William J-A Ou, Gil J B Henriques, Athmanathan Senthilnathan, Po-Ju Ke, Tess N Grainger, Rachel M Germain. 2022. Writing Accessible Theory in Ecology and Evolution: Insights from Cognitive Load Theory. BioSience
Theories underpin science. In biology, theories are often formalized in the form of mathematical models, which may render them inaccessible to those lacking mathematical training. In the present article, we consider how theories could be presented to better aid understanding. We provide concrete recommendations inspired by cognitive load theory, a branch of psychology that addresses impediments to knowledge acquisition. We classify these recommendations into two classes: those that increase the links between new and existing information and those that reduce unnecessary or irrelevant complexities. For each, we provide concrete examples to illustrate the scenarios in which they apply. By enhancing a reader's familiarity with the material, these recommendations lower the mental capacity required to learn new information. Our hope is that these recommendations can provide a pathway for theoreticians to increase the accessibility of their work and for empiricists to engage with theory, strengthening the feedback between theory and experimentation.