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.
Last week, science writer and Scientific American blogger, Charles Q. Choi, contributed as guest blogger on the Scitable blog, ScholarCast. In his three guest posts, Charles explored what it means to be a science writer.
(Full disclosure: I am the community blog manager of Scitable’s science blogging network.)
In his introductory interview on the ScholarCast blog, Charles describes science writing as “a never-ending seminar of the most fascinating latest discoveries in science.” While this is a poetic description of what science writing is all about, it gives little as to what the occupation actually demands of science writers. In the three guest posts Charles contributed to ScholarCast, he dives into just that. After reading Charles’ guest posts, one concludes that science writing requires hard work, dedication, pertinence, journalist flair... and, sometimes, odd sleeping patterns!
Charles’ three guest posts address three aspects of science writing: making of a story, the demands of science writing, the important art of asking the right questions.
In his first guest post, Bonobo Stone Tales: The Making Of A Story, Charles explains how important it is for a science writer to continually keep up to date with the latest research and report science news from different angles which will appeal and be informative to readers.
Scientists love revealing secrets about the world that no one else knew about before, and science journalists are the same way. So how might a science writer go about doing that? Find an obscure backdoor [...] As is often the case with science, the key [is] to take knowledge everyone has access to and look at it in a different light and mine out insights.
In A Day In My Life As A Freelance Science Writer, his second guest post, Charles gives a detailed insight into his writing routine. It can be a tough read for wannabe science writers, what with Charles’ constant pitching, late-night interviews, etc. But apart from being an honest look into the profession, Charles’ reminds us that with enthusiasm and a passion for science, science writing is really a blast.
Staying up until the dead of night for work might seem extreme, and ridiculous. I'll be honest, I don't always do this, but I do it often enough to consider it part of my schedule. So why do it? The thing is, I love my work, and think it's fun, which means I often work for fun. Science writing is like an endless exploration of all the mysteries the universe has to offer, a way to constantly enthrall my roving mind. As bad or as dull as the world can get, science writing has shown me there's always something extraordinary on the horizon.
In his final guest post, What Makes A Good Science Writer, Charles gives lots of advice about how to conduct interviews for a science story. He even includes a list of, shall we say, generic questions.
What do you personally find most surprising or exciting or important about your work?
What specific directions do you think your research might or should go from here? What obstacles do you foresee in future research or development?
Are there any specific questions or criticisms you feel others might have about these findings?
What specific potential applications might this research hold?
You can read Charles’ full contributions to ScholarCast here. Charles’ Scientific American blog is also a must-read/bookmark/subscribe for young and early-career science writers. As is his website, which was recently featured on this blog.
Previously in this series: