Science Writing: You’re A Human, So Write Like One

You struggled with science writing. After a lot of effort, your piece is sound, complete, mistake free and it shows your intellectual prowess. But it reads like it was written by a robot instead of a human.

Let’s start with science writing. Then we go for sounding like a human.

We have some help for you if you need to improve your scientific writing. Posts like 5 Ways To Improve Scientific Writing For Non-native English Speakers and 5 Tips To Improve Your Academic Writing offer great advice to improve your writing.

I was excited to see that Next Scientist was putting such a strong emphasis on the written word, especially for those who use English as a second language or for people looking to improve their science writing.

However, there was another part of academic writing that I want to address in this post. How scientists need to maintain their ability to communicate via writing with their peers as well as the general public, friends, and family.

Nobody doubts that scientific writing can be hard, it takes years and effort to master the craft. But writing like a human is harder.

Science Writing Like A Human

Science Writing: The Root of the Problem

Anyone who is entrenched in their industry finds themselves using uncommon (by “normal” standards) jargon and language that begins to slip into their everyday writing communication.

This is especially true for scientists, particularly researchers, who write a lot of white papers and controlled notes. Their day to day writings like emails, texts, memos, and order reports take on an academic quality and professionalism that can be off-putting to others.

More professional writing like presentations or speeches can be too formal and stiff. What I propose is to not get lost in the controlled and academic writing that your area might call for, and to hone your day to day writing to be personable and friendly.

Here’s how you can write naturally in all your communications.

Have a Conversation

When email first burst onto the scene a big buzzword was “email etiquette” that roped people into treating email like it was comparable to hand written, Victorian era love letters.

Nowadays email is so common place that it doesn’t get a second thought half the time. I’m a big fan of writing like you’d naturally talk within reason, of course.

Do I make grammatical mistakes in my emails? You bet I do, but they’re not glaring and I think that my writing flows with my natural voice.

Being too proper and/or professional can put off the recipient of the email, especially if you have no need to be such as between peers or with friends outside of work.

Even if the email is going to a superior and you want to be professional to start with, recognize that long email chains often turn into informal conversations. Donít fight it, let it happen.

Find Your Voice

As I mentioned above, I try to write with my ìnatural voiceî no matter what kind of document I’m writing. Even if my friends contact information has gotten wiped and they have no idea who is reaching out to them, I want them to have an idea that itís me even if there are no signifiers besides my writing style and voice.

It is often difficult for scientists to write with any kind of “voice” because they’re so used to writing formal research papers that need to be objective and completely void of voice. While trying to balance the two might cause some confusion early on, I think that it is worth it to learn how to include yourself in your writing and communication.

Written correspondence that doesn’t have a hint of “voice” often comes across as angry or uninterested which can make it difficult to foster relationships (professional or personal).

Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

Moody Blues sang it right, and I’m going to give you the same advice. I wouldn’t call myself an intellectual by any means, but in my schooling and in my writing career I’ve edited friends and colleagues documents.

I have found that being intelligent doesn’t automatically make someone a good, or clear, writer.

In my Intro to Philosophy class I remember having to read Kant, and throwing the book across the room on my fifth try and still not understanding what he was saying.

What I’m getting at is that complicated subjects don’t have to be written about in a complicated way, and keeping your writing simple can be the best way to convey a complex subject in an understandable way for the general public, or for a colleague in a different field.

Using too much of your fields jargon, acronyms, or complicated language in general can make your writing unapproachable.

Extend Yourself Beyond Academia

Professionals on the subject are able to break complex subjects down into their parts so that their readers can understand the fascinating work going on in the field.

Being able to write conversationally, in a clear way, with a friendly and personable voice means that you’ll be able to write blog posts that people want to read as they’re informative without being boring (which a lot of academic writing is known for).

Being accessible in your writing doesn’t just open yourself up to science blogging.

Rather than only writing white papers and research papers for scientific journals that will reach a very limited audience, you could also branch out into lighter, non-fiction novels and other media outlets. While many in the scientific community would argue that this is a waste of time, I argue the opposite.

Having engaging content about your field accessed by the general funding will raise more awareness and interest about you and your colleagues work which is never a bad thing unless you see yourself as the next Dr. Moreau.

While your education teaches you that your science writing must be void of voice and can only show the facts in an unbiased manner, this type of writing shouldn’t extend to all parts of your life.

Recognize when you can loosen up and let your mouth do the talking through your fingers; keeping your voice intact while being personable and clear.

This will open up avenues for you to explore outside of your field and will help to foster your relationships with actual people, not just lab equipment.

 

About Daniel Harris

Daniel Harris strongly believes that the written word is the strongest means of communication we have at our disposal. Daniel Harris is currently a freelance writer working with BYK Additives & Instruments.

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