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How to Write Copy People Will Actually Read

You’ve found your way to this article, but you probably won’t read it start to finish.

You’ve read the stats. According to Copyblogger, 80% of people will read a headline, but only 20% read the body. 38% of people who click on a site will leave before engaging with the content at all. People will share copy, effectively vouching for its quality, when they’ve only read 25% of it.

Does this mean no one reads anymore? Has the Internet killed literacy? Not quite, but it has given birth to a generation of scanners. [Tweeters!] That is, people who scan articles and landing pages to get the “gist” or find a section they’re especially interested in.

Why Does Scanning Matter?

People don’t read the way they used to. Why? There are a few different reasons…

  1. Attention spans are shorter than ever. In 2000, the average attention span for a human was 12 seconds. Today? A recent study found that our attention span is a mere 8 seconds. To compare, a goldfish has a 9 second attention span.
  2. We’re busier than ever. The amount of time Americans spend at work, on average, is actually declining, but the convergence of work life and personal life leaves us with an “always on” mentality. As a result, we feel “busier than ever”. Far too busy to read an entire landing page or email or article.
  3. Content overload is real. 41% of people surveyed claim to feel overwhelmed by the many choices online. Instead, they turn to friends for content and product recommendations.

So, how do people read now?

“In today’s world people are suffering from content overload. People rarely read, they scan/skim through content and dive in areas they find interesting.”

If you want people to actually read, every line of copy should pass a cost-benefit test…

  • Cost – How much time will this take? How difficult will it be to read?
  • Benefit – What’s in it for me? What will I learn or gain from reading this?

Do the Old Copy Rules Still Apply?

So, do any of the old school copy rules still apply? Of course. This is an evolution of how copy is consumed, not how it is crafted.

Two core rules still apply: (1) you must secure interest and (2) you must do so as quickly as possible.

The bottomline is that people read copy they’re interested in. If your copy is compelling and intriguing, your visitors are going to read it.

Of course, securing that interest as quickly as possible is key. People make snap decisions, so if you don’t have them hooked in the first 8 seconds, you’ve likely already lost them.

However, they likely aren’t interested in all of your copy. Instead, they will scan your copy and read only the sections they’re interested in.

For example, let’s say you found Evergage because you’re interested in targeting certain visitors for personalization.

From: Shanelle Mullin

 

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Writing Nonfiction

Eight preparatory steps necessary to successfully write a nonfiction book:

  1. Choose your topic.

The first thing you want to do as you prepare to write a nonfiction book is choose a topic for your project carefully. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it really isn’t.

  1. Create a Content Plan

Create an outline or a table of contents for you book. This ends up looking like a table of contents—actually a rather detailed table of contents with chapter titles and subheading titles. You might prefer to just create a simple outline or a bulleted list.

Whatever your method of choice, create something that looks like the structure of a book—a table of contents. And know what content will fill that structure as you create your manuscript. That’s your map.

Then, when you sit down to write each day, you know exactly what to write. In fact, the more detailed you make this plan, the more quickly and easily you will write your book. You will spend little time staring at your computer screen wondering what to write or what comes next. You will know. It will be right there in your writing plan. You’ll just follow the map—your table of contents—to your destination.

  1. Determine What Research You Need

You might think you can write your book “off the top of your head” because you are the expert on the topic. Inevitably, though, you will discover a need to search for something—a URL, a quote, the title of a book. These things can slow down your process. This is where preparation can help keep your fingers on the keyboard typing rather than perusing the Internet.

For each item in your plan—or your detailed table of contents, brainstorm the possible research you need and make note of it.

As you write, if you discover you need more research or interviews, don’t stop writing. Instead, create brackets in your manuscript that say [research here] and highlight them in yellow. Later, do a search for the term “research,” and fill in the gaps.

  1. Create a To-Do List

Look over your content plan. Take all the research items you listed and put them on a to-do list.

Make a list of URLs, books and articles to find. Look for anything you need to do. For instance, does your research require that you visit a certain location? If so, put “Visit XX” on the to do list.

Don’t forget to put interviews on this list. You want to conduct your interviews now.

  1. Gather and Organize Your Materials

Gather as much of your research and other necessary material as you can prior to the end of October. Purchase the books, copy the articles into Evernote.com, copy and past the URLs into a Word doc, or drag them into Scrivener’s research folder, for instance. Get your interviews transcribed as well—and read through them with a highlighter, marking the quotes you think you want to use.

