Five science writing tips

So, you’re searching for a copywriter that can write about science and technology. But how can you be sure that they’re up to the job? Here are five principles that you can use to shape every piece of science copy, content, or communication.

At 42group, we’re serious about science. We work with some of the world’s leading brands, businesses, organisations, and institutions to help them communicate clearly with their audiences. 

Whether you’re writing for the public, a politician or a public body, your content should always follow these five core principles:

1. Read, research & refine 

Every great piece of science copy and content is based on research. In science communication, it’s impossible to be an expert in everything, so you’ll need to get busy with the books:

  1. Read: Understand your subject from all angles. Learn what’s new in the research, and search for conflicting views. Immerse yourself in the issue.
  2. Research: Check through journals, publications and peer-reviewed papers. But do more, read blogs, check out social media and get involved in conversations, if possible. Keep a note of everything you’re reading so you can refer to it later.
  3. Refine: By refining knowledge, we mean moving beyond basic principles to higher-level learning and understanding. You’re searching and sorting through information, creating a narrative and hierarchy.

2. Interviews = inspiration

Secondary sources are great at understanding a subject, but interviews are where the inspiration is. 

Some scientists and sources may be reticent to speak to you, instead referring you to published papers or previous work. We advise you to persevere and push for an interview.

It’s essential to prepare for an interview, developing a series of questions that you need to be answered. But be flexible too. Sometimes, you’ll hear some information that sparks something. 

Our advice is to follow it.

Take notes during the interview, and you’ll start to build a picture of the story you want to tell. Then, at the end of the interview, check back through and clarify critical points and fill any gaps.

As a writer, your door should always be open. Stay in contact with the scientist or expert, and communicate through email if that’s easier.

If you can record and transcribe interviews. If you can afford it, pay for professional transcription. If not, use an AI transcriptions software such as Descript. It’s not great but can help shorten the process.

3. Tell a story

As humans, we understand the world through stories. Science communication should tell the story of exploration. Whatever you’re writing – from a leaflet to a whitepaper – you must tell a story.

Every great story (and even the bad ones) has a similar organisational framework. You can use the traditional three-act framework, use the hero’s journey, or even the snowflake method, popularised by Randy Ingermanson.

A storytelling structure will help your readers to navigate your piece. It also allows you to identify an angle, provide insights and intrigue, and embed your story in the reader’s mind.

(If you’re not interested in the dark arts of copywriting and content but do want to learn how to tell a better brand story, check out Donald Miller’s book.)

4. Read, review, refine 

The first draft is a great start, but it’s the beginning of a process of reading, reviewing, and refining your story.

Start by reading through it a few times and taking notes. Check all statements, sources, and quotes against your notes. Give your words some space and (if possible) time. Coming at something again after a good night’s sleep can give you a fresh perspective.

Reviewing your work means looking at it dispassionately and critically. Position yourself as the reader, not the writer. If you’re writing for a client, consider how the work fits their tone of voice. Does it meet the brief?

It’s essential to refine your work. This may involve shortening the content, but it’s also about sharpening it too. Work as an editor to cut away unnecessary, irrelevant, and indulgent prose, leaving just the words that matter.

5. Reference right 

Science is the accumulation of knowledge. Each new paper builds upon the last, and it’s all based on referencing. So it’s critical you understand how to reference and do so correctly. While many of your readers won’t necessarily understand or even care about referencing, some will ­and as a writer, you must, too.

We’re not going to go into the intricacies of referencing here (as it’s a long and fairly dry subject), but there are loads of valuable resources online.

Correct referencing plays a crucial part in the accuracy, validity, and quality of your scientific content. And if you’ve been following our advice, you’ll find it easy enough to provide a marked-up evidence pack, too.

Ready to get writing about science?

It doesn’t matter whether you call it science writing, science copywriting, or science content production, the core principles here apply across the board. If you’re new to science copywriting, the five points above should help you improve your science writing.

We’re going to explore the fundamentals of science communication in future blog posts, so stay tuned. And if you need a specialist science copywriter for your project, get in touch.

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