My research in plain English

This week, a community of postgraduate students on twitter #phdchat discussed how they should write about their research in plain English to make it more accessible for people.  Here is my attempt.  I hope it makes sense and I would really like to hear your thoughts and comments.


Lots of people live near things that cause vibration and noise in their homes such as railways, roads, construction works, industrial premises and other people.  Vibration and noise have been found to affect people negatively, causing annoyance and sleep disturbance for example.  The government are keen to protect people from too much vibration and noise in their homes.  They also want to promote a good standard of living, health and quality of life.

My research is about what it is like to live near railways.  Railways have long been part of our residential environments and many properties are built alongside them.  A lot of research has already found that vibration and noise from railways causes some people to be annoyed.   However, many people report that they are not annoyed by the railway and appear to accept it as part of their home environment.  It is important to find out more about this as railways are likely to become busier in the future with more freight (goods) and passenger traffic.  Also, new railway lines may be built such as High Speed 2, a proposal for high speed train services between London and Scotland.

I have interviewed ten residents living near the West Coast Main Line railway in the North West of England.   I am focusing on how people talk about where they live and how they make sense of living in the places they do.  The places where we live make us who we are and form part of our identities.  Previous research has found that our relationships with places affect what we say about the things we live near.  I am exploring whether the railway presents a threat to place identity.  To find this out, I have analysed what people have said and how they have said it.

So far, I am finding that residents do talk about the railway as being a problem and something which ‘you just get used to’ over time.   Yet they also talk about it as not being a problem in comparison to trying to find a ‘decent’ place to live.   Whether residents own or rent their properties also impacts upon what they say.   For some home owners, the railway is a compromise when finding a suitable home within their price range.  They present themselves as having a choice over where they live and therefore defend their decision to live near a railway and talk positively about place.  Whereas those renting from the local authority often talk about having no control or choice about where they live, which enables them to be more negative about living near a railway.

I am still analysing my data and will write another post about my research in plain English soon.   Maybe you live near a railway or have lived near one in the past – I would love to hear about your experiences.


11 responses to “My research in plain English

  1. Hi Jenna,

    I didn’t really know what you did, only that it was something about railways and noise and interviews!

    I think your post is very plain English. I look forward to the results in plain english too! When I first started my PhD, reading papers, I promised myself I wouldn’t use big words, now I’ve slipped into the mentality of ‘put as many big words in just to try and look clever’! I think I should try this exercise myself, I’m sure I’d slip into some jargon at some point, which you avoid. For constructive feedback, I only had to do one double take for the phrase ‘threat to place identity’ 🙂



  2. That sounds fascinating – and was very clear!

    Got me thinking of places I’ve lived. I’ve never lived near a railway, but where I live now is at least half a mile from the railway, and occasionally, we hear the trains and even a slight vibration – or think we do. The rail line in question is London – Brighton.

    We lived in Germany for a few years and were under the flightpath for Hanover. It didn’t take long for us to get completely used to the planes, though visitors from the UK were very aware of them and surprised that my son, a toddler at the time, was apparently oblivious to them.

    I wonder what sounds become so much part of the fabric of living, we just don’t hear them any more. A bit like the pile of rubbish in the corner of the living room soon begins to look as though it belongs, even though it doesn’t.

    I’m really enjoying reading these plain English blogs.


  3. Really enjoyed reading the post about your research.
    I have a couple of comments. One will be as a person who is studying effective research communication strategies and one as a person with ‘pseudo’ experience in relation to the topic.

    1) I think your description of your research is very well written. There is a good progression from providing the general picture/context and the importance of the research to what was actually done as part of the research. I think the only term that may be subject to a variety of interpretation is ‘annoyance’ (annoyed). It is a very expansive term and is subject to a variety of interpretations.

