Episode 6 – How to improve your science writing

In 2014, Steven Pinker published a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled ‘Why academic writing stinks’. While we might take offense at the notion that our writing ‘stinks’, there’s no question that the way many of us have been taught to write as researchers and scientists can be difficult for our readers to make sense of. In this episode, Michael and Jen chat about why science writing can be so hard to read and a number of different approaches to improve the clarity and readability of our writing. We focus particularly on the style of writing that is most effective for communicating about science with non-scientific audiences.

Listen for our thoughts and advice on how to improve your writing plus tips from two of our UniMelb SciComm students, Randy Mann and Steven Tang.

Here are the papers we mentioned in the podcast:

And if you’re looking for some great science to read, some of our favourites are Belinda Smith, Dyani Lewis, Ed Yong and Carl Zimmer.


Jen (00:00:00)
Welcome to Let’s Talk SciComm, a podcast by the University of Melbourne Science Communication Teaching Team.
I’m Dr Jen Martin and my co-host is Dr Michael Wheeler, and we believe science isn’t finished until it’s communicated.

Jen (00:00:32)
Hello and welcome to another episode of Let’s Talk Talk SciComm.
I’m so pleased that you’ve joined us and I’m equally pleased to be joined by the wonderful Dr Michael Wheeler. Hello Michael.

Michael (00:00:45)
Hey Jen, I’m super excited for today’s episode. We’re going to be getting into writing for different audiences, which I think is a really important issue for a lot of scientists to be aware of, you know. Especially because as scientists, we’ve been trained to write in a very particular way, and that’s a formal academic style of writing which is for a particular audience.

Jen (00:01:07)
Yeah, absolutely, and I think you know that really formal academic style, I guess it’s, it has its place, although I have to say I’m not convinced that we really need it.
I’m a big fan of Steven Pinker’s piece called Why Academic Writing Stinks which was in the Chronicle of Higher Education. So if you haven’t read that piece, I mean, how could you not want to read something that’s called Why Academic Writing Stinks.
But I can accept that there are certainly some situations in which that academic style of writing is expected, it’s requested, it’s what we’re supposed to do. But I think the big problem for so many of us in science is that because we don’t really recognize that style is a very particular and very formal style, we don’t notice how completely inaccessible it is for people who haven’t had training in science.
And so, when we just kind of write that way, ’cause it’s the way we’ve always done it, and we don’t think about it, we’re actively excluding people from understanding science. And if we accept that science communication is all about bringing people in, making science easy for people to understand, recognising that lots of people haven’t had the privilege of a science education like we have, then the way we write really matters. And if we write in a way that’s really unintelligible to other people, I think that’s a huge problem.
So I don’t know Michael. When you think of formal writing, the writing that you were trained to do as a scientist, how would you describe it? Give me some words or phrases to describe that kind of writing.

Michael (00:02:33)
I think it takes a while to actually be trained in that formal style of writing, which is very structured. You’ve got particular sections if you’re talking about an abstract or a thesis or a scientific journal, where you’re starting off with the introduction and working your way through to the conclusion.
You have to be quite objective in your language, which I suppose means you’re talking a lot in the passive voice to demonstrate that your objective and using technical language, so that you can’t really have opinions when you’re doing scientific writing, you have to be evidence based and referring to studies.

