One topic in two genres
People have many different ways to gain new knowledge, such as newspaper, magazines, scientific journals, etc. All these sources can be divided into two genres – popular article and academic research. The articles published in a newspaper, magazine, or blog are popular articles. The other kind, academic research, is often posted in the academic journals. The audiences of the two genres are different. The popular article is aimed to inform normal people, who are interested in the topic but don’t have much knowledge on the topic, of some information about the new findings. In contrast, the academic paper is to used provide professional knowledge for the specialist in the area. Aiming to make academic research easy for the average public to understand, some popular article authors write new articles to summarize the academic ones. For example, in the popular article “Math links ecological flash mobs and magnet physics”, the author Kat Kerlin summarized the main idea from Andrew E. Noble, Jonathan Machta, and Alan Hastings’s academic paper “Emergent long-range synchronization of oscillating ecological populations without external forcing described by Ising universality”. Although they talk about the same topic, there are many differences between the two genres in purpose, word use, and organization. In my opinion, the popular articles represent the academic papers and make the ideas from the papers more accessible to the average people. For the average public, they are more willing to gain knowledge from the popular articles.
Even though each source is writing about the same topic, the emphasis of the popular article and the research paper is totally different. In other words, the purposes of the articles are diverse. In the research paper, Noble, Machta, and Hastings used half of the paper to explain the methods they used in the research, namely, to answer the question how they find that “long-range synchronization can emerge over distances much longer than the length scales of either dispersal or environmental correlation”.(2015) The purpose of the research paper is to inform the new finding to other researchers who are working on the same subject. The authors recorded the process and the method in the article to show the authenticity of their research. However, Kerlin didn’t mention the method in her article at all. She only analyzed the conclusion of the research paper in her article and spent more space to explain the term “animal (and fruit tree) magnetism”.(2015) Actually, animal (and fruit tree) magnetism is not explained in the content of the academic paper, but it is a good example that reflects the finding. After reading the first part of Kerlin’s article, some people may have no idea of the finding that magnet work can be used to understand what causes the events that occurs at the same time over long distance. So Kerlin gave the example of animal and fruit magnetism to help them understand. From the content of the popular article, we can find that the aim of the article is to tell the average public general information about the new finding and to explain some points they are unfamiliar with. In comparing with the academic one, Kerlin’s article would draw more public attention, because it presents the main idea of the academic paper and defines the interesting term at the same time. Although the articles are talking about the same subject, the purposes are different. Academic papers record the whole processes and the method used during the researches to make the findings reasonable and authentic while popular articles focuses on the results and interesting points in the researches.
Besides the purpose, the authors use different words between the two genres. Because the audience of the popular articles is the general public, the words used in the articles must be understandable for non-specialist. The words in the academic paper are more academic because the articles are not written for everyone to read. For instance, Kerlin argued that “the same mathematical model that’s been used to study how magnets work – a well-known concept in physics called the Ising model– can be applied to understanding what causes events to occur at the same time over long distances, despite the absence of an external, disruptive force.”(2015) Each word in the sentences is easy to understand and often used in our daily life. In contrast, the academic papers are written for the specialists and the words used in the papers should express their research accurately. So while reading “Emergent long-range synchronization of oscillating ecological populations without external forcing described by Ising universality”,(2015) whose argument is the same as the title, the average people may confused about the words “synchronization”, “oscillating” and “Ising”. Synchronization has the same meaning with “what causes events to occur at the same time” in the popular one. And Kerlin used “a well-known concept in physics called the Ising model” to explain what “Ising” is. Also, the word “oscillating”, which means having period vibrations, is not mentioned in the Kerlin’s argument because the author think the word would not help the average adults get the main argument if they have no idea of the word. From the two articles, the writers of the popular articles explain with easier words or skip the unintelligible words when they analyze the academic papers. The criterion of word use in research paper is totally different. Because one significant feature of science is accuracy, the word used in academic ones should be as accurate as possible. The use of inappropriate words can make the article less rigorous and even makes the researchers pay no attention to it. As general public readers, people would prefer the articles written in comprehensible words. While reading, most of they would not spend any time to look for the words they don’t understand in the dictionaries, and therefore they may misunderstand the arguments or the theses of the academic papers. In general, the popular article writers effectively summarize the academic papers in comprehensible words so that the average public can have right insight of the topic.
Last but not the least, the authors of two genres organize their articles in different ways. Firstly, the academic paper is much longer than the popular one. Comparing the Kerlin’s and the Noble, Machta, and Hastings’s articles, we can find that the popular article is about two-page long while the academic one is about ten-page long. Secondly, popular articles have more casual structures than academic researches. Kerlin listed several questions at the beginning of the article, and then answer the questions with the new findings. She used the questions in the first paragraph to attract audience’s attention. However, Noble, Machta, and Hastings formed their article in more formal way. They divided their article into ten parts- abstract, introduction, results, discussion, methods, additional informational, reference, acknowledgements, author information, and supplementary information. They used the organization to make the research paper clear and to help the researchers understand the whole process. Apparently, the average public prefer to read the popular article, because they can get information in several paragraphs, which is about one fifth of the academic paper. Also, the casual organization seems more attractive to them. The popular articles authors always organize their articles in short and casual organized style to make their articles attractive to the audience. And the academic ones are often long and well structured because the authors need to record any details of the researches. Every detail is related to the success of the researches. But for the average readers, they have no interest in the research details even they may become impatient when they read about the details in the articles.
The differing audiences of the articles cause the differences of purpose, word use, and organization between the two genres. Popular articles summarize main ideas and focuses more on the interesting points in the academic papers. Popular article authors provide the average audience with any knowledge that they are interested in their articles. They also translate the profound words from academic papers into simple words to help the audience understand the thesis. Moreover, the short and casual organization of the popular articles makes the average public more willing to read through the articles. The general people, who are not the specialists in the research area, don’t need to spend much to read through the long academic articles. They just need to take several minutes to get the general ideas from the popular ones. If popular article authors don’t summarize research papers, most of the average public would refuse to gain knowledge from readings because they don’t want to waste much time on the boring articles they are not interested in. In other words, popular articles make academic knowledge more accessible to the public and increase people’s interest in reading. Gradually, the popular articles improve the educational level of normal people to some extent.
Kat, Kerlin. (2015). Math links ecological flash mobs and magnet physics. UC Davis egghead, 8 April. Retrieved on 1th June, 2015 from
Andrew E. Noble, Jonathan Machta, and Alan Hastings. (2015). Emergent long-range synchronization of oscillating ecological populations without external forcing described by Ising universality. Nature Communications, 6, 6664. Retrieved on 1th June, 2015 from