    2) I grew up in Moscow Russia and lived in an apartment building with street tram tracks right outside. I should clarify that these were not trams that we have today that are more or less silent. This was post-communist Russia; when the tram passed by we definitely heard it. To echo what has been conveyed by some of your respondents, we definitely got used to the tracks, the tram and the noise. It became and still is more or less a part of the identity of the neighbourhood for the local residents. Actually, we got so used to the noise (‘annoyance’) that when there were road works and the service was suspended or diverted, there was a bit of discomfort. I remember my mom mentioning to me that she had problems sleeping. Consequently, I wonder is the railway line necessarily equated with a bad place to live? Or is the perspective dependent on other relationships?


  4. Hi Jenna

    I don’t know how non-researchers evaluate this, but it sounds very clear to my nonnative speaker ear. You have produced a well-organised, coherent text which is easy-to-follow for the reader, but not boring at all. I suffer from producing boring texts at this early stages of my thesis writing, so I admire your stile.

    I can’t comment on the content much because I’ve never lived close to railways, but know what it’s like to live with noise. I hope you can get some interesting results from your research.

    By the way, I like your webpage a lot.



  5. Thanks Jenna, I found this easy to read and engaging. In the first sentence, I’d opt for replacing the and with an even, as it expands what i would normally think of as sources of noise.
    The sentence: The places where we live make us who we are and form part of our identities. Seems important but seems to sit in the middle of nowhere, maybe placing this earlier would frame why what your studying is important?
    I like this way of getting to know people on phdchat better, so thanks for sharing,


  6. Hi Jenna,

    You explained your research really well to me when we met and you have done the same again here. It’s fascinating that you’ve found a difference between the attitudes of homeowners and people who rent in the way they describe living near the railway. And it’s true that you get used to noise and vibration after a while. I live quite close to Manchester Airport and for the first few days we lived there all I could hear were aeroplanes overhead, but now I hardly notice it.

    Looking forward to hearing more about your research!


  7. Hi All, thank you for your comments, they are really encouraging and you’ve given me some good pointers about how to make it clearer. I am taking a narrative-discursive approach to my research and that approach comes with a lot of jargon and unfamiliar/uncommon terminology which is quite difficult to get around e.g. threatened identities, stake, subject positioning etc etc. I find this hard to get around sometimes.

    I am looking at railways but I think it could be on absolutely anything in a person’s residential environment that could be seen as problematic or somehow differentiates one place from another.

    Annoyance is the normative way of researching vibration and noise, particularly in terms of developing policy and influencing standards. It is very rarely tackled by researchers using the term – what does it mean? how does it work? why are we annoyed?
    I just hope my research can show something different and contribute to moving things forward.

    Jenna 🙂


  8. Fascinating stuff Jenna – I had no idea that that was what you were researching.

    I think your description is very clear and straightforward and from the comments above from people’s own experiences of railway noise/vibration you can tell that you’ve obviously engaged people with the subject.

    I’ll be really interested to read about your conclusions.



  9. Hi Jenna,
    thanks for lets into your research world. fascinating stuff.

    During my undergrad years I lived close to the Lisbon Airport…well close enough to hear the planes taking off and landing. sometimes it almost felt they were going to fly through the my window…but as times past by I really got used to it and stop hearing them. When my mum came to visit she often complained but for me it had become an habit…a routine. Yet, to be honest, I am not sure I’d consider to buy that apartment for that same reason… 🙂


  10. Hi Jenna,
    I think your explanation looks pretty much clear and well structured. you have explained the problem, your research, your approach and some conclusions.

    I was rather trying to refrain from commenting on your research, because, as you know, I am familiar with terms within your description and I was afraid of my opinion, which would be a little bit biased. I think it’s clear. I was not confused in any point reading this text and there was not any thing which would make me have to come back and read it again. So well done 🙂

    BTW I finally know what your research is ;p

    PS. One thought. It looks interesting that some people seem to be less or more annoyed, or reported to be less or more annoyed in similar situations, justifying the answer from their own different perspectives. The answer will always be subjective.
    On one hand, people “have been given” the place to live and they’re not happy (reporting any problems available).
    On the other hand, those who have chosen their place to live themselves are not “bothered” in such problems as much because it was “their own choice” – they would already expected this issues and agreed to “live with it”. So the answer seems to be dependent on circumstances. Interesting 🙂


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