Why science writing is like sex
After last week’s depressing story, I wanted to write about something a bit more positive this time round. It’s about communication of science, and how attitude is everything.
Science is thought of as dull, but only because it’s often communicated in a dull way. As scientists, we’re trained to write in a particular way for the benefit of other scientists, but it doesn’t work if you try to use the same language with the lay public.
I want to talk about a different approach. Language is amazing. It lets you connect with people on a deep level, and share images and ideas and emotions. But language is a massive barrier if you use the wrong words the wrong way.
These are my three rules for science writing, and they have nothing to do with scientific knowledge or technical writing skill, but everything to do with attitude.
Rule Number One: Be Yourself
If you don’t put your soul into your writing, nobody is going to connect with you. It doesn’t mean be whacky or gimmicky, just imagine it as part of a conversation. Write with your enthusiasm and love for the subject in mind and it’ll come out through your words.
Science writing is like sex; unless you make a mental connection, nobody’s going to get it. Sure, you can go through the motions, but without a mental connection it’ll be as exciting as a Victorian missionary.
Rule Number Two: Forget What You Know
Think like a beginner and forget everything you know; about writing and about your subject. Rebuild the picture from scratch and take the reader with you. Think creatively, ditch the rules about neutrality, get excited, and you’ll get your point across.
Rule Number Three: Believe in Your Audience
Science is hard to explain, there’s no avoiding it, but you have to put the effort in if you’re passionate about your subject. Take the view that “if I can’t get a point across, it’s my fault!”
In my book, I’m writing about quantum confinement, quantum tunnelling, reciprocal space, surface reconstructions… you name it. But these are just words! My belief in my audience is that if you read it, you’ll understand it. You’ll get that mental picture and that connection. It might be a hell of a lot of work for me, but that’s my goal.
So that’s it. If you don’t have passion for your subject, get out of the game.science writing comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.