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Writing popular science texts

Researchers have a responsibility to share their knowledge with wider society. Not only the general public, but politicians and people in business and industry are interested in what researchers discover.

New findings and results can affect the future, but the people not involved in a research field need to be given a simple and comprehensible explanation of the subject. Several of the University’s journalists and information officers can provide advice and support when you need to produce popular science material, regardless of whether it is intended for the internet, as a presentation or as a press release. In some cases they can even write the text for you.

When you write popular science texts – write for a real person!

  • Write/explain the subject to your aged aunt! Write for a person, not a vague general public – imagine you are writing for a distant relative who is not familiar with your subject

  • Write briefly and to the point!

  • Arouse interest! Talk about the most important and interesting aspects first, such as conclusions, consequences, results.

  • Explain what your results entail for those concerned. Try to identify a general interest.

  • Write simply! Straightforward sentence structure and “ordinary” prose with no bureaucratic turns of phrase. For example, write “aim” rather than “objective”, etc.

  • Avoid technical terms or explain them if you must use them. Also avoid vague, ambiguous words.

  • Formulate a striking headline.

  • Write only very sparingly about the background and the method used to achieve the result.

  • Get someone who has nothing to do with your research to read through your text!

As you can see, popular science writing is very different to writing for research publications. While the researcher starts with the background and circumstances, presents the methodology and closes with conclusions and consequences, the opposite principle applies to a popular science text.

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anna.johansson [at] kommunikation.lu.se

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