Engaging in Science Journalism

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Two weeks ago we started our writing retreat in one of the beautiful boathouses on Regents Canal, in London. Since we are almost obsessed about improving the ways science is communicated to the rest of society, we signed up for a short Masterclass at The Guardian on scientific journalism. In fact, I think the target audience was journalists rather than scientists, but below I list some things we learned:

Before writing:

  • Think of your reader. Really. Do it. Ask yourself, who is going to read this? and How long can you expect them to read your piece?
  • Don’t think about educating your public on science as your primary goal.
  • Think more about stimulating, entertaining and amusing your audience through a story. And if there’s learning as a side effect, great!

When writing:

  • Choose short words over long words.
  • Avoid clichés and familiar metaphors. Invent fresh ways to express yourself instead.
  • If you can cut a word, do it.
  • Use active voice, not passive.
  • Only use jargon when there is no alternative.

What makes a good story?

  • It is relevant to me/family/friends (e.g news-you-can-use, health issues stories…)
  • It includes ‘wow’ facts that people want to tell their friends at the pub/on twitter…
  • It is important – even if possibly not that interesting to most people.

Something I really missed from The Guardian Masterclass was to have some examples of journalists reporting to research and findings from the social sciences (e.g Anthropology, Sociology, Social Psychology…), and, specifically, using qualitative methodologies. The unity of knowledge is formed by many scientific disciplines, including also the study of human communities. In fact, comprehending why human societies do what they do is critical in order to understand the huge challenges of contemporary times, namely the global ecological crisis in all its multiple expressions. Scientific journalism has a wide field open to explore in creating new ways to communicate this social scientific knowledge too.

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