Ideas Into Words: Mastering The Craft Of Science Writing

Elise Hancock

Created on Friday, September 2, 2011.
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Indispensable reading for anyone who wants to write about science for a layman audience, or really anyone who wants more clarity in their writing at all.


“Neurologists have a saying: “Neurons that fire together wire together,” and they mean that literally. When a group of neurons fires hard enough to activate other neurons, the receiving neurons actually create new receptors to hold the connection, which is called a “neural pathway.”

To illustrate the point, a neurologist once picked up a small, black rock from his desk. “Catch,” he said, and as I caught it, my hand flew shoulder high. The “rock” was not heavy, as expected, but featherlight, a piece of foam.When we did the toss again, however, I could not duplicate the motion. Once I knew the object was foam, I could not help but catch it lightly. In a single catch, a neural pathway had formed — and that’s the way animals learn, including human ones.”


“Be a writer at all times, not only when you sit down at the keyboard. The more you live as a writer, the easier it will be to write, because much of daily life will serve as practice. The way you speak, listen, watch, and read will have much to do with how well you write.

Speak precisely. Make it a habit to say what you mean, rather than settling for a close approximation. If you’re not sure what you mean, say something like, “I need a minute to think about that,” so that other people know you’re not ignoring them. As a secondary benefit, you may blossom into a wit, because once you routinely capture a scene in three or four words, people will find you hilarious. “


“Never quote anything that passes muster only because it was a joke. If you feel compelled to say that the speaker “quipped” or “twinkled,” suppress the quote.”

That's all there is, there isn't any more.
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