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The other's perception of a streamflow sample: From a bottle of water to a data point

Brunner, Manuela, Pool, Sandra, Kiewiet, Leonie, Acheson, Elise
Hydrological processes 2018 v.32 no.18 pp. 2922-2927
hydrologic models, information sources, runoff, stream flow, surveys
In scientific communication, ambiguities in term usage can go unnoticed due not only to the distance between reader and writer but also to the existence of highly specialized scientific subcommunities. This commentary therefore aims at raising awareness about the use of terms that have different meanings within different hydrological subcommunities such as field hydrology, hydrological modelling, or statistical hydrology. To do so, we discuss the use of the following commonly used hydrological terms: sample, runoff, discharge, and streamflow. We performed three types of analyses to provide evidence of term usage and understanding, including both qualitative and quantitative approaches: a drawing exercise, a survey, and a literature corpus analysis. These analyses allow for a comparison of spontaneous definitions and the actual use of these terms in scientific publications. Our various information sources revealed that the dialogue between hydrologists within and across subdisciplines is substantially influenced by personal conceptualizations of terms that are not always shared across conversational partners. The terms discussed and illustrated in this commentary have to be seen as a small sample used to demonstrate the need for a thoughtful use of hydrological terms when communicating research, not only to a general audience but even across subdisciplines within hydrology.