The Craft of Science Writing: Selections from The Open Notebook

The Craft of Science Writing: Selections from The Open Notebook

by Siri Carpenter


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Science journalism has perhaps never been so critical to our world—and the demands on science journalists have never been greater. On any given day, a science journalist might need to explain the details of genetic engineering, analyze a development in climate change research, or serve as a watchdog helping to ensure the integrity of the scientific enterprise. And science writers have to spin tales seductive enough to keep readers hooked to the end, despite the endless other delights just a click away. How does one do it?

Here, for the first time, is a collection of indispensable articles on the craft of science writing as told by some of the most skillful science journalists working today. These selections are a wealth of journalistic knowledge from The Open Notebook, the online community that has been a primary resource for science journalists and aspiring science writers for the last decade.

The Craft of Science Writing gives you a crew of accomplished, encouraging friends to whisper over your shoulder as you work. In these pages, you'll find interviews with leading journalists offering behind-the-scenes inspiration, as well as in-depth essays on the craft offering practical advice, including:

  • How to make the transition into science writing
  • How to find and pitch a science story to editors
  • How to wade through a sea of technicalities in scientific papers to spot key facts
  • How to evaluate scientific and statistical claims
  • How to report on controversial topics
  • How to structure a science story, from short news to long features
  • How to engage readers in a science story and hold their attention to the end

CONTRIBUTORS TO THE CRAFT OF SCIENCE WRITING: Christie Aschwanden, Siri Carpenter, Tina Casagrand, Jeanne Erdmann, Dan Fagin, Dan Ferber, Azeen Ghorayshi, Geoffrey Giller, Laura Helmuth, Jane C. Hu, Alla Katsnelson, Roxanne Khamsi, Maggie Koerth-Baker, Jyoti Madhusoodanan, Apoorva Mandavilli, Amanda Mascarelli, Robin Meadows, Kate Morgan, Tien Nguyen, Michelle Nijhuis, Aneri Pattani, Rodrigo Pérez Ortega, Mallory Pickett, Kendall Powell, Tasneem Raja, Sandeep Ravindran, Julia Rosen, Christina Selby, Alexandra Witze, Wudan Yan, Ed Yong, Rachel Zamzow, Sarah Zhang, Carl Zimmer.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781734028003
Publisher: Open Notebook, Inc.
Publication date: 02/01/2020
Pages: 306
Sales rank: 274,011
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.69(d)

About the Author

Siri Carpenter, Ph.D., is co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Open Notebook. She is an award-winning science journalist and editor whose writing and editorial work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Science, Discover, National Geographic online, Scientific American, bioGraphic, O, The Oprah Magazine, Science News, Science News for Students, and many other publications. She is the 2018-2020 president of the National Association of Science Writers and lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Table of Contents

Introduction Siri Carpenter xi

Part 1 Who Is a Science Journalist and How Do You Become One? Azeen Ghorayshi 1

How to Use Reporting Skills from Any Beat for Science Journalism Aneri Pattani 5

Trading the Pipette for the Pen: Transitioning from Science to Science Writing Julia Rosen 15

Do You Need a Science Degree to Be a Science Reporter? Aneri Pattani 23

Feeling Like a Fraud: The Impostor Phenomenon in Science Writing Sandeep Ravindran 30

What Is Science Journalism Worth? Kendall Powell 41

A Conversation with Amy Maxmen on 'How the Fight Against Ebola Tested a Culture's Traditions' Amanda Mascareili 51

Part 2 What Makes a Science Story and How Do You Find One? Christie Aschwanden 59

Is This a Story? How to Evaluate Your Ideas Before You Pitch Mallory Pickett 63

Sharpening Ideas: From Topic to Story Dan Ferber 68

Finding the Science in Any Story Kate Morgan 75

Pitching Errors: How Not to Pitch Laura Helmuth 80

Five Ways to Sink a Pitch Siri Carpenter 93

What Makes a Good Pitch? Annotations from the TON Pitch Database Roxanne Khamsi 94

A Conversation with Kathryn Schulz on 'The Really Big One' Michelle Nijhuis 108

Part 3 How Do You Report a Science Story? Maggie Koerth-Baker 119

Is Anyone Out There? Sourcing News Stories Geoffrey Giller 123

Interviewing for Career-Spanning Profiles Alla Katsnelson 128

How to Conduct Difficult Interviews Mallory Pickett 138

Including Diverse Voices in Science Stories Christina Selby 145

Pulling It All Together: Organizing Reporting Notes Sarah Zhang 154

When Science Reporting Takes an Emotional Toll Wudan Van 159

A Conversation with Annie Waldman on 'How Hospitals Are Failing Black Mothers' Tasneem Raja 166

Part 4 How Do You Tell Your Story? Apoorva Mandavilli 177

Good Beginnings: How to Write a Lede Your Editor and Your Readers Will Love Robin Meadows 182

Nailing the Nut Graf Tina Casagrand 190

Like Being There: How Science Writers Use Sensory Detail Jyoti Madhusoodanan 198

Good Endings: How to Write a Kicker Your Editor and Your Readers Will Love Rabin Meadows 203

The First Critic Is You: Editing Your Own Work Tien Nguyen 210

A Conversation with Linda Nordling on 'How Decolonization Could Reshape South African Science' Jeanne Erdmann 215

Part 5 How Do You Build Expertise in Science Writing? Dan Fagin 227

How to Read a Scientific Paper Alexandra Witze 232

What Are the Odds? Reporting on Risk Jane C. Hu 239

Spotting Shady Statistics Rachel Zamzow 244

Getting the Most out of Scientific Conferences Rodrigo Pérez Ortega 254

Explaining Complexity Carl Zimmer 262

How to Do a Close Read Siri Carpenter 265

A Conversation with Maggie Koerth-Baker on 'The Complicated Legacy of a Panda Who Was Really Good at Sex' Ed Yong 273

Acknowledgements 279

Contributors 282

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