It’s one thing to write an engaging fictional novel. It’s quite another to write a nonfiction book, especially when science is the subject matter. In fiction, you have a massive scope to go in pretty much any direction you like, including your delivery style. But in science, you have to stick with the facts. Writers must surrender to the objective world. In the technical language of the field, you have fewer degrees of freedom.
Writing about science engagingly is a massive challenge. Not only do you have to find ways to sell technical subject matter to a lay audience, but you also have to introduce them to concepts in a way that they can grasp. Most will become confused or even completely switch off if your prose includes too much jargon or complex language.
Here are some of the secrets of writing compelling nonfiction science:
Know Your Discipline Inside Out
Some science writers begin their journey to book writing from the wrong angle. They believe that writing is a tool for their education – something that will help them get to grips with their area of interest better while also providing the reader with essential insights.
Unfortunately, when you adopt that approach, you’re putting the paper before the pen. It’s almost impossible to write on something authoritatively unless you have a paradigmatic understanding of it beforehand.
Therefore, if you want to write a book about bridges, for example, it helps to have a Ph.D. or masters in design engineering beforehand. It helps if you’ve already gone through the conceptual hurdles in theory first so you can competently guide the reader through them too.
Never Assume Knowledge
Many science writers are so wrapped up in their fields that they sometimes overlook the fact that they have ‘basic’ knowledge that their audiences do not. For instance, when a physicist talks about gravity, they might implicitly assume that readers know it is a warping of spacetime. The average person, however, probably won’t have that degree of understanding. And that’s where the issue lies.
Be Engaging in Your Language
The narrative in scientific journals is dry and complex. The reason for this is simple: other researchers need to communicate accurately to share their ideas with the community. As a science writer, though, you need to consider other factors too. Not only does the language need to be accurate, but it must also engage. Otherwise, communication will remain a perpetual challenge, and readers won’t finish your book.
Writing science engagingly is about drawing parallels with everyday circumstances and using language that people understand to describe concepts. However, being engaging partly means taking liberties too. Sometimes your metaphors won’t be entirely accurate but your goal is to give your readers an adequate understanding of the underlying material, not necessarily a perfect one.
Inspire Awe in the Subject Matter
Finally, you need to present the narrative in a way that inspires awe in the subject matter. This approach taps into the innate desire for knowledge readers have, turning your nonfiction book into a real page-turner.
If you have found ‘the secrets of writing about science’ informative, check out these nonfiction related blogs: