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Two Books on Science Writing

April 12, 2012

You might know that I’ve been taking a class on science writing for popular audiences this semester.  There are two required readings for the course, The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011, ed. Mary Roach, and A Field Guide for Science Writers, ed. Deborah Blum, Mary Knudson, and Robin Marantz Henig, and I’ve been enjoying them so much that they’ve become oatmeal reading.  Wait, didn’t you know that?  I do all my reading for fun over oatmeal in the morning.


Source: Amazon

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011  The book is pretty much what it sounds like: a collection of the best stuff published in popular science magazines in 2011.  The articles range in subject from how you collect semen samples from chimpanzees* to shock reporting on the Gulf oil spill to a meditation on the limits of what physics might be able to discover.  The book feels like reading many issues of Discover magazine and The New Yorker, because that’s where many of these articles come from.  Except that this book is a highlights reel.


Source: Goodreads

A Field Guide for Science Writers  This is pretty exciting stuff, because it gets into the nuts and bolts of how one goes about writing about science.  The book is divided into sections, one of which is about actually writing well, one about the peculiarities of certain fields such as medicine, and one about working in all the various print markets.  Print markets.  The biggest problem with this book is that it was published in 2006, and the written word has been through an upheaval since then.  I’d recommend this book for the section on craft alone, but the ten pages on writing for the Web left me wanting more.

I’m leaving this class with more conviction than ever that science writing is very cool stuff.  What could be better than science and writing put together?




*  A section of PVC pipe lined with K-Y Jelly, in case you were wondering.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2012 10:19 AM

    I’m a scientist with an interest in getting involved in (or transitioning to?) science communication; I recently started my blog as a foray into the world of science writing, so it’s great to hear about resources like this. I’ll definitely have a look at them — the second one sounds particularly interesting. Thanks for pointing these out!

    • April 12, 2012 1:25 PM

      Yay, there are other people who are into this stuff! Thanks for the link to the blog.

      You might also be interested in It’s a trade group that has a host of information.

  2. April 13, 2012 12:48 PM

    I took a similar class that used the Field Guide as a textbook. In my interactions with other NASW members and in the reactions to my submitted assignments, however, I found that there was too much emphasis on preserving a tone of consensus on every scientific issue. Everything written by a non-scientist about science is expected to be doctrinaire and rah-rah, in contrast with the journalistic perspective taught in every other class.

    • April 13, 2012 2:18 PM

      I know what part of the book you’re referring to. Their point was when there really is a consensus, such as on evolution, reporters have a responsibility to say so.

      • April 13, 2012 11:04 PM

        I’m not talking about one chapter in the book or any particular issue. That is what I was taught throughout the class and by example from the NASW: There is always a majority consensus, and the non-scientists are always wrong, so just do your job as a PR flack for research institutions.

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