, 50 tweets, 7 min read Read on Twitter
It's a special evening edition of @iamscicomm.
Welcome *turns on smooth jazz* to the thread.
Tonight, I'm talking about something that I think deserves more thought in scicomm: voice.
Science journalism sweats a lot over *what is being said*, which is great. Let no one say I don't want accuracy in science writing. Let's just be clear on *that*.
But, *how* it is said is, to me, just as important.
This how I'm going to define "voice" for the rest of this -- the particular mannerisms and idiosyncrasies that you communicate with in whatever medium you work in. I'm going to focus on prose writing because that's what I know best.
And nobody wants to hear my epic poem about the Krebs cycle.
When scientists write research papers, they bend over backwards to sound alike. Extremely formal language -- furthermores, additionallies, we-founds, etc. -- that no one talks in and no one likes reading.
I was told, without evidence, that this is the best way to write with precision. And that's very important for maintaining the sterling reputation that scientific literature has for being clear and easy to replicate.
I mean, whoever read the methods section in a paper and came away confused about what the authors did???
notmeanyway, this habit of talking like dusty white dudes jockeying for position at the Linnean Society carries over a lot in to how science is written for the public.
The reason people do this is because it is really easy to write this way.
The same way it takes practice to start on a stage and speak without mumbling or rambling, it takes practice to write without using too many words, too many syllables, and, more to the point, the *wrong* words.
Articles by first time @massivesci authors -- bless your hearts, you're putting yourselves out there which is hard and learning something new so this is purely constructive -- struggle to sound like they were written by anyone but those dusty Linnean dudes.
And look, that can be a conscious style choice. Ever read Stephen Jay Gould? That guy never saw a syllable he didn't like. Extra-base syllables on every swing.
Here's my advice to you: don't do that. I have a copy of Ever Since Darwin that I tried to re-read a few years ago that I got like 1/3 of the way through. It's like 180 pages and I couldn't do it.
And that's a guy whose essay on hyena genitalia got me interested in biology in the first place in high school. (I think this one: zoology.ubc.ca/~bio336/Bio336…)
If you have access to narrative or creative writing classes, take them. Those people will force you to put your *personality* into your writing.
Or, at the very least, they will help you make conscious choices about your voice, and I think those choices often reflect personalities.
The unquestioned champion of voice-in-writing is @TriciaLockwood. I highly recommend "Priestdaddy," both because it was the best book I read all last year, but it's also non-fiction. It's relatively short and it covers *ground*.
Reading her book (and twitter acct), I feel like I am sitting next to her talking directly to me. I am not reading anymore.
I want to be *transported* when I read. Always, all the time.
Maybe this is a holdover from starting out writing fiction but I will not apologize for that stance*.

*no one has asked me to apologize
I'm going to give two specific examples of science journalists writing well with voice, arriving at very different places: @carlzimmer and @jameshamblin.
Zimmer doesn't have an academic background in science -- he has an English degree and then went directly to Discover magazine as a copy editor.
He writes very *journalist* copy. He doesn't joke around that much, he doesn't use superfluous words or get terribly poetic very often (though he does from time to time). He writes clean, easy-to-read sentences. I would call them "workmanlike" sentences if that made any sense.
I've never met Carl Zimmer but I think you can see this clean, proper-ness in him, Carl Zimmer the person.
I liked Zimmer's last book She Has Her Mother's Laugh well enough (coughreadmyreviewhere @massivesci)

It was good but it didn't excite me to read it. It was solid, well-researched, well-written...but...did I love reading it? Not really. I liked it! Loved it? No.
This is a lot of hemming and hawing because I respect Zimmer a lot but at this point in my life will drop a book in a hot second if it loses the thread. I used to read long fantasy books waiting for shit to happen, tolerating hundreds of pages of nothing, but no more.
Looking at you Dragonbone Chair.
Zimmer is robotically consistent to the point where I'll finish the book and like it but man it's a tightrope.
James Hamblin OTOH wrote one of my favorite books of whatever year it came out in I'm too lazy to look it up now, If Our Bodies Could Talk.
Hamblin's a doctor but I think the really important thing is he used to do *rollseyes* improv.
If Our Bodies Could Talk (and to varying degrees his Atlantic articles) reads like a dictation from Hamblin's mouth. They're basically text versions of his great video series which I adore.
Jokes, plain English, *dead air*. Those are all stylistic choices.
Again, I've never met Hamblin, but in these videos (and his writing), Hamblin's voice comes through. The narrator is a character here, where with Zimmer the narrator melts into the background.
If you weren't into this you might call it a shtick.
By doing this shtick, Hamblin is actually talking less, covering less ground, but creating a character for the audience to endear to (if you find him endearing) and telling a story, in his particular way.
This is The Law for non-fiction writers: stories are a better way to share information than just telling people that information.
This is the old Information Deficit Model idea (if you're not familiar with that idea and like reading the kind of technical literature I just crapped on earlier have it ya weirdo)
Hamblin tells the story in his goof-around, improv-inspired way. Zimmer tells his (and he tells very good stories, to be clear on that) in his clean, journalistic, slightly patrician way. I find the former more compelling than the latter, but that's just me.
I really strongly recommend you try to make your writing (or art or video or whatever you do) reflect your personality as much as possible.
But what that means is up to you. For me that means a lot of *emphasized text* and italics, removing spaces from words to make it looklikeimmutteringundermybreath, frequent paragraph breaks, jokes...



(I love white space)
When I can get away with it I like to write dreamily, like I'm staring off into the middle distance and talking to no one in particular. I tried to do that a bit here, in this short bio of Annie Easley:
Think of scicomm as a creative endeavor and a reflection of who you are and your work will only improve.
And more importantly than you feeling good about yourself, editors will like your pitches more!
That's a great place to stop because I've been tweeting for three hours and I'm tired and also tomorrow's topic is about what editors like to hear!
Am I qualified to comment on that? Barely! But dammit I'll try. Sweet dreams y'all.
Missing some Tweet in this thread?
You can try to force a refresh.

Like this thread? Get email updates or save it to PDF!

Subscribe to I Am SciComm
Profile picture

Get real-time email alerts when new unrolls are available from this author!

This content may be removed anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Follow Us on Twitter!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3.00/month or $30.00/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!