Jen (00:03:13)
Yeah, exactly. And if you ask people who don’t live in that world of academic writing what they think of this style of writing, some of the words I’ve heard are boring, long-winded, torturous. Someone I heard once say that they thought it was elitist, the way that we write, which is probably a fair call really. But, obviously it’s nothing new for us to be talking about the fact that this style of writing can be hard to read, and it can alienate people.
There’s a really interesting little story that goes back to 1975 when Michael Crichton, who is well known to all of us as an amazing science storyteller. He was a medical doctor before he turned to writing, and he’s responsible for Jurassic Park and ER and all these incredible stories. And so back in 1975, he wrote a piece in the very well-respected medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine. And the piece of writing that he submitted was called Medical Obfuscation. Now, obfuscation is the act of making something unintelligible or unclear or obscure.
And so what he did was, he basically argued medical papers are hard to read. And in this instance I don’t think we can say there’s very much difference between medical papers and science papers. But he said “they’re hard to read, why is that the case?” So he went through and analysed a whole lot of papers in this journal and came up with a list of 10 different features that he thought were the problem and that made these papers hard to read. And they included things like long sentences, having redundancies in the way the sentences were written, using passive voice, using repetition, poor flow of ideas, all of these things.
And I’m going to quote to you what he said in this paper, ’cause I think it’s a really important paper that at the time I, I think, went pretty much unnoticed. He said, “the stance of authors seems designed to astound and mystify the reader with a dazzling display of knowledge and scientific acumen. If the authors of these papers really wanted to be understood in a straightforward way, they would write simply and express their ideas in the clearest, most unambiguous form they could manage. Instead, they do just the opposite at a time when doctors feel misunderstood by society. I suspect they only have themselves to blame.” How cutting is that?

Michael (00:05:37)
That’s cutting, as cutting as the teeth of a T-Rex Jen.

Jen (00:05:43)

Michael (00:05:46)
I love how he also wrote Jurassic Park.

Jen (00:05:50)
I know.
And I think right now, we’re all really concerned about the fact that science isn’t particularly well trusted by lots of members of, of our society. If you think about whether it’s the pandemic and vaccinations or climate change, you know, there’s so much evidence that we need more trust in science and it just led me to think, well, are we doing exactly the same, whether intentionally or unintentionally? Are we writing in a way that is really excluding people and is making it hard for people to trust science?
And you know, this was back in 1975 and it was a real call to action. So you might think, Oh, surely things have have improved by then, particularly as the world faces more and more really big, serious problems that are going to need answers from science. But you and I both know there’s recent papers that suggest that things haven’t improved at all.
There was some really good research that was published by Jeff Tollefson, who looked at the language used in the IPCC reports; so this is the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
And he started in 2015 and looked back to the first IPCC report in 1990. And he wasn’t looking at the main reports, which yes, are written in very technical language ’cause it’s trying to summarise all the science. He was looking at the summaries for policymakers, so the part of the IPCC report that is meant to be written for people without science training.
And he analysed, then he looked at the syllables and, and you know, the numbers of syllables in the words, and the number of complex words, and the number of sentences and how long they were, all these things to look at generating a readability score. And he found out that the IPCC reports are getting more and more complex and less and less easy to understand, which just does your head in right? The science that we desperately need policymakers to understand, and it’s getting harder for them to do so, it’s kind of terrifying.

Michael (00:07:44)
It is terrifying, and it, there are some powerful trends I think, in this area. [There] is some other analysis looking at the number of acronyms that appear in scientific papers that have apparently increased 10 folds between 1956 and today. So back in 1956, you’d find about 4 acronyms per 100 words. And yeah, it’s 4 acronyms per 100 words, which is, it’s an interesting trend.
It’s also interesting as someone coming from Ireland over to Australia. I wonder if acronyms [are] something that Australians really like because I, I definitely notice there’s more acronyms here. And actually, I came across the first example of an acronym that’s been turned into an acronym that a lot of, a lot of Australians are familiar with.

Jen (00:08:36)
Oh no, no, tell me. What is it?

Michael (00:08:41)
I’ll give you a clue.
So it’s not related to science, but it’s more related to a sporting context.

Jen (00:08:47)
A sporting context, so an acronym that’s been made into an acronym.
Oh, I’ve got no idea, Michael. You’ll have to tell me. I’ll, I’ll kick myself when you tell me.

Michael (00:08:58)
So it’s the Melbourne Cricket ground.

Jen (00:09:00)
Yeah, the MCG.

Michael (00:09:02)
Is the MCG, but the MCG is also the G.

