The art of good science writing is to make complex ideas seem simple, and to effortless communicate this to a lay public. This is what journalists are trained to do. But for scientists branching out from scientific writing into scientific feature writing, sometimes a little more training is required.
As an emerging science writer from a scientific background, I was grateful to be awarded the Cosmos Media Professional Development Grant for Feature Writing.
As a scientist branching out into science writing, learning more about writing and the basics of journalism and feature writing was essential and this grant provided the opportunity to do so.
I attended two courses on Feature Writing with this grant, which I chose to help broaden my understanding of the requirements and limitations of the feature article. While I run a science communication project based on the 140 characters of twitter, it’s clear that over the past few years, that in depth, well written, even lyrical writing about science and its place in the world is very much sought after. The Art of Feature Writing course was run by Benjamin Law, filling in for Rebecca Shawcross at the NSW Writers Centre. Ben Law’s first TV series is currently airing on SBS, as well as being a screenwriter and author of several books; he is also an accomplished journalist who has worked with many mediums and subjects. This was a comprehensive one day introduction into all aspects of feature writing and freelancing. How to pitch to publications you were interested in. We gave consideration to topics you might be interested in and how to go about researching and framing them; as well as the structuring of a piece. How to stage your writing and how to be a professional freelancer were also discussed.
I’m particularly interested in novel ways of writing about science to appeal to different audiences. Maria Tumarkin’s the Hard Bits in Literary Non-Fiction took feature writing a step further, talking about the development of your own distinct voice and style; retaining this recognizable style while dealing with different topics. This all-day course studied non-fiction material from various writers and their ability to retain a distinctive voice while engaging with differing subject matter; “how to develop and stay true to a voice that can handle the unique demands of contemporary narrative non-fiction with its frequent blending of narrative, reportage, analysis, confession and argument.” Science writers and communicators have the challenge of making science accessible, and frequently this is to the already engaged; but how do you reach those not already interested in science? We had to bring an example of writing that inspired us, and read it allowed. There were members of the workshop who stated their distinct antipathy towards science and their lack of interest in it. I read my selection from Rachael Carson’s writing. Her lyrical writing and placement of our understanding of the world on a long term scientific and almost spiritual timescale was mesmerizing. Every person who had stated their lack of interest told me afterwards that that was the kind of writing they would definitely love to read, and that it had changed their minds about science and science writing. I feel like we have to come up with a new way of writing about science and that in doing so we can reach these audiences. It’s already happening with the kind of excellent writing you see in online magazines like Aeon and Mosaic.
Scientists love science; but we can sometimes be blinded to wider cultural and social implications of new discoveries, of the technologies we develop. While there is a bit of a divide. We will never not need journalists covering science. But for those of us venturing out into the realm from a science background, to talk about our work can develop a more sophisticated approach to communication.
Upulie was the recipient of the ASC 2015 COSMOS Media Grant for Professional Development in Feature Writing.