If you are writing memoir, you might want to gather photos, journals and other memorabilia. If you are re-purposing blog posts, or reusing any other previously published or written material, you want to put all of this in one place—an online folder, a Scrivener file or a Word file.

Generally, get as much of what you need to write your book in an easily accessible format and location so you aren’t searching for it when you should be writing. Use piles, boxes, hanging folders, computer folders, cloud storage…whatever works best for you.

  1. Determine How Much Time You Need

Each nonfiction book is different and requires a different amount of time to write. A research based book takes longer to write, for example, because you have to study, evaluate and determine your opinion of the studies. You have to read the interviews you conducted, choose appropriate quotes and then work those quotes into your manuscript.

If, on the other hand, you write from your own experiences, this take less time. With the exception of drawing on anecdotes, an occasional quote or bit of information from a book, the material all comes from your head. You need only sit down and write about a process you created, your own life story or your area of expertise.

  1. Create a Writing Schedule

Last, create a writing schedule. You now know how much time you need to write your book. Now find those hours in your calendar and block them off. Make those hours sacred.

  1. Put a Back-Up System in Place.

Yes…this is my last tip, because you just never know what happens. Your computer crashes or dies. You accidentally delete your whole manuscript. Your child dumps milk all over your keyboard.

You want a back up of your project. Always save it to your computer’s drive and onto a thumb drive or, better yet, into the cloud, for safe keeping! Make these plans in advance as well. You can use Evernote.com, Dropbox.com or Google Drive, for example.

The Oxford Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science

 

The Simonyi Professorship Chair for the Public Understanding of Science was founded in 1995, by a donation from Dr Charles Simonyi. It is currently held by Professor Marcus du Sautoy, and based at Oxford University’s Mathematical Institute and Department for Continuing Education.

Aims

The aim of the Simonyi Professorship is to contribute to the understanding of science by the public. The chair is intended to be filled by a scientist of distinction in their field of expertise, and the Simonyi Professor may hold the post while also pursuing their scientific work. Just as important as scientific accolade is that he or she has a talent and interest in communicating science to a wide audience.

Primary goals

The task of communicating science to the layman is not a simple one. In particular it is imperative for the post holder to avoid oversimplifying ideas, and presenting exaggerated claims. The limits of current scientific knowledge should always be made clear to the public. Once done so, however, there is also a role for presenting speculative ideas, which can convey to non-scientists some of the excitement of doing true science.

From Charles Simonyi’s Manifesto

“The chair is for ‘Public Understanding of Science’, that the holder will be expected to make important contributions to the public understanding of some scientific field rather than study the public’s perception of the same. By ‘public’ we mean the largest possible audience, provided, however, that people who have the power and ability to propagate or oppose the ideas (especially scholars in other sciences and in humanities, engineers, journalists, politicians, professionals, and artists) are not lost in the process. Here it is useful to distinguish between the roles of scholars and popularisers. The university chair is intended for accomplished scholars who have made original contributions to their field, and who are able to grasp the subject, when necessary, at the highest levels of abstraction. A populariser, on the other hand, focuses mainly on the size of the audience and frequently gets separated from the world of scholarship. Popularisers often write on immediate concerns or even fads. In some cases they seduce less educated audiences by offering a patronizingly oversimplified or exaggerated view of the state of the art or the scientific process itself. This is best seen in hindsight, as we remember the ‘giant brains’ computer books of yesteryear but I suspect many current science books will in time be recognized as having fallen into this category. While the role of populariser may still be valuable, nevertheless it is not one supported by this chair. The public’s expectation of scholars is high, and it is only fitting that we have a high expectation of the public.:

Self-publishing; Is the Stigma Disappearing? Should It?

 

            Self-publishing has always had a stigma attached. Why is this? Mostly because we were taught in school that anything published has been thoroughly checked and edited by “those who knew more than we did, specialists of some kind.” That may have been true of our textbooks, which were written and edited by specialists in their fields.

As we became adults and, at least some of us, became teachers, writers and editors, we tried our hand at publishing and found out how hard it was to attract the eyes of a publisher, let alone land a publishing contract. Some of us continued to butt our heads against that publishing wall until we were, at least, moderately successful. Some gave up, thinking it wasn’t worth the effort. The third segment saw the modern availability of publishing technology as a way to go around the traditional publishing roadblock. It afforded low cost publishing (CreateSpace and many others), free way to get public attention (Amazon—you and several million other authors) and you kept all the profit and didn’t have a garage full of inventory and shipping to handle. A sweet deal, right?