Jen (00:09:06)
Ah yeah, of course. Yeah, I hadn’t even thought about that. Oh look, I love the G when you run a race at the Melbourne Marathon you get to finish doing a lap of the G, it’s fantastic.
But that’s interesting about acronyms. I wonder if Australians do use them more because we love shortening things. You know, as you well know now, we don’t eat breakfast, we eat brekkie. And we don’t have biscuits, we have bickies. So of course we like to shorten things. But acronyms are a really good point because often in different fields of science, an acronym that means something for you, means something really different for me.
And that reminds me of another paper that came out earlier this year where they basically looked at, if you have a group of scientists, interdisciplinary scientists who are all working in a similar area but coming together from different disciplines, can they understand each other papers? These researchers decided, let’s look at cave science because lots of different people work in caves. They’re geologists, they’re anthropologists, there are biologists, they’re all interested. Do they understand and cite each other’s work?
So the researchers analysed 21,000 manuscripts and they looked for the words that would be considered jargon in both the title and the abstract of these papers. And it turned out that papers that had more jargon in the titles and abstracts were cited less frequently by the other researchers.
So even communicating with other scientists suffers if we use jargon. So none of the most highly cited papers, out of this 21,000. And these were papers that had more than 450 citations, so that’s a decent number of citations, none of those highly cited papers use jargon in the title. Whereas papers that did use jargon in the title just didn’t get cited as often. So we’re massively undermining ourselves by writing in unclear ways.

Michael (00:10:59)
It’s a universal trend in science, the readability of science getting harder. There’s a another article that I came across published in eLife, titled “The readability of scientific texts is decreasing over time“, which is an interesting read.
These authors were looking at things like the number of words per sentences, the number of syllables, the number of hard words and basically showing a trend whereby the readability of science is getting worse and worse. They also talked about how this has implications for reproducibility of science in the discussion, where they’re saying that that’s important because for science to be reproducible, you need to be able to explain it in a way where the other scientists are going to understand it.
They’re also looking at the number of authors per paper as well, and showing that that’s been increasing, which is interesting because maybe that’s playing a role in why science or scientific papers are becoming less and less readable, if you’ve got more and more authors all editing a document, wanting [to] have some input.

Jen (00:12:07)
Exactly, I’m just picturing someone who’s desperate to still be recognised as a co-author and knows perhaps they haven’t quite pulled their weight. So their way to demonstrate their input is to do lots of editing and make lots of changes on the document.

Michael (00:12:22)
I think that sounds very plausible, that sounds very plausible.

Jen (00:12:26)
Michael, but that raises an interesting question for me to ask you, because I know you have recently changed fields, not completely, but you have subtly changed fields in your research.
What’s your experience of reading papers in this new field? Have you noticed that there is a whole new lingo that you potentially don’t know as well? Or how’s it been?

Michael (00:12:46)
Yeah, it’s interesting. So you know, I’ve gone from reading papers mostly about exercise and sedentary behavior, and now I’m reading more papers related to gut health and bone health. And you, first of all, you read the papers differently. So I think when you’re more familiar with the field and you’re comfortable with it, typically what I would do, I don’t know if anyone else is the same, but you’d read the abstract, and if it’s interesting then you go straight to the data and you try and interpret that yourself. Whereas it’s a slower process now. So I’ll, I’ll be reading the abstract and then I’ll read the intro and then I’ll skip to the discussion and then after I’ve digested that, I’ll try and interpret the figures. And yeah, I guess leave the methods till last, just because it’s the most difficult part. I think when you’re transitioning to a new field, which is, it’s true for scientists who are transitioning to a new field but also junior academics as well that there is this period that you kind of have to go through, where you learn the technical terms and you need to be able to learn those to fully be included in understanding that area.

Jen (00:13:56)
Absolutely. So, I mean, I think we’ve painted a pretty clear picture that it’s nothing new that science writing can be very hard to read, and that not only does it interrupt our chances and our opportunities to engage non-scientists in our work, if we’re attempting to write for different audiences, but that it can also be really very difficult even within our world of writing for other scientists trying to potentially work with interdisciplinary scientists, or for people who are shifting.
So what can we do Michael? I want to make sure we spend the rest of this podcast giving people some advice and tips on how we can write in more accessible ways. What do you reckon we need to do?

