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11 Tips To Write Popular Science Articles

11 Tips To Write Popular Science Articles

Bridging the gap between science and society.

writing, science, popular science, articles, tips, tricks, attractiveScience and society are two worlds which often lie far from each other, however, they need each other. New scientific insights can for instance lead to better treatment of a devastating disease. However, scientific institutes need funding from society to perform their experiments. Since a lot of Western countries suffer from an economic crisis, it is crucial for the funding of science to gain more social and political support.

So how can one close the gap between science and society?
In order to close the gap, new scientific insights should be interesting for non-scientific people. Common examples are science museums, science quizzes on television and popular scientific articles.  A scientific study of Parkinson and Adendorff clearly shows that these articles also help bachelor science students to better understand science. Moreover, popular scientific articles show these students that scientific ideas are often still open for debate. These findings highly suggest that popular scientific articles are important for the general scientific understanding.

As a science editor for United Academics, a website that contains numerous popular scientific articles, I explored the website to find what components make science articles more attractive. I analyzed several articles that were frequently shared on social network sites. Here are eleven tips and tricks I filtered out of these articles:

1. Start with a high-quality quote: In ‘Quantum mechanics still puzzles scientists Kate Blanchfield covered one of the most perplexing scientific subjects, namely quantum mechanics. Fortunately, she started with a terrific quote that sets the tone of the article, namely if you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics. So if you admit you are confused by quantum mechanics, you fully understand it?? Anyway, her quote clearly shows that scientists are also struggling with quantum mechanics.

2. Undermine the obvious: It is common knowledge that alcohol can affect the brain, causing longer reaction times, impaired memory and so on. However, Simone Munao described a study that revealed that ‘Smarter people tend to drink more alcohol’. This behavior is probably due to the increased curiosity for new substances of people with a higher IQ. This is supported by the so-called Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis. Does this mean drinking alcohol is a good thing? That scientists are still wondering is interesting for non-scientists.

 3. Ask the right questions: ‘Does modern life make us less rational?’ is written by Flora Brils. In this article, she questions Assistant Professor  Eduardo Azevedo about his research that covers the so-called endowment effect. This is a behavioral bias, which is roughly described as the reluctance of people to trade a random object (like a lighter) for a similar random object. With six sharp questions she managed to let mr. Azevedo explain why he started the investigations, why he used certain items, what he thought of the outcomes and what it means for society. In other words: her questions make the endowment effect more understandable.

4. Use science as a myth buster: Hot yoga is a trendy way to increase a person’s flexibility. Moreover, instructors claim that this 90 minute-exercise, which is done in a 45⁰C-heated room, has more major health effects, such as weight loss and a stronger immune system. In ‘5 health claims about hot yoga: True or false’ Elisabeth Buhl Thubron elucidates whether these common claims of a common phenomenon in society are scientifically correct.

5. Use a metaphor as a mighty hammer: Depression is characterized by a low mood and a noticeable loss of interest and/or amusement in daily activities for at least two weeks. It is generally considered as a mental illness, but Jamie Flexman of the Huffington Post argues that ‘Depression is NOT a mental illness’. The pinnacle of his argument is the metaphor in which he extensively describes depression as walking through water, which makes a complex disorder like depression more graspable.

6. Remind people of their childhood: Ils sont fous, ces Romains! is a prevalent quote in the famous Asterix comics. One of the obvious occasions for this quote was after beating up the Romans, which was easy after drinking the magic potion. In ‘Recipe for asterix’s drink discovered’ Chiara Civardi explains how archaeologists have discovered the ingredients of a Nordic grog. This triggers the reader’s imagination.

7. Use the life story of a famous singer: Edith Piaf (1915-1963) suffered from a crippling disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and symptoms were visible during her performances. By telling her life story in ‘Newly-found antibodies predict joint damage’, I myself tried to make the scientific findings about RA more attractive for the reader.

8. Make it visual: In ‘Maxwell equation and knot theory’ Simone Munao combines the so-called Maxwell equations with the so-called Knot theory. He explains the complicated link between these mathematical theories by adding pictures that can guide you through the article. In fact, a picture can say more than a thousand words and can thereby enhance public understanding.

9. Use terrific titles and headings: The title ‘Masculine men experience greater sexual satisfaction’ is clear and attractive, for it is short and it contains two alliterations. Furthermore, if you scan the article, written by Eva de Lozanne, the headings comfortably guide you through the article.

10.   Call for action:  Proper physical exercise is healthy for body and mind. In ‘4 beneficial effects of physical exercise on the brain’, Agnese Mariotti  mentions four benefits of physical activity for the brain. These include the advantages for the mental state and the prevention of brain-related diseases. By making a list, she emphasizes the practical value of the subject, which makes it more attractive for the reader.

11.   Be concise: Today, a popular theory is that humans evolved from apes around 500’000 years ago as Homo sapiens. Nevertheless, new fossils suggest that the Homo sapiens is just a separate breed of Homo erecti. Recently, Jeffrey Daniels wrote ‘Humans did not speciate for two million years’ with all you need to know about this discovery. Possibly one of the reasons this is well-read, is the minimum amount of words.

 

References:

Parkinson, J., & Adendorff, R. (2004). The use of popular science articles in teaching scientific literacy English for Specific Purposes, 23 (4), 379-396 DOI: 10.1016/j.esp.2003.11.005

European Commission Decision C (2013). Horizon 2020 – Work Programme 2014-2015 – Science with and for Society. 4-5, 21-26
writing, science, popular science, articles, tips, tricks, attractive

This post was written by Pieter Carrière:
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