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Science Writing for Diverse Audiences

This quarter, I’m up at Friday Harbor Labs teaching Science Writing for Diverse Audiences. As a class, we are exploring effective ways to read, write, and commicate science – all the way from peer-reviewed articles to op-eds and blog posts.

Friday Harbor is an excellent place to find inspiration to write. This past week, we headed out on the R/V Centennial to explore ecosystems around the island. We dug through sand and shell hash to get our hands on wriggly sand lances. We sifted through dredge material to find slime stars and anemomes. And, we gazed through microscopes to spot a myriad of zooplankton. The students’ enthusiasm clearly demonstrated their curioisity and love of natural science. We practice effectivelly describing our experiences with thoughtfully structured sentences, active verbs, and descriptive adjectives – skills that are needed to write well-received science articles.

Students explore rocks and organisms pulled up from the seabed.

Zooplankton under a microscope were displayed for all of us to see and discuss.

Students practice describing what they see in words.

But, this group of students has self selected to be here, and we’ve discussed that not everyone shares our views of science. Perspective colors how science is performed and perceived. Even within this self-selected classroom, students represent diverse views of science. As individuals, we tend to see science as beautiful and inviting. But, our families and cultures tend to see science more as a means to financial gain, often with devious conotations.

Students describe their own, their family’s, and their identified culture’s perception of science.

So, to add to our list of writing skills, we also practice how to frame our writing to fit our audience’s perspective. Research shows that scientists are often viewed as trustworthy, but cold. So, to present ourselves as authors that are both competent and warm, we practice contructing narrative arcs and adding humor and personality.

The quarter isn’t even half way over, and the students¬† are already better writers. Their arguments are persuasive, their desciptions are vivid, and their confidence is rising. I expect to see great things from this group. After all, science is often not driven by the best scientists, but instead by the best communicators.

Written by Robin McLachlan