Michael (00:14:33)
Yeah, I guess the first step is you recognising that we’ve been taught to write in a particular way, but to acknowledge and appreciate that there’s value and benefit in learning to write for other audiences.
I think for me I had a really profound experience of this when halfway through my PhD I took some time off to go and worked with a group called the Naked Scientists over in the UK. And it was all about writing about lots of different areas of science, the latest science, but writing it in blog style for a lay audience. And you really get into the headspace of that, and you really kind of connect with what’s driving the curiosity behind this research. And what’s you know, really interesting about it. And then having gone through that experience, it was really beneficial to come back to scientific writing then. And I think it really benefited my scientific writing, so it does have a lot of translational benefits.

Jen (00:15:28)
Yeah exactly, which I think comes back to this issue that we’ve talked about lots of times and it’s a mantra that anybody who’s done any form of science communication training will have heard over and over again, and this idea of focusing on your audience. And I think, just as in our podcast talking about giving talks, it’s just as important when it comes to writing that your knowing and thinking about and respecting your audience, ’cause it may not be as obvious.
Obviously, if you’re standing up in front of an audience, they’re in your face and you’re watching them and seeing how they’re responding. But anytime you’re writing something, you need to be picturing, Who is this audience? Who’s going to be reading this, and what situation are they in right now? How easily distracted are they going to be? And how am I going to keep their attention? And what background do they bring to this? There’s a quote from a guy called Tim Radford who worked for the Guardian for 32 years and he won the Association of British Science Writer’s Award for Science Writer of the Year 4 times. So this is, this is a really good science writer. And he is quoted as saying “Don’t overestimate your readers knowledge. And don’t underestimate their intelligence.”
And I think that is just gold. Because that reminds us, you’re not writing for people who aren’t as smart as you. This whole obnoxious thing of Oh, I’m a scientist. I’m an expert. I mean, just get over yourself. Your audience is just as smart as you are, it’s just that they don’t have your expertise. They know about other things. They have all sorts of knowledge that you don’t have, but don’t assume that they know what you do and bring people in rather than alienating them, which is kind of what Michael Crichton was saying in a somewhat indirect way that he saw these writers as just being snobs, basically, as deliberately trying to sound smart rather than trying to bring people into their world. And it’s, it’s a pretty harsh claim isn’t it? I’d hate to think that anyone would read my writing and think I was deliberately trying to just point out how smart I was and making them feel stupid. It’s awful.

Michael (00:17:23)
Yeah it is, and it’s probably something that’s unconsciously happening, you know, if you’re not necessarily aware that that’s what you’re doing.
But I mean often in, in science, you are surrounded by smart people all the time, so it’s understandable that you want to fit into that culture.
But I think, yeah, it is important to recognize whether you’re using language or complex words where you don’t necessarily need to use them.

Jen (00:17:48)
Yeah, absolutely, and I guess what you just said speaks a bit to the impostor syndrome, doesn’t it? Which we’ve got an episode coming up about in a couple of weeks. But to me I always think about the fact that for a lot of our education we’ve written for what I think of as, as a captive audience. So a captive reader is someone who has to read what you’ve written. So maybe that’s a high school teacher or a lecturer or a thesis examiner. You know, someone who’s going to read it regardless of how you’ve written it.
And I like to think that the process of becoming a better science writer when you’re thinking about different audiences is that now you’re writing for a wild audience. And a wild reader is someone who doesn’t have to read your stuff. If it’s hard to understand, if it’s boring, if it’s long winded, they’ll just scroll on by and read something different. And so once you imagine, you picture this wild audience who at any point could decide that they won’t bother sticking with your writing, they’ll read something else. It means you really focus on how is this relevant to my audience? What’s the main message here? What’s the problem that I’m interested in? What’s the solution that I’m trying to describe? Why does it matter to this audience? You know, why should they care? And really importantly, what can you leave out? So this is some of the same advice as we gave in our podcast about how to give a better talk. We have to think big picture about what we’re trying to share with this audience and make sure they don’t get to the end and go Oh who cares? So what? What does that matter?