Not so fast. You are a specialist in the subject you are writing about, right? You researched the topic extensively beyond your bookshelf and the local public library, right? (No offense to public libraries here.) You had someone besides your best friend or your grandmother edit your work, right? You have a marketing and business plan, which goes beyond Amazon, right? You have a brand, right? A what?

Let’s look at these issues in the order they are listed:

  • You are a specialist in the subject about which you are writing. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in the topic about which you are writing unless you a claiming your work to be the final word on the topic. Be sure you acknowledge somewhere your limitations.
  • You researched the topic extensively beyond your bookshelf and the local public library. There is nothing wrong with using the resources you have on hand—just don’t stop there. Your local librarian will give you suggestions as to where to get more information on your topic. Beware of the internet. Use it with caution. Much information is there, unfiltered and unchecked—anybody can put anything there, whether or not it is valid.
  • You had someone besides your best friend or your grandmother edit your work. Your best friend and your grandmother are fine people and they have your best interest at heart. However, they are probably not editors and, even if they are, they are biased to see your work as better than it actually is. Choose someone, better to ask two or three people, who are experienced writers, editors or English teachers to read your work critically. You should welcome criticism—it means you are on the way to having a quality piece of work.
  • You have a marketing and business plan, which goes beyond Amazon. Amazon is great at what it does. It makes works available to anyone who can get near a computer and has a few bucks to buy a book. But that’s as far as it goes. How will anyone know your book is there, except your family and friends who have heard you talk about it every chance you get? They won’t. You are competing with at least a hundred million other titles, admittedly not all on your topic, but that won’t make your book any easier to find.

Your marketing plan will provide a roadmap for you to follow to get attention for your book and should include some or all of the following:

  1. Your website,
  2. Your blog,
  3. Your other social media sites (Facebook, twitter, Tumblr, Instagram)
  4. More traditional materials, such as bookmarks, business cards, postcards, flyers,
  5. Radio and TV spots,
  6. Other signings and speaking engagements.
  • What is this brand of which you speak? Your brand is your personae as a writer, specifically as the writer of your particular book on your particular topic. You must make yourself known by what you have written. Everything in the list immediately above works together to brand you. Acknowledge it, work with it, use it.

Does this sound like more than you are capable of doing? It may be. It is a lot of work. Even the large publishers require more promotional work from their authors than they used to. It’s a fact of life.

Now, what about the stigma? It isn’t as bad as it once was. Does that mean self-published works are better than they were at one time? Yes and no. Yes, some experienced authors are going the self-publishing route. What they learned from being associated with higher quality editing and their natural maturity as writers has paid off, for them as writers and us as readers.

Yet, in large part, one often can spot a self-published book within the first page or two. Layout is strange, sometimes disjointed with lots of white where there should be print; typos, spelling and grammatical errors appear with distracting regularity. (CreateSpace does not edit the work). Yes, you do see typos in works published by the large publishers but nowhere near as many.

There you have it, my take on self-publishing. You self-publish at your own risk. If you are hoping for the next best seller, better get a large publisher.

Published in: Outdoors Unlimited August/September 2016

Five Ways to Make a Sentence More Concise

Expressing oneself clearly and concisely in speech is a challenge because one has so little time to order one’s thoughts and choose one’s wording carefully, but writing is easily improved with even the briefest review. Always read over what you have written (whether it’s a tweet or a book manuscript) before you distribute or publish it—not only to adhere to the mechanical basics of grammar, syntax, usage, and style but also to check for narrative flow and conciseness. The following sentences, and the discussions and revisions that follow each one, include advice for paring unnecessary words and phrases.

1. As you establish your policies, it is recommended that you develop a comprehensive list of business activities.

When offering recommendations, avoid overly polite entreaties, and simply state the advice as an imperative: “As you establish your policies, develop a comprehensive list of business activities.” (Other words that signal an expendable phrase are advised, suggested, necessary, and imperative.)

2. Nearly all of the processes and steps conducted during this phase were planned in the early stages.

In “all of the” phrases, of is almost always optional, and the can often be safely omitted as well: “Nearly all processes and steps conducted during this phase were planned in the early stages.”

