Up Goer Five is one of Randall Munroe’s more famous recent xkcd infographics in which he attempts to describe the workings of a Saturn V rocket using only most commonly used 1,000 words in the English language. Here’s just a part of it:
Inspired by this, The Up-Goer Five Text Editor is a fun tool (created by Theo Sanderson) that restricts the user to just the same 1,000 words. Anything not in that tiny dictionary will be given familiar squiggly red underlines.
Scientists have been trying to explain the work they do using only this reduced language. Here’s the work of a paleontologist summarised:
I study tracks, trails, places where animals make homes, and shit, both new and old, and figure out how animals do these things.
Tony Martin, paleontologist
Some of these passages come across as quite patronising (“We burn dead black stuff so that we can build things, power our houses and make our cars go.”), but some of the better ones are quite poetic. io9 has a beautiful description of Saturn:
There is a world that goes around the sun, ten times farther away from the sun than the world we live on. This world is really big – about ten times as wide as our world – and most of it is thick air pulled tight together. It has big beautiful rings around it, made of many pieces of ice.
A loving upgoerfive intro to Saturn and some of its moons, by Rachel Klippenstein
It’s worth reading the full thing.
Cool, but what does this all have to do with SEO?
One of the key factors in Search Engine Optimisation — arguably the single most important factor — is using the keywords and key phrases in your text that readers will actually be searching for. Put another way, it’s no use saying ‘arthropod’ if readers are searching for ‘bug’.
The Up-Goer Five Text Editor could be a useful tool for testing small chunks of copy to get a sense of which words might be problematic. Of course, the average adult is going to know many, many more than 1,000 words (between 50,000 and 75,000 words actually), and precision or effective communication shouldn’t be sacrificed, but it’s an interesting exercise nonetheless. To paraphrase a great scientist: Good writing should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.
- Found via Ben Goldacre
- A blog post by the creator: A bit more about the Up-Goer Five Text Editor – splasho.com
- This #upgoerfive about Saturn and its moons is a truly beautiful thing – io9.com
- Ten Hundred Words of Science – tenhundredwordsofscience.tumblr.com – A Tumblr blog collecting examples of scientific concepts explained using the UG5 editor.
- There are even more examples on Twitter under the hashtag #upgoerfive
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