Michael (00:19:12)
Yeah, and if you’re writing as well for a captive audience, have pity on those captives.

Jen (00:19:21)
That’s so true. The person reading their third or fourth thesis for the day who just wants to bang their head against a brick wall.

Michael (00:19:29)
Yeah, but look, I think there’s certainly some key nuts and bolts of writing that we can get into all about how to make it more accessible; some rules that we can follow, which we can focus on.
I suppose, particularly in the context of what you said Jen, about focusing on writing for a wild audience, those wild readers. So you know, some examples would be writing a blog, for example, that’s going to be published online, other online articles, I suppose, grant applications have lay audience paths to them as well.

Jen (00:20:01)
Yeah, absolutely. Often there are reviewers who aren’t specialists. And if you write in a way that’s only understandable to a specialist, you’re less likely to get your funding.

Michael (00:20:10)
Yeah, and I think you’re absolutely right. If the reviewers are kind of skimming over what you’ve written as much as that pains me to say, you know, because you put a lot of work into… scientists put a lot of work into grant applications, and they can be skimmed over and discarded quite easily.

Jen (00:20:27)
Yeah, absolutely.

Michael (00:20:29)
Yeah, some of these rules then, I think that we can follow is to try and write more like you talk. It’s not about trying to sound intelligent, but it’s just about being understandable and relatable, especially when you’re writing blogs. That conversational style of writing is so engaging and impactful. And it’s really about trying to strike a balance between being conversational but being informative as well, that’s how I like to think about it.
It really helps to read everything aloud to kind of get into that mind frame of OK, does this sound conversational? What does it sound like if I actually read it aloud? And you always pick up on words or phrases that you could maybe shorten or make a little bit more impactful. Also, don’t assume knowledge. As you said, Jen, the audience is intelligent, but they may not be familiar with the particular topic that you’re writing about. So it’s about taking a step back or a couple of steps back and…

Jen (00:21:33)
Maybe half a kilometre back.

Michael (00:21:38)
Just yet walking backwards for a little bit and surveying the landscape and saying, OK, well what’s the bigger picture here? I need to bring the audience in. I need to bring as many people into this piece as possible. So I really need to start with the bigger picture, that can be really helpful. And yeah, reading other examples of great science writing, Ed Yong for example.

Jen (00:22:02)
Yeah, I think that’s so helpful.

Michael (00:22:04)
Yeah, it’s true, you know, just reading a variety of other different types of writing can really be beneficial. And even when talking about reading lots of papers, everyone will be familiar with that. But reading from other disciplines as well and then reading blog styles and lots of different styles and books and novels. I think the more variety, it’s kind of like diet, isn’t it? A healthy diet is one that has a lot of variety in it. It’s the same with exercise, healthy exercise regime, you need to have variety in there. It’s the same with reading, you need to be reading a variety of different types of pieces. There’s great science writers out there. We love Ed Yong’s science writing. He won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting for all of his incredible reporting on the COVID pandemic. So there’s certainly a lot that can be learned.

Jen (00:22:56)
If you haven’t read any of Ed Yong’s stuff, I really recommend doing it.
He’s pretty incredible. He tells really good stories, but stories that are completely accurate. There’s a lot of science in them.

