Readers needed: lay readers who regularly read science articles
Instructor: Prof. Misha Angrist
Those who write about science, health and related policy matters for a general audience face a formidable challenge: to make complex, nuanced ideas understandable to the nonscientist in a limited amount of space and in ways that are engaging and entertaining, even if the topic is far outside the reader’s frame of reference. This is even more difficult in a time when acute crises tend to dominate the ever-shrinking print journalism universe. What, if anything, can writers do to get people to care about science? What does good science writing look like and what can we hope to get from it as readers and as citizens? What is the science writer’s job? We will examine different modes of science writing, different outlets for publication, and the peculiar editorial demands each places on the writer. We will consider multiple narrative approaches and various traps into which science writers may fall. Our first goal is to read broadly and deeply with particular attention to science stories as told by the best practitioners in the field. Our second goal is to write: about what we’ve read, about scientists we’ve talked to and the science they do, and about the meaning of it all to a public that is simultaneously bombarded by, fascinated with and alienated from science.
Student Writing Assignment
What are students writing? Magazine article on a science topic.
For whom? Lay readers with an interest in science, technology, and health.
Where would such writing typically be found? In magazines such as Time, Newsweek, or the New Yorker.
Why would someone usually read it? One reason would be to learn about new scientific or technological developments. Another would be to gain insight into interesting people in science. A third would be because he or she just can’t put it down!
Student – Reader Interactions
Here are the deadlines for students in the reader project:
Oct 2: Student-reader matches are announced.
within 2 days: Students contact reader to schedule their Introductory Meeting, where they’ll talk about their profile subject choice and ideas.
Oct 15 to 25: Introductory Meeting completed.
Nov 7: Student sends rough but coherent draft to reader and instructor; reader gives feedback ASAP but within one week.
Nov 7 to 14: Students and readers meet (via webcam, skype, phone…) to discuss revisions and feedback.
Nov 26: Revised draft to reader
Nov 26 to Dec 1: Feedback from reader, feedback can be in writing, real-time conversation, or both
Giving feedback is the activity around which the entire project is designed. You may have considerable professional experience giving feedback on writing — whether to colleagues, employees, or other contexts — or perhaps this is an fairly novel experience. Given the aims and nature of the Reader Project, we are hoping that our volunteers engage with student writing in a particular way–one that is quite different from what is conventionally done in other contexts.
The primary aim of the project is to help students really understand what it means to write for readers, rather than as a school assignment. Think about the following when you give feedback, whether in writing or in real time:
- Respond as a reader rather than as an editor. (They can get basic editorial help from others.) Focus on sharing your reactions to the draft as a user of such writing. What are you thinking as you read? More
Instructor’s response questions
- What parts of the draft are clear to you? Which not so much? Where was science or technical information written in an accessible manner? Where do you get confused?
- How would you judge the readability of the piece? Which parts did you find intriguing? Which parts were less interesting? Can you say why? What else did you want to know?
- What was at stake in the piece? What challenges did the subject face?