology, they would most likely fail their undergraduate degree if it involved 3 years of exams on statistics. Therefore whilst understanding statistics is necessary for becoming a researcher it doesn’t need to be so widely taught and therefore made easier to understand for the layman.

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  10. Hey, i like your points but i’m afraid i’mm inclined to disagree.

    I think stats is just a language you have to learn, once you know what an F is and what DF and N are, you can read any stats. It’s just about learning the language!

    It would be nice of course if stats was simply put, but for that to happen the stats would have to be simple. Stats is, unfortunately, not simple, so i think the language has to reflect that.

    As for those who say ‘well we weren’t told abotu stats’, stats is and always will be an intrinsic part of Psychology. I wish it could be simple, but i don’t think it can be. Just in the same way as the language, besides if it were we’d have to go through the GCSE thing of ‘well… what they taught you is actually wrong;

    I’m not up for that…

  11. The Helsinki decleration states that research should be available to all (Helsinki, 2008). I personally feel that for this to be the case everyone should be able to fully understand the findings. So I would have to say that ‘yes it should be written in laymans terms’. Many argue that we are taught to write academically, but I would argue that we are in fact taught to write the complete opposite and told constantly that our writing should be understood by an indivisual who does not study psychology, with explanations of any termonology that we use.

    As for the arguement that stats is important in psychology, well yes it is, but as long as it is explained that the finding are significant (and this termonology is explained) I find nothing here that could stop an individual from still understanding a simple, well written paper.

    Helsinki, 2008 –

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