Michael (00:23:08)
Yep, very engaging. And talking about engaging with a, with a piece of writing, the first thing that you focus on is going to be the title. And although there’re not that many words compared to the rest of the piece, their value is so important. It takes only a few seconds to grab someone’s attention and convince them that it’s worth reading. So it’s worthwhile putting some thought into the titles that you’re going to be using for when you’re writing for lay audiences.
And the titles are important as well, because it’s kind of related to your reputation as someone who’s not going to be misleading. It’s important to write titles that are engaging, but they’re also informative, but they’re also not misleading because of course if we set them up, the only thing was to be engaging, then we’re talking about clickbait titles. And sure they’re engaging, but they’re misleading, and they’re not informative, so we need to strike that balance, I think is really important.
And yeah, look, depending on your audience, there’s lots of different things that you can do to make the titles interesting. You know, incorporating some mystery, some humour, some unusual language. One technique that you might notice is the use of the colon. On one side of the colon, you might have something that’s just really intriguing. And then on the other side of the colon, you might have something that’s more informative.

Jen (00:24:30)
That’s what those of us in the business called the ‘catchy: descriptive title’.

Michael (00:24:38)
Yeah, and it’s very effective.

Jen (00:24:41)
Yeah, absolutely. I think titles are so important and I think then if you go on to thinking about the words that you’re actually going to use. And I guess this is one of the good points for those of us who’ve been writing for a while, and it’s part of our day jobs. If we’re not procrastinating too much, and of course we will talk about procrastination on this podcast at a later date, then you just kind of sit down and you write. And often you don’t really look at what you’re doing in that much of an analytical way.
But I guess we’d encourage people to really be curious and be creative, you know. What Michael has been talking about with the titles, there’s lots of room for fun and creativity in titles, just like there is in hooks that you use in a talk that we were speaking about before and I think if you approach your writing with a sense of curiosity about Ooh, why did I choose to write my sentence that way? And why did I choose to use that word? And is there another word I could use that could be clearer?
Because I think when it comes down to the words that we use, jargon really matters. You know, if you’re writing for another audience that has your training in your background, sure, jargon is fine, it’s a shortcut to having conversations with people who share your background. But if we’re considering writing for wild audiences, then we have to use simple language. And Ed Yong has a great quote, “You educate people by explaining complex ideas in a simple way, not by explaining simple ideas in a complex way”, which I, I just love.
And then there’s all sorts of other tricks to the trade. We teach our students a lot about verbs, and verbs you learned in primary school that are verb is a doing word. But somewhere along the way, many of us have just started sticking to a fairly small boring list of standard verbs. To do, to have, to get, to find. And there’s good reason to believe that if you use more interesting verbs, more colourful verbs, you improve your writing, you make your writing so much more engaging. So as a zoologist originally, the example I always use, Michael is, I could tell you that the lion ate the antelope. You’d be like, yeah, cool, that’s what lions do. But if I say Michael, the lion devoured the antelope. How much more kind of you know, blood and gore have you got in your mind now?

Michael (00:26:54)
Yeah, I’m just picturing all those wild readers out on the savannah. Their ears pricked up when they heard that sentence.

Jen (00:27:06)
Exactly! ‘Cause it’s so much more interesting. And the other thing that happens… many of us use a lot of adverbs in our writing because we use boring verbs. If you’re using a very standard plain verb, you have to use a more interesting adverb. And we get into the habit of using lots of adverbs. And when you edit your work well, and of course, we’ll do another episode on editing, you’re trying to cut out stuff all the time. You’re trying to make your writing cleaner and clearer. And so get rid of the adverbs. My standard adverbs I use are ‘really’ and ‘generally’. And Mark Twain, another favourite of mine, he’s got a quote to say “substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write the word very”, because then your editor will delete it, and your writing will be just as it should be.

Michael (00:27:53)
That’s excellent.

Jen (00:27:54)
I don’t have an editor, sadly. But it’s good advice, right?

Michael (00:27:57)
Yeah, absolutely. Look there’s some, some other rules that we can follow about avoiding long rambling sentences with lots [of] extra clauses. Using topic sentences as well, which is not necessarily something that you learn at school, but it’s really helpful for those readers who might be inclined to skim read. And a topic sentence is basically you know, the first sentence of your paragraph. If it indicates what that paragraph is going to be about, it’s much more likely to catch the reader and get them to continue on, and that can be helpful.

