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.
Today we feature the website of prolific science writer, Charles Q. Choi, which is packed with information about writing, pitching, how to keep up with science news and also links to numerous resources and more. Full disclosure: Charles is a blogger on Scientific American.
Writers’ websites are a familiar sight. Pictures of beautiful sceneries, list of their writings (clips included), some impressive background information and a prominent contact tab which subtly suggests: “hire me!” Science writer, Charles Q. Choi’s website though goes further. The first link on Charles’ homepage has the tagline: “Reference guides for journalists.” This part of Charles’ website is effectively not promotional content but a comprehensive guide to science journalism.
Charles’ guide is divided into four sections: adages, primers, resources and class.
In the adages section, Charles showcases a collection of tips he’s amassed from his own personal experience and from other journalists. There are currently 4 tips about investigative journalism, 27 about general journalism and another 27 related to writing. Charles’ tips range from the classics...
The five W's always hold true: Who, what, where, when, why and their bastard progeny, how.
If space permits, include as much context as possible for stories.
… to the more eccentric.
Think like a police officer. Detectives use what is known as the cognitive interview technique.
Think like a cinematographer. It's amazing how far this metaphor can go... zooming in and zooming out, panning from one area to another, focusing tightly or with blur, considerations of light and shadow, using fades or cuts, etc.
Try writing stories as if they were poems such as sonnets or roundels. This will help teach you the utility of repetition and alternation to create rhythm and tension.
Charles shares his sources of information in the primers section. There, you will find a list of links to prestigious peer-reviewed journals, online preprint servers such as Arxiv.org, press release servers and scientific organisations. There are also some paragraphs about embargo and how to register for embargo access which you might find very insightful indeed.
The readings section does not consist of guide books only. In addition to a selection of guide books about journalism in general, Charles also points us to exemplary novels and stories from great journalists.
The class section stems from a series of workshops Charles gave in 2001. While this section is a syllabus of sorts, it contains some gems. This is where Charles actually tells you how a be a great science journalists. Through the assignments, which he indicates in bold, he is effectively guiding you along the process of writing for publication. In this section, Charles covers: pitching, researching, interviewing, structure, improvements you may want to consider for your second draft, ethics and working as a science journalist.
Charles’ website is neither the typical writer’s promotional website nor is it the budding science journalists’ typical reference guide. It’s a hidden treasure cove radiating with an awful lot of information. You just have to dive in and you’ll be on your way.