Katie L. Burke reports:
"It’s no secret that science has a PR problem. Scientists, it seems, are generally viewed as cold and competent but not warm and trustworthy. According to social psychologist Susan Fiske of Princeton University, a person’s perceived warmth strongly influences how much they are trusted...Leave your impression early. Many academics start with something more like a broader impacts statement or an obvious foundational concept in their field, as they would in a journal article. But if you tell readers something they already know in the first sentence, they are likely to think you have nothing to say that they don't already know...Your reader is busy and has lots of other things to read. They will not read your article unless you immediately let them know why they should, and fine prose is one of the quickest ways to focus your reader’s attention...Each paragraph should introduce an interesting new idea with a topic sentence. Also, unlike in academic writing, paragraphs are shorter, to help readers hop on board with each new idea. National Geographic is a great resource for examples of this technique...[I]n narrative nonfiction, posing questions instead of stating the topic outright risks leaving out crucial information, such as who is asking the question, why that individual cares about it, and how it was first raised. Introducing how the line of inquiry arose in the first place is usually an important part of a science story...As a section concludes it should signal why the next section follows...A first draft rarely has good transitions to start with, so this read-through and revamping is an important part of the polishing process...Try...to figure out the narrative tying the pieces of a list together...[T]alk about how the objects of the list are connected to one another. It might take an extra sentence or two, but the reader will grasp the concepts more readily and remember them better. If a list includes more than three items, consider that a red flag for further scrutiny. If a sentence has lists and follows another sentence with lists, it’s likely that the paragraph containing them needs to be revised...Even though the desire to avoid the first person often comes from a sense of humility, text that is essentially autobiographical but avoids first person doesn't necessarily sound humble. It just sounds impersonal. Readers will stop reading pretty quickly if they don't feel connected with the people or places in the story. When done well, first person does not sound arrogant or immature; rather, it lets readers in on the personal side of research...It also helps scientists establish credibility with the reader by being open about their relationship to the work...When scientists rattle off statistics but do not talk about how they connect to people’s lives, they risk coming off as cold and distant. Anecdotes may not have a place in science writing, but they are absolutely essential to journalistic and literary nonfiction...Introduce only the terms essential to your story and no more...Look for alternatives that are more direct. At the same time, avoid talking down to your audience...An article needs a conclusion, but one very different from the kind you might write for a typical journal article...The conclusion is not just a repetitive summary of everything the article has just said. Try to find some forward-looking insights that show greater context for your work...Although passive voice is not uncommon in scientific journal articles, it sounds distant, abstract, and stuffy. Today's readers have very little patience for slogging through wordy writing...[A] scientist’s colleagues will be a minority of the readership of a magazine article. Try to step back, review your own assumptions, and broaden your view of who your audience really is...[S]cience is all about challenging existing ideas—learning a new writing style presents the opportunity to broaden your viewpoint as well as that of your audience. In the end, the experience could have an influence on how you approach your research as well as your communication."
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