Competition: How would you explain your work if you knew only 200 simple words?

Contributed by Louise Arnal, Rebecca Emerton, Liz Stephens, Hannah Cloke

It is not always easy to explain what you work on, especially when you have to avoid using jargon specific to your field. Yet, this is something that we almost all have to do from time to time. It is important to be able to explain your research simply in order to communicate effectively with scientists in other fields and, for example, businesses, policy makers and the public.

So we thought we’d have some fun with this and run a competition designed to really test how simply you can explain a common theme of all of our work: “Ensemble hydrological forecasting”.

Here is your challenge: using only the 200 most commonly used words of the English dictionary (listed below), you will have to explain what “Ensemble hydrological forecasting” is.

To help you out a little bit, you’re also allowed the use of the word “water”. You can make words plural and use punctuation, but you cannot conjugate verbs. You can write as much or as little as you need to explain the concept.

An ECMWF surprise prize is waiting for the winner

Submit your answer in the comment box below, starting the sentence with “Ensemble hydrological forecasting is…”.

The competition will be open until 21 March 2017, after which we will put the answers to a vote to choose a winner, who will receive a prize from the team at ECMWF.

Below is a list of words that you are allowed to use, in alphabetical order. In the first comment to this post, you will find an example if you’re struggling to get started.

Good luck!

These are the words you can use:


  1. “Ensemble hydrological forecasting is…” a way to tell if water might become high or low, or not change at all, with time. There are a large number of possible states, and many systems like this run around the world.

    1. Cool, OK, you can conjugate the verbs and use punctuation. Can one also use “higher” instaed of “high”?

      1. Thank you for your comment Massimiliano. We have updated the post with a few rules: “You can make words plural and use punctuation, but you cannot conjugate verbs.” So no “higher” instead of “high”, sorry. Good luck!

        1. Then Rebecca’s entry is invalid, she uses “are” and it is not in the list. Note that “be” and “am” are in the list but not “are” or even “is”…

          1. Hi Sebastien, you’re correct, “are” is not in the list, oops! It is indeed a tough challenge! Mine will just stand as an example, and not as a competition entry. Note that “is” is part of the starting sentence “Ensemble hydrological forecasting is…” that everyone should use.

  2. “To be high, or not to be high”. People have real problems with water. Also when waters become low, then nations have great interest in water use plans.
    “Ensemble hydrological forecasting is” the way to consider these problems and work for the public interest. Old school people use only one possible state to give help to the heads of the nations.
    Many other now use more and more states of the water system and good programs to be right. Keep play with these programs and give even more help to the world. Now back to work!

  3. To “communicate effectively with scientists in other fields, businesses, policy makers and the public”: Ensemble hydrological forecasting will take over the world!

  4. Some think they know the present , but they have no way to know. “Ensemble hydrological forecasting” is to do the same thing many time when playing around with number after number.

  5. What about the word ‘a’ – doesn’t this makes the top 200?

    1. Yes indeed, sorry, I noticed that after publishing the post. There is no “am” in the list, it should be “a” instead. I will update the list, thanks!

  6. Should you want some inspiration, you can have a look at “Things explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words” by Randall Munroe. It is good fun:

  7. Already very nice definitions; I would like to contribute with:
    “Ensemble hydrological forecasting is…” the right form – as we know at this time – to show people in real-time how much or little we know about how much water will be there in some days. We run the systems many times to see which ways might be possible. More and more people under-stand, like and use it around the world.

  8. Please note that the list has been modified: “am” was removed and “a” was added instead. For those of you who have already submitted an answer, if you would like to modify it, please contact me. Sorry about that!

  9. Ensemble hydrological forecasting is… a great way to help people plan for problems they might face with water when we do not know all the things that might change.

    Say you have a problem – how can you plan what presents to get for this work if you do not know how many people will take part?

    If you ask a child how many people will take part in this work very few will get it right first time. But if you ask all the school the numbers should group around the right number. And if you ask a very (very) large school one child might even get it right! Then you can get the presents!

    Ensemble hydrological forecasting works the same way. The problem – ‘will the water go up or down during the day?’ or ‘will the water get in the houses?’. We do know know all the things that might take place during the day or how these things might work with each other so we must ask the program the same thing many times and look for the group of numbers that comes out most. This will be the most possible water state. But one of the numbers that only comes out a few times (or even only one time) might also be right. We must think about this when we tell people what to do.

    1. We do NOT know all the things (oopse!)

  10. Great idea, a tough challenge but I’ll have a crack at it. “Ensemble hydrological forecasting is a way to tell of all the possible water states from the present day through to a number of days from now, or in fact to very long lead times. All around the world people write programs and develop systems to see how much water might come and go, where and when. It helps those with interests in water changes to develop plans as early as possible, to consider the need to change, and to time any changes right. The systems give numbers about a mean state, to give a feel to a person who must make a call — do we hold back the high water this year or set it on a course? Will it go over the houses? It becomes of great use in nations that face water problems and/or large year-to-year changes.”

  11. “Ensemble hydrological forecasting is to present how much or little the water line may change so the public knows when to plan for any possible problems. “

  12. Here is my attempt. I was desperately missing the word “is” though….

    Ensamble hydrological forecasting is a way to tell if there can be too much water in a water course. As early as possible, we make many possible lines for the states of the water from day to day. In the old school they make one line, and think that one can be good, but the water state may develop another way and increase more. With many lines, we can consider how high it can be as well, and how possible that can be. Then we can make plans from that. Can it be too high for a house or a school? Can the water be a problem? This can be of public interest. How possible can the high water be? Well, I will find that out for you.

  13. ‘Ensemble hydrological forecasting’ can tell people when and where they might have too much or too little water, both now and in time to come. This can help people and nations plan, and develop ways through problems. To work out if there might be a problem we run programs many possible ways and see what they say; when many runs show a problem we know that problem is very possible.

    1. * please can i retract the ‘our’ in my entry as it isn’t on the list! I think it still works without.

      1. “our” was removed, and as you say, it still works fine :).

  14. We have a problem in that there can be too much water around which can get too high so that there might be a problem for people and it is possible home, school and all life will become not possible.
    This can make people feel not well. We must work out how much water this will be and tell people so that they can plan and even move to a more good place. They need to know if the water will go up or down, but we can never know what can be the real state of the water. If we can work out how well we know about how high the water can be and how it will go up or down we can use a large group of possible worlds to help plan early for people so no other problem can come.

  15. ‘Ensemble hydrological forecasting is’ … a way to tell the public about a number of possible water changes before they develop.

    Very short and to the point :).

    1. Clarification: The sentence ‘Very short and to the point :)’ is not part of my submission!

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