Scientific Writing for a Non-Scientific Audience
I came across this interesting article on scientific journalism, Writing for a Scientific Audience recently:
It made me think about how scientists learn to express complicated subjects for those outside their own disciplines. In college, one of the best things about majoring in the sciences was forgoing long essays on “My Favorite Place on Campus” or “The Confederacy in Modern Day Kansas.” While my lab and research reports became a springboard for nightmares due to their incredibly tight due dates (thanks, Professor O’Grady), “short form” and “light writing” didn’t often fit well with an informative piece on third-round pharmaceutical drug trials or weekly lab reports that are the mainstay of most science-oriented degrees.
Later in their careers, however, most scientists’ research isn’t written for a thesis paper, but to deliver results, express a theory, help brand a new product, etc. Our clients want to have their opinions and results published in U.S. Pharmacist, Chemical Engineering, or Pharmaceutical Manufacturing. While these magazines boast a highly educated audience, subjects range from osteoarthritis to vaccine delivery to continuous processing, so articles must be written for a more general audience.
Scientific journalism is still concise, but concise writing is different in this medium and especially in its more popular forms. For example, medical professionals, U.S. Pharmacist subscribers, and Time Magazine readers all need different types of information to comprehend the same study.
It is possible, though, to write an article that scientific professionals, specialists, and the general public can all appreciate.
Dr. Jan Pechenik of Tufts University explains a universal truth in the world of science that makes this possible: all publications fulfill the greater purpose of education. “The science journalist is essentially a teacher.” Treating your readers as students is a great way to make sure scientific journalism informs and educates a wide variety of readers with different backgrounds and interests.
Written by Gabe Yayac, Editorial Research Associate, McDAY and Fordham University Senior