Why write only research papers? Write for a broader readership

Why write only research papers? Write for a broader readership

Science magazines such as Scientific American and New Scientist do not have impact factors; yet, the impact of publishing an article in these magazines can be far greater: National Geographic, for instance, has a circulation greater than 4 million in USA alone, and Popular Science, greater than 1.3 million, whereas Nature has a circulation of 53 000. (These numbers are taken from Wikipedia.)

Many scientists also consider it their duty to let the general public know more about their research. If, as a researcher, you wish to try your hand at writing an article about your research for a science magazine, here is one book that you will certainly find useful, namely The Science Writers’ Handbook [1], reviewed here briefly.

More than thirty active science writers in USA have contributed to the handbook. Although the book is divided into three parts, it is the first part that will interest the readers of Editage Insights; titled ‘The skilled science writer,’ it explains the craft of writing a science article (as distinct from writing a research paper), starting from finding ideas for articles to working with magazine editors, and also has a chapter that focuses on writing a book. The writing is eminently practical. One chapter, for instance, advises putting a pencil or a pen to paper and keeping it ‘moving for a set amount of time no matter what drivel emerges.’ You can, of course, substitute typing for putting a pencil to paper. The book also offers fascinating glimpses into the working of science journals. Nature, for instance, insists that no magazine can publish an article based on a paper published in the current issue of Nature before 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday; for Science, the corresponding ‘embargo time’ is 2 p.m., Thursday.

The chapter titled ‘Sculpting the story’ describes the anatomy of a typical magazine article, the structure of which can come as a surprise to those who are only familiar with the IMRaD structure of a typical research paper. Whereas a typical research paper has such bland sounding parts as Introduction and Materials and methods, a magazine article can have a lede, a dek, and a billboard.

If you plan to try your hand at science writing, this book, a visit to the website of the National Association of Science Writers (especially the section ‘New to science writing?’ [2], and A Field Guide for Science Writers [3] are good starting points.

[1] Hayden T and Nijhuis M (eds). 2013. The Science Writers’ Handbook: everything you need to know to pitch, publish, and prosper in the digital age. Boston, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press [Perseus Books Group]. 308 pp.

[2] www.nasw.org/articles/new-science-writing

[3] Blum D, Knudson M, and Henig R M (eds). 2006. A Field Guide for Science Writers, 2nd edn. New York: Oxford University Press. 321 pp.

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