Rene Jansen
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How to write a good science article for the public

How to write a good science article for the public

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Rene Jansen Presentation Transcript

  • 1. | 1 › Science LinX / René Fransen Translating your research into a really gripping story
  • 2. | 2 Who am I? › Biology, Utrecht University, 1983-1989 › PhD, post doc, Utrecht University Medical Centre, 1989-1996 › Science Editor University Newspaper 1996-april 2012, freelance science writer › Science Writer at ScienceLinX (Science Faculty), freelance science writer and consultant
  • 3. | 3 How to write about your Science › Writing is an art, not an exact science › Listen, learn, but don’t copy a method
  • 4. | 4 What’s on the menu? › Why write about your research? › Short stories › How to start writing • Preparation • Composition › Checklists › Getting published › THIS IS NOT A COMPREHENSIVE COURSE!
  • 5. mm-dd-yy | 5 Good writing starts right here:
  • 6. | 6 Why write about your research? › It’s fun to share what you’re doing › Taxpayers like to know where their money went › A popular summary may be part of an application process › You may want to express an expert opinion on some issues
  • 7. | 7 Popular Science should be… › Short › Simple › Spectacular (sort of) › Typical science story: • Web based, 400-600 words • Print: not much longer • So you’re going to write a short story!
  • 8. | 8 Short does NOT mean condensed!
  • 9. mm-dd-yy | 9 Even if you have 2000 words… › It’s meal, not a big buffet
  • 10. | 10 You are writing a story › A story has a beginning, and ending and something in the middle that connects both
  • 11. mm-dd-yy | 11 How to start writing? › A) Plan every bit › B) Write, then cut back › C) Write, check when to stop
  • 12. mm-dd-yy | 12 How to start writing? › So what is best? Your votes please for 1. A) Planning 2. B) Write & cut 3. C) Write & count 4. Doesn’t matter which
  • 13. mm-dd-yy | 13 How to start writing › Option C) is a recipe for disaster › Option B) can ruin the flow of your story › Option A) may read like a Patient Information Leaflet › Writing is art, not science!
  • 14. mm-dd-yy | 14 How to start writing › What is important for your story? • Make a list • Rank from ‘vital’ to ‘nice to know’ • Check the ‘vital’ info. Is it really vital? • Write your draft, then check if all the info is there.
  • 15. mm-dd-yy | 15 The beginning
  • 16. | 16 The beginning › Make an Ace! › Take out your pen and paper… › What are your favourite opening lines (novels)?
  • 17. mm-dd-yy | 17 Opening lines: › Can be factual, businesslike (but still go for the Ace) › Try to relate to your public. › Don’t make the opening too long!
  • 18. mm-dd-yy | 18 Two opening lines › Whole genome analysis of Trypanosoma brucei has provided new leads for pharmaceutical agents to combat African trypanosomiasis. › Every year, sleeping sickness kills thousands of people in sub-Saharan Africa. By looking at the genes of the parasite that causes this devastating disease, our research group has discovered new potential drugs.
  • 19. mm-dd-yy | 19 The middle bit: › You’ve set the scene, now develop your storyline • What have you done, and why? • Results • Anecdotes (not just what, also HOW) › Remember, you’re writing a short story, not producing freeze-dried coffee!
  • 20. mm-dd-yy | 20 The ending: › This is the catharsis, everything comes together, everything is made clear and a vision for the future is sketched • In two to three paragraphs
  • 21. mm-dd-yy | 21 Beginning + middle + ending = story › Let’s look at a one-slide-story
  • 22. mm-dd-y | 22 › Once upon a time, a prince set out to rescue a princess who was locked away in a tower. › But he ran into a band of ruffians who guarded the road to that tower. › The prince drew his sword and hacked his way through the gang, killing most of them and dispersing the rest. › He made is way to the tower, but found it had no door. So he climbed to a balcony, using a vine. When he reached the balcony, he opened the door and there was the princess. › She rose from her chair, they embraced and exchanged a true lover’s kiss. › And they lived happily ever after.
