Wise Words (From Other People) on Science Writing and Social Media

30 April 2013 by Matt Shipman, posted in Uncategorized

This image is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. It was created by Mike Peel - http://www.flickr.com/photos/mike_peel/

Science communication covers a lot of ground, but two of the issues that people seem most interested in are science writing and how to make the most of social media. Here’s some good news: a whole lot of people have spent some time recently explaining how you can getter better at both.

Science Writing

Science writing garners attention because it gets to the very heart of communication – finding ways to express ideas so that other people can understand and appreciate them. If you can’t write, you can’t explain, convince or educate. It’s important and, no matter how good you are at it, odds are excellent that you want to be better.

I’ll quote Maggie Koerth-Baker here:

Writing is a profession where you can be getting paid to do it and still find yourself thinking, "Someday, I'm going to be a real writer."

— Maggie Koerth-Baker (@maggiekb1) April 23, 2013

I love that quote from Maggie, because she is a really good science writer. And if really good science writers feel that way, it’s okay for the rest of us to feel that way. We should always strive to improve. And we can get advice from some of the best in the business.

If you haven’t already, you should check out a series of posts from The Guardian on science writing. Called, naturally enough, “Secrets of good science writing,” the series was developed to accompany the Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize, and consists of dozens of really good science writers talking about their craft (entries date back to 2011.)

If you have the time, read them all. You won’t agree with everything they say (which would be impossible, with so many opinions being expressed), but it’s all interesting – and can help you figure out how you might become a better writer or reporter. But since you probably don’t have unlimited time, a few of my recent favorites are from Tim Radford, Mo Costandi and Mark Henderson. (Some of you may not have heard of them. Read them anyway.)

Social Media

Next question: once you’ve written something, how do you convey it to the world? You can make videos or infographics, write essays or draw comic strips – but there can be no communication if no one knows they exist.

A random photo of me punching a bee. Because @FlyingTrilobite tells me I need to break up my text more. Too much?

This is where social media comes in. Social media platforms, from YouTube to Twitter to Tumblr, give us tools to share our creations with the world. But many people are unsure of how to use social media tools, or even if they should use social media tools.

This may be, in part, because most social media tools are fairly young (Twitter, for example, did not exist before 2006) – and many people tend to shy away from the unfamiliar.

But even people who are social media enthusiasts often wonder if they could be doing a better job. Are there tools out there I should be using to improve my science outreach? Are there more/better/different ways I could be using the tools I already work with? [Note: I’m not addressing the question of whether you should be doing science outreach in the first place. That’s a whole different kettle of fish. See here, or – for lots more discussion – here.]

Last week, Nature’s SpotOn team began rolling out a series of case studies on how various people and organizations have used social media as science outreach tools. [Full disclosure: I wrote one of them.]

It’s a fantastic resource for helping to identify tools and techniques that you can bring to your own science communication efforts. Some of the case studies involve the long-term efforts of individuals (like SciCurious’ piece on creating and maintaining a blog), others focus on specific time-limited events (like live-tweeting an expedition) and still others reflect social media efforts at an institutional level.

You can check out all of the case studies here. It’s a good opportunity to learn something new about how to use social media and – at least to me – it’s inspiring.

Note: Click on these links for all of the Communication Breakdown posts on science writing and social media.


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