4 Tips for Writing about Science
Scientists may lock themselves away in a laboratory, deeply engaged in scientific research. Eventually, though, they all have one inevitable task—come out and tell the scientific community and the world that they have discovered something — a new drug, device, or research finding. Communicating the importance of this discovery — in writing or in presentations — is essential to getting noticed.
Science writing is complex, technical, data-intensive, and demanding. Scientists face a spectrum of writing tasks, from biomedical and pharmaceutical product descriptions, regulatory compliance, protecting intellectual property, FDA approvals, journal article writing, grant writing, patent writing, to blogs and website content.
According to the Global Content Impact Index of Acrolinx, a software developer that analyzes technical website content, “Many come up short. Only 31% of science, medical and healthcare website contents earned a passing grade for effectiveness and impact.”
The difficulties are multifold because audiences have differing abilities to understand science, from peer scientists, journal editors, funding agencies, patients, and laypersons to the global community. All these writing tasks need separate skill sets. A science writer needs to work hard to simplify and clarify content. If not, the neurons in anyone’s brain can get crisscrossed. You may lose your audience if you are even a little confusing or rambling.
1. Create Excitement
A good thing about science writing is that there is plenty to create excitement. We all have natural curiosity and interest in the explosive world of science, technology, and medicine. We all have specific needs. People browse through web pages and we have a natural tendency to try and get as much information as possible quickly. Short and crisp sentences that pack power and excitement and bullet points on welcoming homepages will make readers pause to read. Flowing sentences that provide good details and engage the audience in simple language are suitable for descriptive pages and blog posts.
2. Know Your Audience
A science writer must be prepared to read a lot before beginning to write. When it comes to journal article writing, you are communicating with your peer scientists and you can delve deep into science. Each and every journal has its own style, format, and strict guidelines, and one must read the instructions to submit a manuscript. When writing a grant, although similar to journal article writing, it’s better to use a conversational tone than a reporting tone. Patent writing, regulatory compliance, and FDA approvals have set guidelines with a legal component and it’s better to have a legal tone.
3. Identify The Main Subject And Stay With It
A science article needs to deal with only one core as the main subject — a drug, a molecule, or a technique, to avoid complexity and confusion. All facts must flow from it, flow back to it, revolve around it, and logically connected to it. If you need to step aside from the main subject to talk about something that has relevance, you must state the rationale first, then discuss only the relevant points of the other, and quickly return to the main subject. For example, if a pharmaceutical company is releasing a new drug for a particular disease, the article or brochure must stay focused on the new drug. It is better to refrain from talking about other drugs in the portfolio. You might think that could add some excitement and may even show your ability to produce effective drugs. No matter how exciting they may be, they weaken the main subject, the new drug. The audience is only interested what the new drug can do for their illness, and would care less about anything else.
4. Good Science Writing Is in the Rewriting
The task in science writing is to get the readers glued and make them read line by line. Difficult sentences and passages are inherent in technical writing. If it is hard to understand, the reader will look here and there down the article, and eventually give up altogether. The first step is to gather all the information in one place, put it together in a logical order and create a full document. In the rewriting step, check the flow from the beginning to the end, its cohesiveness, and paragraph transitions. Use all the tools at hand to smooth out difficult sentences. All sentences need to be tight, clear, and understandable. One may have to make many attempts to accomplish the task.
Science writing is fun and exciting if you are prepared to face the challenges. [Tweet it] You will have a deep sense of satisfaction as you help push the boundaries into new horizons.
5-Star writer Perry K is a scientific researcher with more than twenty years of experience. He worked at the level of Scientist/Associate professor at Case Western Reserve University. There he wrote scientific proposals to National Institute of Health and other competitive funding agencies and successfully brought in significant research funding.
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