  • 23. mm-dd-yy | 23 What did we just learn? › Follow the main line of the story › You can leave out lots and lots • C > I = TROUBLE, for C = complexity and I = information › Add flavor, color by all means, but don’t try to spell out all the details.
  • 24. mm-dd-yy | 24 What is wrong with this abstract? • Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Aenean commodo ligula eget dolor. Aenean massa. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Donec quam felis, ultricies nec, pellentesque eu, pretium quis, sem. Nulla consequat massa quis enim. Donec pede justo, fringilla vel, aliquet nec, vulputate eget, arcu. In enim justo, rhoncus ut, imperdiet a, venenatis vitae, justo. Nullam dictum felis eu pede mollis pretium. Integer tincidunt. Cras dapibus. Vivamus elementum semper nisi. Aenean vulputate eleifend tellus. Aenean leo ligula, porttitor eu, consequat vitae, eleifend ac, enim. Aliquam lorem ante, dapibus in, viverra quis, feugiat a, tellus. Phasellus viverra nulla ut metus varius laoreet. Quisque rutrum. Aenean imperdiet. Etiam ultricies nisi vel augue. Curabitur ullamcorper ultricies nisi. Nam eget dui. Etiam rhoncus. Maecenas tempus, tellus eget condimentum rhoncus, sem quam semper libero, sit amet adipiscing sem neque sed ipsum. Nam quam nunc, blandit vel, luctus pulvinar, hendrerit id, lorem. Maecenas nec odio et ante tincidunt tempus. Donec vitae sapien ut libero venenatis faucibus. Nullam quis ante. Etiam sit amet orci eget eros faucibus tincidunt. Duis leo. Sed fringilla mauris sit amet nibh. Donec sodales sagittis magna.
  • 25. mm-dd-yy | 25 Checklist › Don’t ignore the <enter> button. › Text isn’t just information. It is something people look at! › Furthermore, paragraphs are the chapters of your story
  • 26. mm-dd-yy | 26 Checklist Once you’ve written your story: › Put it aside & re-read after a day › Ask a friend to read it › Check what you’ve written
  • 27. mm-dd-yy | 27 Checklist › Are you relating to something the public knows / needs to know? › Is there a storyline? › Did you explain the main message from your research? › Did you cut out the jargon? › Did you really cut out the jargon?
  • 28. mm-dd-yy | 28 › Our experiments have provided additional evidence to suggest… • I discovered that… › The findings are compatible with… • It is now clear that… › P < 0.05 • We now know that… › Potentially pathogenic species in the microbial community • Harmful bugs
  • 29. mm-dd-yy | 29 Meet Jip & Janneke
  • 30. mm-dd-yy | 30 Miscellaneous › Are all technical terms clear and unambiguous? › Is there a logical path from beginning to end? › Are you telling the most important information? › Did you stress your own brilliance? › Have you not exceeded the word limit?
  • 31. mm-dd-yy | 31 And also › Check if referring words refer to something › Read careful for editing (cut & paste) errors › Check spelling! › Have someone check language if you are not a native speaker
  • 32. mm-dd-yy | 32 A good popular science story… › Can be understood by interested lay persons › Is a good representation of the real results › Preferably has the WOW factor
  • 33. mm-dd-yy | 33 Getting published › Popular summary (thesis, grant application) › Science story › Op-ed
  • 34. mm-dd-yy | 34 Getting published › Science story • As a rule, newspapers don’t publish stories written by scientists • Is it newsworthy? Inform Communication office, and / or pitch to a reporter • Websites, special interest papers, may publish your own story. Check their policy!
  • 35. mm-dd-yy | 35 Getting published › Ever considered science blogging? (where? Try google) › Even if you don’t get published (the first time), writing about your work will help you to order your thoughts
  • 36. mm-dd-yy | 36 Getting published › Op-ed • Choose where you want to publish • Check the policy, phone an editor › Why? The voice of scientific reason must be heared. Science is too important to leave it to politicians. › You are experts!!!!
  • 37. mm-dd-yy | 37 Does this make you feel like…
  • 38. mm-dd-yy | 38 › You’re not selling this… › Nor this…
  • 39. mm-dd-yy | 39 But this!!
  • 40. mm-dd-yy | 40 Finally… › Writing starts with reading • Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything • Chad Orzel: How to teach quantum physics to your dog • Science supplements • Popular science blogs
  • 41. mm-dd-yy | 41 › If there is a good story to tell….
  • 42. | 42 Thank you for your attention