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Tips: “How I Write About Science” By Established Science Writers

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Tips is a series which aims to provide young and early-career science writers with, well, tips to aid them in their budding careers. The series will attempt to link out to existing resources available online.

How I Write About Science is a blog series contributed to by reputable science writers in which they tell us, well, how they write about science! It’s run every year in conjunction with the Wellcome Trust Science writing prize and is hosted by the Wellcome Trust and the Guardian. Here’s a snapshot of what the series is all about.

It’s not only about the tips and advices, it’s also about getting inspired. The “How I Write About Science” blog series by the Wellcome Trust and the Guardian was set up to help potential applicants of their science writing competition. Contributed to by established science writers like Mo Costandi, Mark Henderson and Simon Frantz, the series gives potential science writers first-hand tips and advice but also an insight into the writing process of those writers. Always inspiring.

It’s really beneficial to have people to look up to and to learn from. This perhaps applies the most to younger writers. “How I Write About Science” has no lack of ‘mentors.’ Besides, the pool is large and includes writers who focus on various fields of science from astronomy to biology so chances are that you will find a writer to aspire to.

The pool will keep increasing too. Currently, the series spans two years’ worth of contributions (10+ contributions a year) and will probably continue with next year’s edition of the Wellcome Trust Science writing prize with other science writers.

But in the meantime, check out the current crop. Here’s a snapshot:

The Guardian and SciLogs.com blogger, GrrlScientist on writing about what you know:

Start with what you know.“ But that’s too easy,” my students often tell me. I know this sounds obvious, but when I’ve talked with my students about their writing assignments, many of them were surprised when I told them to choose a topic that they already know something about — especially something they are deeply interested in or something they want to read about. I say this because writing about a particular topic means that you will be reading and thinking deeply about this topic for the next month or so.

Ed Yong on what makes a truly great science writer (like Carl Zimmer):

Scientific papers aren’t known for their catchy titles. Here’s a typical example: “Ancestral capture of syncytin-Car1, a fusogenic endogenous retroviral envelope gene involved in placentation and conserved in Carnivora.” A good science writer could tell you what each of those technical words meant, or translate them into their everyday equivalents. They would also explain the concepts encapsulated by those words, and why they deserve your attention. And a great science writer might start with something like this: “If not for a virus, none of us would ever be born.”

The BBC’s Simon Frantz on writing long-form articles:

Writing long-form articles isn’t simply a matter of finding out the facts and positioning them in the correct order. Engaging readers also requires a structure that places them within the story, maintaining their interest through scene-setting, characterisation, pace and drama, as you unravel the often highly technical aspects of a subject that you want them to understand and appreciate.

The Guardian’s Alok Jha on brilliant science writer, Tim Radford’s manifesto for the simple scribe:

It starts with perhaps the most important instruction for any writer: “When you sit down to write, there is only one important person in your life. This is someone you will never meet, called a reader.” Remember what it is you’re trying to do when writing for a wide audience: communicate an idea clearly and accurately. If a reader ends up confused, it’s not their failure as a reader but yours as a writer.

The list of “How I Write About Science” contributions can be found at the Wellcome Trust blog or at the Guardian.

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Previously in this series:

Tips: Charles Q. Choi’s Website Is A Treasure Cove
Tips: 12 tips from Ann Friedman
Tips: Ed Yong’s On The Origin Of Science Writers
Tips: Journalist Of Tomorrow

Khalil A. Cassimally About the Author: Khalil A. Cassimally is the Community Coordinator of The Conversation UK. He's also a science blogger. He hails from a tropical island and is a happy geek. Subscribe to his updates on Facebook and Google+. Follow on Twitter @notscientific.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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