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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Any Science Journalism Writers?

   
Author Topic: Any Science Journalism Writers?
Osiris
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Hi

So, I've got some exciting news. I've been invited to write for the guest blog at Scientific American. I accepted the invitation, of course. Now I've got to WRITE something.

I haven't done any kind of journalistic writing since I wrote a couple of articles for my college newspaper. Twenty years ago. Gulp.

I've pitched ideas to the editor, and we settled on one revolving around some genomic research we (my employer) did on the European e. coli outbreak from last year. It will involve interviewing a couple of people, doing the photos for the piece, and putting it all together into an article.

So, if there are any science writers (or anyone with journalism experience) around here, any advice they'd like to share?

I'd also love any volunteers to provide feedback(in a couple of weeks) on the piece before I submit it to the editor. I'm just beginning to outline it today. You don't need to be a science expert, as the target audience would be laypeople with an interest in science.

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extrinsic
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" the target audience would be laypeople with an interest in science. "

That's a biggy. The First Law of Written Word being facilitate reading ease. Including engaging reading's power to facilitate reading ease.

Another bit of advice, consider alternative organizing principles and rhetorical modes beyond a run-of-the-mill most to least significant detail or a chronological sequence, like both in an oscillation scheme. John McPhee, an avant guarde New Journalism writer uses the latter ocassionaly to artful effect. Check into the Toulmin Argumentation theory as another alternative.

Anticipate considerable editorial review regardless.

Yes, I've written science journalism, botany and marine biology blended with natural history and culttural lifeways: about thirty columns published in a local tabloid format weekly newspaper that were well received by a regional audience.

[ March 01, 2012, 05:37 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MAP
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I don't have any advice, but that is awesome. I take Scientific America, and I love that magazine.

I'll be happy to read it when you are ready. I do have a degree in biochemistry if that helps.

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Osiris
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Thanks extrinsic for the advice. I'm going to look up McPhee and Toulmin.

My initial thoughts are to apply some fiction structure to the article, since that is where I'm coming from on this.

Basically, I'm planning to set this up as having an A story (the broad context of the European e.coli outbreak and the research we performed), and a B story inside that, the 'internal conflict' for the lead author, and one that I had myself (I'm a contributing author to the research study). Both A and B stories would have a hook to compel the readers to the end of the article.

Thanks for the offer, MAP, I'll send it your way when I've got a first draft.

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History
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Congratulations!

It's been a couple decades since I published in my speacialty's medical journals where the format is: Abstract, Problem and/or Hypothesis, Technique, Results, Discussion, Conclusion. While I don't think this research format is appropriate for a more "general" publication "for laymen" such as SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, some form of a prose-ification of this framework may be helpful in conveying (1) what you did, (2) why, (3)what you discovered, and (4) why is this important.

Then again, the best resource would be the magazine itself to see how others have done it.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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MattLeo
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Why not the old stand-by: sci-fi technology that became real or didn't pan out.
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Osiris
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
Why not the old stand-by: sci-fi technology that became real or didn't pan out.

I actually have future plans for an article along those lines (the idea of personal genomics). A few years ago, I interviewed with a company that was planning to sell a whole genome sequencing service to individual customers. I then interviewed with them a few months ago, and they'd completely changed their business model to a more conventional third-party sequencing operation for research orgs that don't have their own facility.
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annepin
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Osiris, that's very awesome. Congratulations!

I'm a science writer and editor (magazine and newspaper), and I'd love to help you. Feel free to send me your article when you're done with it.

To the advice above I'll add that you are writing blog, which is a little different from a magazine or newspaper article. I suggest you read other Sci Am blog entries to get a feel for their style and approach.

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Osiris
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Awesome Anne, thank you so much. I'll e-mail you when I've got a first draft.
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extrinsic
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"Both A and B stories would have a hook to compel the readers to the end of the article."

A strong and subtle "hook" most dramatic fiction relies on is someone wanting something that's significantly problematic to accomplish. CNF and New Journalism too, which borrow those features from fiction.

One possibility I draw from a clear blue sky is a deadpan medical-forensic report about Patient Zero, wanting to find out who that patient might be, and discovering the contamination source through that discovery. Discovery and reversal are the engines of plot turns that drive tension's curiosity facet. Engage readers' curiosity and the "hook" battle is won.

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walexander
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after your interviews - you will probably have to much research and will have to sort through everything to trim trim trim to what is vital to the story. A while back i use to get sent to various tech conventions with a press pass to both write and sketch the latest tech. By the time i finished a ton interviews, and i do mean a ton because everyone wants there product to get mentioned favoribly, i had piles of notes.

You may find your subject tougher than you think. Any article written from something that is personal to you might prompt you to be bias, so you will have to ask yourself how honest can you be without upsetting your employer if you cant be honest it will hinder the article. I didn't care about the tech - was fasinated by it - but i was outside the bubble and so able to give the most straight forward article I could produce - it didn't always win me friends thats for sure. And you would be surprized what people say in interviews that they believe won't show up in the final article. Just remember to record it so know questions come up later about did they really say it.

Congradulations, and good luck,

You're stepping into a much bigger pond,

W.

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Osiris
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I ended up cutting the 'B' Story in this, as I felt it wasn't that relevant.

AnnePin (MAP, I don't see an e-mail addy in your profile) I've sent you the document, sans the pictures I have yet to take to go with the piece. Thank you so much, I will value your feedback.

I'd be happy to have anyone else give me feedback. My deadline is Monday, so I'd like to do two revisions before I submit it.

I especially would like a reader or two who are interested in science but not scientists themselves. The thing I found difficult with this piece is knowing what to explain and what not to explain, so that'd help me a lot.

The piece is about 1100 words, so won't take too much of your time.

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