Selections from The Open Notebook
Edited by Siri Carpenter
Find it on Bookshop
If you’re curious about becoming a science writer, this book is a must-read. Whether you are a scientist, a non-science writer, or something else entirely, Siri Carpenter has gathered the basics of how to improve your science writing, and bundled them into an essential collection.
The Craft of Science Writing is a series of short essays and articles, each by a different science writer. These pieces are all available on the website The Open Notebook for free, but the book has curated and organized them into a directed journey through the details of the craft.
Becoming a Science Writer
We start with origins- who can become a science writer? Do you need to have a science degree? The answer is no— everyone takes their own path. The one thing that is required to succeed is a passionate curiosity.
The short answer is, I’m not sure how you become a science journalist. At least for me, the important thing is feeling like I’m always still becoming one.
The rest of the book addresses how to find a good story, strategize your reporting, craft a good piece, and build some skills specific to the science part.
Storytelling is powerful: It can nice people’s thoughts and emotions, or even move them to action. And like any powerful tool, it can be learned and mastered. The key elements of storytelling—characters readers can connect with, scenes and details that builds narrative tension, and a story arc with a beginning, middle, and end—are not unique to longform feature writing. To succeed, stories of any scope, style, or length—even short, study-based articles describing a straightforward nugget of news— need to draw readers in, give them a reason to keep reading, offer appropriate nuance and context, and form a coherent and memorable whole.
The Skills of Science Writing
The book contains coaching on some specific skills to master. Each comes with examples, evaluated by the writers themselves and their editors. The essential bones of a science story include:
- lede (beginning)
- kicker (ending)
- nut graf (the essence of the story)
- sources and interviews
- sensory storytelling
You’ll find some recognizable names among the author list (Ed Yong, Maggie Koerth, Carl Zimmer), but also some amazing advice from people you may have never heard of. Be prepared for countless tips and tricks, directly from the mouths (and hands) of the best in the business.
See the links below for my notes on some of my favorite books by science writers.
Want to read more? Find The Craft of Science Writing here: Bookshop
This book made it onto my list of the 5 Best Books I’ve Read According to Goodreads! See the full list here.
The quotes above were gathered using Readwise. It’s a truly amazing app to help you remember what you read. If you want to try it out, use my link and we both get a free month 🙂
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You might also like my notes on:
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen
Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach