Writing for a General Audience: The Impenetrable Sciences

With members of the global community shying away from their wallets, scientific facilities around the world—including commercial industries, research institutions, large universities, and governmental agencies—are in dire need of professional writers who are able to translate complex scientific information to a general audience.

Research requires funding. Whether the funding comes from investors or taxpayers, the organization will invariably need to describe complex and inaccessible science material to a general audience. This is where professional writing and science collide.

What am I Reading?

The general audience has a debilitating phobia of science. The incomprehensible mathematics, intimidating concepts, and alienating jargon often result in a barrier that prevents the public from understanding and appreciating the material. A professional writer in the sciences is responsible for bridging this gap between the scientists and the general audience.

How do I Make Scientific Writing Understandable?

A professional writer in the sciences faces the difficult challenge of simplifying complex ideas to make them accessible for the average reader. Unlike the convoluted and detached scientific literature, scientific writing for the layperson must be extremely clear and concise. If sentences and paragraphs are bogged down with unnecessary or unfamiliar phrases and terminology, the reader will feel like a child looking up at the adult table.

The general audience must feel capable of understanding the scientific material before it can begin to comprehend the actual science involved. However, once the reader is comfortable, a professional writer must ensure that the significance of the science is not overlooked. The scientific results or implications must be recognizable and unambiguous.

For instance, if NASA were to request an increase in funding from the federal budget, the taxpayers would surely want a public press release identifying what their money would be spent on. If the funding increases were significant, NASA would have to convince the public the money would not only fund scientific study, but also produce tangible results with significant implications.

How do I Make Scientific Writing Engaging?

The stark contrast in style between scientific and nonscientific writing is often understood more simply as dull versus not dull. A professional writer in the sciences must make the audience want to learn before expecting it to continue to read. In order to clarify unfamiliar scientific concepts, it is often helpful to use an analogy. An analogy allows the reader to picture a concept from a different perspective and shows the reader that his or her confusion is due to ignorance, not stupidity.

With the reader’s attention, a good professional writer will be able to communicate a potential benefit of the scientific research. Whether it is a profit from pharmaceutical shares or a fundamental shift in mankind’s view of the Universe, readers will not be interested in reading foreign concepts if they do not benefit from their investment.

The Workhorses of Scientific Inspiration

There will always be a need for professional writers capable of bridging the gap between the scientific community and the general public. Establishing a strong connection between the audience and the potential results can have profound consequences. After all, the American taxpayers didn’t support a 400% increase in NASA funding because of the science of sending a man to the moon. They supported the increase because of an elegantly written speech that opened their eyes to the potential benefits of rocket science.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

– John F. Kennedy Jr., 1962


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