One of the single most important rules in writing for a wider audience on a scientific topic, is simplicity. And when I say, simplicity, I do not mean “dumbing down” as I often hear. I mean creating a narrative that is accessible to a thoughtful person who is interested in the topic but does not have the depth of background. Unfortunately, simplicity can be elusive. Some quick tricks that may help are listed below:
- Keep sentences short and to the point. If a sentence starts to run on too long, then break it up into two or more.
- Try not to use words that are more complicated than necessary, requiring that your reader hunt down a dictionary with every other sentence.
- Omit needless words that clutter the sentence. For example, “a number of” can be replaced with “several” or “many”.
- Similar to above, omit empty phrases. For example, “As mentioned earlier…” or “It is interesting to note that…”
- Use the active rather than passive voice whenever possible. Doing so will keep the writer more engaged. Plus, it’s just better.
- If after several tries, you cannot make a sentence work, then scrap it and start over. Maybe even move on and come back to it later when you are thinking more clearly.
- And, perhaps most important of all, if you don’t understand what it says, then neither will your reader.
Science writer and editor