Popular(izing) Science

From: Amara Graps (amara@amara.com)
Date: Thu Feb 08 2001 - 12:46:24 MST

martin.907@osu.edu, Wed, 7 Feb 2001 writes:

>How can I get there from here? (ATTN: Mr. Broderick and other
>writers/communicators on this list)
>If anyone knows how else I can improve my writing skills, I would very much
>like your advice.

Dear Josh,


Start with a technical writing class, and then find ways to fit
writing into your current work. In between:


Then, after some years of practicing and gaining confidence, find
some small newsletters that will pay you something (small) and work
your way up to larger magazines.

I think popular science writing is **mega-fun**. I would probably do
it all of the time, if I didn't _also_ love astronomy research and
I didn't have my RSI-limited hands.

My path went this way:
In 1989, I had the good fortune to be required to take a scientific
writing class at San Jose State U to complete my MS Physics degree.
For six months we rewrote scientific and popular articles; rewriting
them to be clearer, and learning specific aspects of "connecting"
the sentences, connecting the paragraphs, being concise, etc. Some
of our hardest assignments were to explain a physics concept without
the use of scientific jargon (hah! I dare you to try explaining how
a boomerang works...) I strongly suggest that you begin with such a
class. It will give you the most important basics.

I applied some of those skills to writing tasks (computer user
instructions, other instructions) at my NASA-Ames job. Then in '94,
I quit my job and became an "astronomy consultant", and offered
"technical writing" among my services to clients. After that, I
found myself "the communications" person for our Stanford solar
physics group, teaching the public about helioseismology, answering
children's "Ask a Solar Physicist" questions. In Germany, as a PhD
researcher (almost completed my dissertaion), I don't have as much
time, but people now _pay_ me to write about science, which tickles
me to death, and I like it so much that I still write a couple
popular science articles a year. (Plus I'm the only native English
speaker in my research group, which means that everyone brings their
scientific articles to me to proof)

Here's something you can do now: USE USENET

* Find interesting posts on the scientific newsgroups on the
Internet. (Unfortunately, Usenet has gotten more and more trashy the
last years, so the "good" and "intelligent" questions are harder to

* Then answer those questions, giving them alot of attention. my
above comments, i.e. explaining with a minimum of jargon. Keep
rewriting and rewriting to make the answer clear and concise. Over
time, it will get easier for you, and give you confidence.

It's easy.. it's fun.. I'm sounding like a salesperson, I know. I would
dearly love to see more well-written popular science articles and
books, so I am happy to offer advice.


Amara Graps email: amara@amara.com
Computational Physics vita: finger agraps@shell5.ba.best.com
Multiplex Answers URL: http://www.amara.com/
"Sometimes I think I understand everything. Then I regain
consciousness." --Ashleigh Brilliant

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