Attention innovators, scientists, engineers, technology gurus, mathematicians and STEM professionals. Do you want to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to write about what you do and why it matters? Good! Your science and tech writing is valuable.
Recently I posted a poll on LinkedIn asking what aspect of the marketing mix they feel is holding them back. Almost a third said writing.
Writing is a crucial skill for innovation
Lots of clients I talk to want to write (and express their thoughts in other ways too, like video) for wider audiences. They want to do more than only scientific and tech writing for other experts. But often they don’t have the time with lots of other work and priorities (hello, 1,000s of emails!). Or they don’t know what to write about. I understand this. Even though I run a communication and marketing business, I often struggle to set aside time to write!
Here’s the good news: getting your thoughts or messages down can be a lot easier than you think. In this article, I’m going to share with you my top seven tips for writing about your innovation. The goal? Make the process easier and your writing more effective.
We all have a process and it can be fine-tuned
I’ve been a science writer since my first job out of university. Even at university I wrote about research for general audiences as well as the required science paper or academic writing.
But it’s only been in the last decade as a communication and marketing professional, then a business owner, that I’ve been able to really unpack how I write.
These days, as well as being able to tell a neat story I also need to be efficient and deliver quality results for my clients. This means I need to have a process. And you will have a process too. Perhaps it can be fine-tuned.
This is generally how I approach the task of writing in plain English, a short article about STEM or the scientist, researcher, engineer or team behind it.
7 tips for writing about STEM topics
This framework with 7 tips will help you create written content, like a science article for a website or magazine, that has the best chance of connecting with your reader. You don’t need to have a job title that says ‘science communicator’ or ‘journalist’.
If you’re working on many projects and are feeling frazzled, then this is also a chance for you to escape that and look at what you do from a different perspective. (You may even enjoy it…)
What are the tips for science and tech writing?
Read on to unpack.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
– Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Tip 1. Consider who are you writing for (audience)
Think about the audience and the goals and key messages for the article. Where will the article be published? It’s also useful to think about what you want your audience to think or do as a result of reading this piece.
The best way to understand who your audience is to ask your communication or marketing team, if you work for an organisation, or think about the last ten people that spoke to you about your work.
Tip 2. Use language that your readers will use
What is top of mind for them at the moment? If it’s farmers managing the current mouse plague or people with parents overseas trying to understand the latest Covid information, you’ll have a different way of writing.
Three keywords? Language, language, language. Which words does your audience use to describe what’s important to them and what words will they understand? Use their words, and be empathetic to what fears/concerns/hopes they have. This will help to ground your work and your personality in the real world.
Tip 3. Be clear on the angle you will use to get noticed (hook)
Why are you writing? You might want to emphasise the purpose of the work to demonstrate the value to peers or funders. Or you might want to write something fun to simply raise awareness of your work or organisation for a fun event, like National Science Week.
Think about simple ways to hook people in and make your story relevant to the audience.
Here are some useful angles to consider: Money (making/saving), impact, connecting on a personal level, saving lives/health, quirky fun.
For more ‘general audiences’…
If your highly technical piece of equipment enables nurses to understand if a treatment is working on a patient or not, use that simple message, rather than digging into how the tech works, which universities worked with you to create it, and the intricacies of experimental design.
If you created a piece of software to analyse satellite images in seconds rather than days so that government agencies can respond to disasters with accurate information in real-time, says that rather than explaining all of the attributes of the software.
Tip 4. How can you be topical right now (relevance)
If you’re writing for kids, are there particular movies or games or characters that are popular? Think about what is making news. Talk to non-STEM people about what they’re concerned about right now.
Government in post-budget engagement mode and your organisation secured some new funding? Get ready to explain how this investment will be beneficial to the economy and society.
Tip 5. Be curious, think about what you might need to learn or research (understanding)
Are there any concepts you need to be familiar with before you write? And do you need to interview a few other people to bring the story to life?
It’s always useful to refer to key statistics, leaders or controversies in your field.
Tip 6. Consider the steps you need to follow to get published (process)
Be mindful of the process and chart it out against the timeline. This is especially important if you work for a large organisation. There will likely be approval processes. That means bringing people on the journey with you to review and approve.
It could be worth considering:
- When is the article due to the editor?
- What has to happen before that including approvals?
- How long will it take me to draft the article then let it breathe for at least 24 hours (ie. first, second, third drafts always need to be refined!)?
- What background research will be needed for the article?
- When do I need the quotes and information from the interviewee into me?
- When do I need to contact the interviewee, giving them time to get the email, sit down and respond or arrange a time to do a phone interview?
Tip 7. Give yourself the best chance to create (environment)
There are many steps that go into creating an original piece of content. And everyone writes differently. Some people need to be in a certain frame of mind to write while others can seem to switch on their writing focus when needed.
I’m probably a bit of a mix. If I’m tired and have been working on too many different projects in a day then writing is often too difficult. The words I search for in my head don’t come easily enough and it feels like a drag.
Setting up a good writing environment can really help. You can consider this a #hack; where you can more quickly get into writing mode simply by entering the environment that works best for you.
What kind of physical space do you need?
How do you get into the right mental frame of mind?
I will often move to a different space from the usual office. I find that often helps me; no more house chores on my mind.
The good news is that the more often you write, the easier it becomes. Just like any other practice. And crucially, I recommend simply bashing words out and then refining. It’s much easier to edit something than keep staring at nothing.
Writing about your
innovation can be
Here are a couple of reasons to pursue writing:
- you are able to express your views to broad audiences
- the more you write the more you are practising and embedding your messages, making it easier to express them again later
- written content can form the basis of all sorts of other content types such as social media posts or videos or public speaking opportunities.
What works for you?
While I’ve provided some tips that I recommend, you will likely find your own approach. And that’s what this is all about; finding what works for you so you can make it easier.
What other tips for science writing do you have that work for you? I’d love to hear. Send me a message or comment below.
Need help with your writing or editing?
Innovate Communicate creates high-quality communication
and marketing products for people working in science, tech,
engineering, maths and innovation.
Check out our services here.
Want some more inspiration?
Check out these outlets and resources:
- Cosmos: a quarterly science magazine aiming to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone. They deliver the latest in science with beautiful pictures, clear explanations of the latest discoveries and breakthroughs and great writing.
- ScienceAlert: science news that aims to enlighten and entertain millions of readers each month. ScienceAlert is an independently run online news source with experienced journalists on hand to “shed light on important scientific issues of our time, as well as new discoveries, mysteries, and wonders from around the globe”.
- The Open Notebook is a non-profit organisation that provides tools and resources to help science, environmental, and health journalists at all experience levels sharpen their skills.
- Australian Science Media Centre An independent, not-for-profit service for the news media, giving journalists direct access to evidence-based science and expertise.
- Australian National Geographic aims to capture the essence and spirit of Australia through its meticulously crafted and beautifully presented stories and photography in print and online. The bi-monthly magazine has been running since the first edition was published 1986.
- The Verge is a multimedia magazine founded in 2011 to examine how technology will change life in the future for a massive mainstream audience. It covers tech, science, entertainment and creators like YouTube, Instagram, SoundCloud, and other online platforms that are changing the way people create and consume media.
- Got a great article in you? Consider entering the UNSW Press Bragg Prize for Science Writing. Established by UNSW Press, this annual prize is awarded for the best short non-fiction piece on science written for a general audience.