Science Communication 101 - Motivation for writing
‘Science is a system for accumulating reliable knowledge’ (Zobel, 2014).
Both academic and non-academic scientists are in the process of speculating, observing and understanding of some phenomenon. I am sure every one of us had a moment when a lightning bulb pops up and you have your ‘aha’ moment. After this moment: write. Write down how it came to you and what this means. Then: tell others.
There is no point making any breakthrough without (i) becoming excited, and (ii) sharing your idea with others.
Writing underpins the research cycle.
You state your ideas, put them into a logical order, consider others’ work and ideas, develop your reasoning and there you go: your idea has become more concrete than it was while you were singing in the shower. Writing well is a key skill for science as it has to (i) follow some certain rules, and (ii) have a nice flow that will help its readability.
An ‘accomplished scientist’ is aware of the process of research, has written a proposal, has expectations, is specialised in the topic = more or less knows the plan before writing.
However, we are students. So my approach is to start with a ‘faint’ idea of what you would like to write about and the logic will follow and the whole writing process shapes your research on one topic.
For example, you went for a trip, a walk or just read something. You already know what experience made you say ‘well, that is interesting’. You pick this moment and subject to write about.
There are countless books and guides to help you follow the ‘research writing rules’ that are incredibly helpful BUT on top of all the rules, you need to think to communicate your enthusiasm.
Another example: I am doing my dissertation on brambles (Rubus genus). How do I get my supervisors excited about these prickled beasts? How do I get you all interested in something that you pass by every day and think it is a nuisance?
I am going to have about 40-90 seconds to get someone else interested in this topic during starting up this conversation. How should I start?
Think about your own project/ research. You find it awesome.
What would you highlight in 60 seconds to get the other student's attention?
As we are all studying science and therefore we already have common interest in ‘weird things that happen in nature’.
Now consider you are talking to someone in a bus stop. How can you get their attention?
Look at global not-for-profit conservation organisations. They rely on donations and the public’s interest. They need to grab people’s attention and get the interested. So check out a couple of websites and have a think how they are trying to achieve this:
This is what these little ‘rapid’ sessions are designed to help you with. How to communicate your research using writing as a tool for your own development. I will introduce a couple of ‘tricks’ that help to get good marks quickly, and will also increase your employability and how to have fun explaining science.
Barrass, R., 2002. Scientists Must Write: A guide to better writing for scientists, engineers and students. Psychology Press.
Science Communication 101 - Motivation for publishing
So let’s say you have Motivation for Writing. Now, why would you like to publish it?
For an ‘accomplished’ researcher, publishing is the ‘final step’. Imagine that you have applied for funding, got the funding, done your research, you found ‘something funny’. Now what was the point of it all?
The ‘point’ is to share your results that will be a piece of scientific puzzle. A quote from an academic:
“We don’t work as isolated individuals. I write with a sense of what the key issues are, what the unresolved problems and questions are, and try to make a contribution to the field, which will more the debate forward. So that’s what makes me decide to write what I write about.”
As students, we might not be able to write ‘on the same level’ as the articles in scientific journals as those journals are for scientist who spent years on conducting their research, writing it up and publishing it. So to scale the publishing level down we are going to discuss publishing in magazines and blogs.
Question 1. – Is publishing scary?
The first thought that might come to your mind could be that you are a bad writer or that you are exposing yourself to people’s judgement.
First of all, if you are passionate about your topic – you already have ‘a neck’ for writing about it. Writing is a skill which means that it is developed. You will probably read your very first article holding your head a couple years afterwards. That is how it should be.
Secondly, this exercise is just for you. It is not about thinking what the others will write and how they will write. At the end, you will be holding a magazine and the people you will want to talk to will be the ones whose article captivated you. I and all your lecturers, classmates want you to succeed. This is the ideal environment to start publishing.
Question 2. What is the best thing about publishing?
When you publish your article, you can have a look back at it in print. It makes such a big difference. I usually write something, early in the morning for the GOES magazine, ask people to read it through. We change bits and then a couple of weeks later when I see a hard copy, I realise that ‘this is how I should not write in the future’ or see that ‘well, that sentence worked’. It is a learning process.
The best thing is when you have your work in your hand. There is nothing like it.
Question 3. How to get started?
Every publisher has their own ‘house style’ that they clearly describe in their guides. Check out the following guides:
Make sure you read our guide before starting to write. Familiarize yourself with what type of articles there are, what the house-style is and how to structure it and what style you should be aiming for.
You will read this again and again that I cannot help you if you do not ask! So please get in touch with me before writing and reading these guides will help you!
To sum up why publishing is important I quote Piel Garret:
“Science is dead without publishing”