03.Mar.2020

Drew Sottardi

Smart Writing For Scientific Research

3 Tips to Make Scientific Research Stories More Interesting

One of the best ways to tell your university’s story is to, well, tell an interesting story. Something that inspires people, surprises them, or makes someone say: “Wow, that’s amazing.”

Few things do that better than scientific research stories.

Over the years, I’ve interviewed dozens of researchers working in fields from anthropology to zoology—and just about everything in between. Their work is always interesting and often has the power to improve people’s lives or shed new light on an old problem.

But scientific research can be extremely technical and hard to understand. That’s where you come in.

As a writer, you can tell these stories clearly and concisely, which will help tell your university’s overall story. Here are some tips on how to improve your research study stories.

Start at the beginning

Find out why the researcher got involved in his or her field. Maybe she studies cancer because her father died from the disease. Maybe he examines rising sea levels because he grew up near the ocean. Or maybe another researches counseling for veterans because of his previous career in the Air Force.

Whatever the case, these personal details help humanize your story. They give readers something they can relate to and instantly understand. Stories should be more than just a laundry list of facts and figures. Sure, they need to contain the “who, what, when, and where”—but they also need to tell people “why.”

So try to use an anecdote (or two) about the person you’re profiling. At the very least, it will help you start your story. Even better, it will help shape the whole narrative and give important context to the research.

Don’t be afraid to ask

As a marketer, you’re not writing for a peer-reviewed scientific journal. You’re writing for a general audience—and the average reader doesn’t need to know the super-specific details of the research.

That doesn’t mean you should dumb down your writing. It does mean, however, that you should take the time to make sure you thoroughly understand the research so you can explain it to your readers.

And what’s the best way to do that? Ask a ton of questions.

I always tell the researchers I’m interviewing to assume that I know nothing about their area of expertise. Then I tell them to explain it to me as if I were a freshman in high school, the recommended target age when writing for a general audience.

If there’s a part of the research that I don’t understand, I’ll ask the researcher to explain it again—and I’ll keep asking questions until I’ve got a grasp on the work. Then I’ll run my version by the researcher to make sure I’ve got it right.

Trust me, it can be a long back-and-forth process. But it’s well worth it—because the last thing you want to do is get the research wrong.

Show, don’t tell

This old writing adage is especially true when you’re explaining scientific research. If all you do is tell people about the work (the straightforward factual stuff), they’ll quickly lose interest. But if you show them the research (through colorful descriptions), they’ll keep reading.

Here’s an example of telling the reader: Professor Jane Smith has been studying impact craters on Mars for more than 30 years. She is one of the leading Mars scholars in the world, and her work has been cited in several scientific journals.

Now, here’s an example of showing the reader: Large meteorites, like the ones that created the enormous impact craters on Mars billions of years ago, can rip a hole in the planet’s surface more than a thousand miles wide and several miles deep. Even small meteorites pack a big punch, capable of releasing more energy than a dozen hydrogen bombs. But those collisions also leave behind a treasure trove of information, said professor Jane Smith, one of the leading Mars scholars in the world.

The first example is dry and lacks details. The second paints a picture that pulls the reader in. And that’s the point of good writing—to pull the reader in to your story.

So the next time you’re asked to write a story about some cutting-edge research that’s happening at your university, try using the three tips above. You and your readers will be better off for it.