February 1, 2007

Writing about science

Dave Munger of Cognitive Daily has a nice long post on how to write about scientific research for a general audience.

His points may seem obvious, but they certainly bear explicit mention. It can be a challenge to make science interesting to a mass audience in a culture that doesn't value science very highly compared to "entertainment" and I think he hits a lot of points on how to make science entertaining too.

  1. Find interesting research -- this one's obvious, the subject needs to be compelling and relevant enough to catch people's attention.
  2. Show why it's interesting first
  3. Let the research speak for itself
  4. Don't include details that are only relevant to scientists
  5. Don't use scientific jargon
  6. Tell a story
  7. Visuals need the same treatment as words
  8. Keep it concise
  9. Cite your sources
  10. Don't overstate your case
  11. Have fun

Munger's core idea seems to be to find an interesting, relevant piece of research, show why it's interesting, put the cool details and cool pictures in the story (leaving out the boring stuff). But mostly, tell a good, human story and definately let your enthusiasm for the story shine through. The only thing Munger doesn't mention that I would highlight the suggestion that a good science story will also be a story about good scientists. Their struggles to figure out how nature works, the successes and failures, can also make extremely compelling reading. I always find if I can relate to the struggle of doing a good job, I can get a lot more out of the content of the story.

Good stuff -- go read it. There's certainly a lot of ideas that are relevant to bloggery.

Update 2007.02.08: A bunch more relevant posts from the ScienceBlogs universe, this time on learning to write like a scientist:


CogSci Librarian said...

Great ideas -- good, popular science writing is very important to get non-science folks interested (imho).

A recent Time magazine issue on The Mystery of Consciousness is a great example. Well-written articles by big names in consciousness & cognitive science.

(I have no affiliation with Time, just a layman's interest in cog sci).

John Dupuis said...

Thanks, CogSci, I appreciate your comment. I'll certainly check out Time -- I think it's the one currently on newsstands. If not, well, I'll try the library...