Skip to content
Surprising Science

Using Only These Words, Explain This Hard Idea

Inspired by a comic strip, a geneticist has created a text editor that restricts writers to the 1000 most commonly used words in the English language.

What’s the Latest Development?

Inspired by a comic strip describing the parts of a NASA Saturn V rocket, geneticist Theo Sanderson has created the Up-Goer 5 Text Editor, which asks users to “explain a hard idea using only the ten hundred most used words” in the English language. Inspired by the editor, which is free and available online, bloggers Chris Rowan and Anne Jefferson have challenged scientists to explain their work using the editor. Submissions appear on their Ten Hundred Words of Science Tumblr page.

What’s the Big Idea?

Any layperson who’s spent time trying to read scientific and academic texts will appreciate this attempt to make their authors aware of what they write and how they write it. If the results appear overly simplistic or even “dumbed-down,” there’s a good reason for that: When forced to use simpler words, the writer creates text that, when read, sounds like something even the least-educated (relatively speaking) would comprehend: “[C]hildren have a very limited perspective and background, so new information has to be given in a context that they are capable of understanding, and that generally means using a reasonably small vocabulary.” 

Photo Credit:

Read it at


Up Next