Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Critiquing the Official Style in Practice

Critiquing the Official Style in Practice

            The journal Psychological Science is a publication created for and maintained by the Association for Psychological Science.  This group of individuals, previously known as the American Psychological Society represents a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to the advancement of scientific psychology and its representation at both the national and international levels. The organization was founded in 1988 and currently has approximately 26,000 members of varying professions including scientists, academics, clinicians, researchers, teachers and administrators. As an activity system, the journal strives to keep their readership informed about changes and advancements in the field of psychology and related matters.  This online journal alternates between being an open access platform and having articles hidden behind a pay-wall.  For example, the article entitled Inhibition Drives Early Feature-Based Attention, which is the subject of this critique, was initially available in its entirety online and was located after performing a simple Google search. Now, the article is hidden behind a pay-wall that provides several different fee options in order to view the article. In changing the access to the article the information included, the style in which the article was written and the uses of the article are all cast into a new light.

            The article discusses an experiment that was designed by Jeff Moher, Balaji M. Lakshmanan, Howard E. Egeth, and Joshua B. Ewen and conducted by J. Moher and B.M. Lakshmanan to test how visual processing is affected by outside stimuli and distractions.            J. Moher wrote the initial manuscript and all contributed to the final publication. All of the authors are professionals in the field of psychology working either in the university setting or for a private institution designed to assist individuals with developmental disorders. Because Psychological Science is a peer-reviewed journal, articles published are intended first and foremost to be of assistance to their membership. Accounting for this fact, one would expect the language used to be extremely formal and the scores on any readability test to reflect the advanced level of schooling that all involved have accomplished. However after the completing a readability test on several sections of the article, the abstract earned the highest score averaging a grade level of 14.7 amongst the various measures and a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 27.8 which means it is best  understood by university graduates though the Flesch-Kincaid grade level only places the abstract at 13.9 grade level.

            The inconsistency in grade level assessment is in large part due to the syntax of the article.  The words employed are often familiar if irregularly used.  While there is vocabulary that is specific to the field of sight and mental capacity this is presented in context and without additional clarification owning to the fact that this article was written for fellows in the field who would be familiar with and expect such jargon. Words that are familiar are used to describe larger concepts such as visual input, visual processing and sensory processing used to describe sight or seeing. Using these terms to express a fairly simple concept does two things: it lends credibility to the authors as professionals in their field and also allows specific elements of visual processing to be discussed, from initial exposure to the time the image is processed by the test subject.  However, in using this language, the authors have also created an additional barrier to any in the general public, as is shown by the Flesch-Kincaid readability score.

            This article details an experiment that could have important implications for the way people respond to stimulus, and based on the researcher’s professional and academic credentials their interest seems to be focused on individuals with special needs.  Information as to how to assist children with special needs is often required by those outside of the academic world.  Often parents or educators working with a child may not have the resources to seek help from a professional institution and would benefit from the results of this experiment being presented in an easy to understand manner.  The information would also be beneficial to the general public to make people aware of reaction time irregularities that may exist and to help avoid potentially hazardous situations.

            In addition to the official style over-complicating the explanation of a simple process like seeing, the pay-wall is also a further barrier to the information being provided to a larger audience. Information about the way people process the things that they see can be useful in a myriad of different situations, from driving tests to both the production and the purchasing sides of manufacturing. If presented in a manner that more people could comprehend without having to do additional research or re-read sections of the article to obtain the meaning, the information could have long-reaching effects, not because the experiment told us something new and interesting but because it answers questions science was already asking about the way we perceive our world.

Vanessa Kocar

ENG 313

Dr. Bryan Kopp

Official Style Critique

March 20, 2014

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