Jen (00:28:30)
Oh absolutely. Here, here in Australia we all learn topic sentences in school as this tool of this is how you write a persuasive, you know essay, you have all your topic sentences. And I find a lot of our students sort of think that now they’ve left school, topic sentences are somehow irrelevant. But to me the best way to draft anything you write is to write a series of topic sentences. Because, as you say, people skim read and if you use good topic sentences, they can skim read and they still get the gist of everything that you want them to know.

Michael (00:28:59)
Yeah, definitely. And you’re writing in the first person. Active voice is really powerful compared to the passive voice. And putting yourself into the writing, especially when you’re writing blogs and things like that can be really powerful. Talking about your experiences and maybe reflecting on the content of your blog as well can be really powerful. Almost narrating the content is much more engaging than writing in the passive voice.

Jen (00:29:25)
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s really sad that the standard way of writing in many journal articles and the way that many scientists believe is the right way to write is to write in third person passive voice. Because it’s, it’s long winded and it’s often just really unclear. Can be really ambiguous as to who was doing what if something written in passive voice, which is a real shame.
But Michael, we’re nearly out of time, but I feel like the last thing we should point out is just that today most people are reading things on quite small screens. A lot of people read things on their phones. And so we have to take into account that if you have long paragraphs that somebody, you know, if they’re looking at their screen, all they see is text and then they get distracted, they can’t get back into it. So I think subheadings are really important. I think short paragraphs are really important. We have to leave whitespace around our text so that if somebody is distracted, when they come back to your writing that there’s lots of different entry points to help them get back to what we’re writing.
And as I’ve said, effective editing is another topic that we’re going to do a whole episode on. But I just think as we write, we’re always looking to simplify and to cut stuff out. And as you said, Michael, I think the best advice is just we have to read what we write aloud. It’s got to sound like you and it’s got to sound like something you would be comfortable saying to a friend over a beer or a coffee. If it sounds more formal than that, [then] it’s probably not something a wild audience is going to enjoy reading.

Michael (00:30:54)
Yeah, it has to sound right. And a lot more people are reading things by listening… like not reading things, but they’re, they’re listening to pieces of writing, audiobooks are super popular. But even, there’s a lot of tools that make reading more accessible to people who prefer listening to it. So you can have tools that will turn a piece of text into, into speech and people consume writing that way, so it’s so important to read your writing aloud.
We can definitely talk more about the writing process, especially the editing part.
But now, it’s time for the student tips.

Steven (00:31:39)
Hi, I’m Steven, a Master of Computer Science student at the University of Melbourne. In the past semester, I took the subject Science Communication to further improve my communication skills.
As scientists and science students, we often write in a formal and factual style. While this is expected when communicating with peers, as is the case with reports and papers, it may be less ideal when we communicate with others who are less familiar with our work. Though there are many methods by which we can make our writing more interesting, my top tip would be to add some additional context about how the particular topic that we’re writing about is interesting or important, or even better, how the topic relates to the reader and their experiences. This will open an avenue from which the reader can connect and better engage with the piece of writing.

Randy (00:32:38)
Hello everyone, I’m Randy Mann. Writing scientific articles can be fun and rewarding to help improve your writing, and so is a good idea to know the audience that will be reading your material. I’ve been writing science features for a local US newspaper for over 10 years, and I’ve had to learn some of these techniques and improvements the hard way. Over the years, I’ve tried to keep the scientific terms to a minimum, even with the most sophisticated scientific readers. If scientific terms are required in your feature, then be certain to explain them in more detail to make it easier for the reader to follow your article, as other scientific readers in other fields may not be familiar with your area of expertise. If your feature becomes too technical, the odds of losing your audience becomes much higher.
Try to make your article more conversational, especially with the general audience. Take them on the journey with you. In other words, how does your feature affect the person reading it? I would also suggest including a brief personal story on why this science feature is important to you. This could help your article become more relatable to the reader. Writing scientific features does take some practice, but overtime it eventually becomes a skill that can be perfected. And that’s my tip, thanks for listening.

Michael (00:34:15)
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