response to Annaliese’s blog posting

Freewriting from class on 9 November — read Annaliese’s blog posting and respond to her criteria for good science writing. My freewriting:

  • get the facts straight
  • use primary source quotations
  • timeline effect — give historical context
  • citations — where do you get your background information?
  • politics — sellability affects which stories are most aired, noticed

I don’t have much to add. I agree with all the criteria — but they are also the same criteria for any effective writing. I think the difference between any ole’ good writing and good science writing has to do with what Zinsser and Flaste talked about — relates to Anneliese’s first criterion — fine to get the science straight but if you can’t tell that science in a way that any reader can understand, then it doesn’t matter how straight you get it. So — I agree with Flaste’s advice to use “metaphor instead of mathematics” and Zinsser’s advice to avoid technical jargon. I would add another criterion — it doesn’t always work for every piece of science writing, but the science writing we’ve read that engages me most has this criterion, and that is — the clear participation or voice of the author. How does the author fit into this project of translating science into an accessible language? Like Skloot, who details the process of research, or like Lauren Slater, who sees her ears differently through the eyes of Dr. Daedalus and his wife, or like Atul Gawande, who has the courage to discuss mistakes doctors make — I want to know what stake the author has. I know that doesn’t work for every piece, but I like that kind of writing.

OK, 6 minutes. Good writing — any good writing — is good thinking. It’s thinking that is organized and clear and insightful. Beyond that, the language used to convey that thinking engages the reader. Metaphor, figurative language, even poetic language can help to convey ideas and concepts more effectively. OK, that just sounded thoroughly bland and common-sense.

Humor. How much humor do we find in science writing? Is that why Mythbusters is so popular — because they all look like they’re having a great time? That’s why I like Jack Hitt’s piece, “Mighty White of You.” It’s the funniest piece in the whole anthology. Or there’s simply the joy of discovery — that’s something that science offers. How does a writer catch that joy and illuminate it and share it with readers?

I so have nothing else to say. 2 minutes. Not bad. I do appreciate Anneliese’s list of criteria for effective science writing. I guess I’ll hazard a bit more of an answer to her last question: I think reporter/journalist/writer passion has a lot to do with what gets read. I’m thinking of Skloot’s book, Lisa Morganelli’s Oil on the Brain has become immensely popular, and Moby-Duck. These are all huge writing quests — each writer risked him- or herself to a certain degree to get the story, and each writer was dedicated and passionate about the story.


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