To no one’s surprise I chose a psychology article. It was actually written by one of my professors this term, Chris Peterson, who is a Positive Psychologist. To give a little background, positive psychology is the study of the things that make life worth living. It focuses on what can go right with people, rather than “business as usual psychology” that focuses on pathology. The field doesn’t deny the importance of other types of psychology, but merely calls attention to studying the healthy part of mental health.
What I like about Peterson’s writing is that he is able to translate psychological and scientific findings into something the general public can understand, while maintaining a witty tone and still somehow, coming across as a professional researcher.
Palca and Lichtman observe how difficult it is to find a universal formula for what is annoying, but they take a stab. Annoyances are unpleasant but not terribly so, at least not when experienced one at a time. Rather, it is when they are repetitive and at the same unpredictable (that is, when we do not know when they will cease) that they get under our skin.
The language and tone are something most can relate to. The article reads as a fast paced, informative, and rather easy read. The less technical jargon such as “take a stab,” and “they get under our skin,” make the piece relatable. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but a normal academic paper would not spell things out so plainly. Accordingly, there are much more complicated ways to explain the concept of repetitive annoyances being more bothersome.
For example, one might say,
the subject (you) has developed a conditioned response (annoyance at the repetitive thing) to the unconditioned stimulus (the unpredictable, but still frequent thing that bugs you).
Scientists are not always good at laying things out as simply as Peterson does. It seems so simple when he writes it, but often, it is difficult to strike a balance between writing in a scientifically proficient way and explaining your thoughts to an audience who has not taken a psychology course in a very long time. Peterson does a great job of illustrating what he means by painting for the reader, a picture of a very familiar scene, complete with very familiar language.
“A coworker who constantly badgers us, belittles us, and bullies us is a bad person, but he is not an annoyance. He is an asshole. In contrast, a coworker who tells us the same joke hundreds of times is not a bad person, but he is an annoyance, and his laughter after each telling becomes like a fingernail on a blackboard, not life-threatening but certainly life-diminishing.”
Again, a simple situation that seems obvious, but from the mind of someone coming at their explanation from a scientific point of view, it is very hard to think of scenarios that the non scientist can relate to. While one would never write this way for a peer reviewed journal article, the ability to translate the language of your particular field into a common language that everyone can understand is extremely valuable. Also, I, more than anyone, can appreciate a nice helping of cynicism and humor in any piece of writing.
Peterson’s article is not perfect, and is probably not the ideal piece for learning how to write for a scientific journal (which I will be doing for probably the rest of my life), but his casual and informative demeanor on the page is something I would like to emulate. I think the process of making a concept widely understandable is what helps the writer to fully grasp it themselves.