3. IPO activity has increased over the past few years, and that presents a great advantage for the company.

Be alert for opportunities to condense sentences consisting of two independent clauses into a simple statement. Here, what was an introduced observation is recast as an acknowledged phenomenon, changing the subject from “IPO activity” to “the increase in IPO activity”: “The increase in IPO activity over the past few years presents a great advantage for the company.”

4. Organizations can realize tremendous value from risk management in a cost-effective and efficient way.

The presence of way (or manner, or basis, or any similar vague noun) at the end of a sentence signals a sentence in need of abbreviation. Simply dismantle the phrase that ends with the noun and convert the adjectives that precede the noun into adverbs: “Organizations can cost-effectively and efficiently realize tremendous value from risk management.”

5. There are core sets of critical activities and critical communications that must be performed at this stage.

When a sentence or clause begins with an expletive (“There is/are” or “It is/They are”), consider omitting the phrase and beginning the sentence with the noun or noun phrase that follows (and delete the now-extraneous that that follows the subject): “Core sets of critical activities and critical communications must be performed at this stage.”

Taking Conciseness Too Far
Be cautious, however, about overzealous conciseness, as in the case of multiple nouns and noun phrases stacked in a dense swarm of words. Relaxing a sentence can be just as effective as tightening it in improving a sentence:

Overly concise: Executive management and board of directors’ expectations about scalability can be unrealistic.
Relaxed: The expectations of executive management and the board of directors about scalability can be unrealistic.

From: Daily Writing Tips

New Books for Reluctant Readers Coming in July…

My reluctant reader series “The Aquitaine Reluctant Reader Series”
will kick off in July with Book 1, “Looking at the Cat; an Eye on Evolution”, written for kids in Grades 9 – 12 who can read but don’t like to read.
Cat Book Cover-3

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Writing Science for the Public #3

1-It is about the people. Let’s say that your topic is Chlamydia. I know and you know that you can write something perfectly interesting about Chlamydia without mentioning people, but the truth is the article will be more interesting if includes people. Readers want to hear about people. If your story is about Chlamydia, it is really about Chlamydia and people. If you don’t know anyone with Chlamydia find someone who does, or, perhaps less awkwardly, find out who revealed the biological story of Chlamydia (seems to be this amazing and rarely written about fellow–http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislaus_von_Prowazek).

2-Your story needs a happening part. If you string together paragraphs of facts, you have not written a story. You have written a textbook and for as much as teachers tell students otherwise, textbooks are boring. Something needs to happen in the story and then either resolve or conspicuously fail to resolve. What happens can be funny. It can be serious. It can be funny and then serious and then funny again, but it has to happen (Conspicuously, I have given this advice in post in which absolutely nothing happens).

3-It is easier to write a simple story. Look, while you are reading this you are thinking of ways around my suggestions. “Oh,” you might think, “I could write a compelling story without mention of people or characters in which absolutely nothing happens. It will be about a rare beetle.” I bet you could. I believe in you. But to do so is to do things the hard way. Just a piece of advice here. If you are just starting in science writing, you might want to avoid always doing things the hard way.

4-Nouns not adjectives. The temptation in writing a story is to use piles of adjectives to describe the beauty, awe, tininess, sublimity, grandness and awkward bumbling of whatever it is you are writing about. Don’t. Use strong nouns and verbs. Write simple sentences.

5—Sound like you. Your voice should be your own. If you are writing what someone else could write, well, you can take it easy and let them do it.

6-Be relevant. Scientists are trained to study marginal topics. Suggest to a PhD candidate that they might focus on a common relevant species and they will, with a natural inevitability, disappear into the rain forest to study something obscure instead. Perhaps it is reasonable for scientists to focus on the obscure; in the margins we hope for big discoveries others missed. It is not reasonable for writers, unless, in that obscure, the reader can see a broader story, a story relevant to millions of people.

7-Tell the readers what they want to know (Pity the reader).Write for the readers. When I talk about ants, people almost always ask, “what should I do about ants in my kitchen?” It took me a decade to realize this was my listener/reader saying, “this is the only way your topic was even remotely interesting to me.” You don’t have to give readers the answers they want, but if the reader has a natural reason for caring about your topic, don’t avoid it. Your goal as a writer is to engage as many people as possible in ways that might affect their lives. This stands in contrast to your goal when writing scientific papers which is, as near as I can figure, to write a paper that appeals to thirty people and, in doing so, avoid affecting them in any real way (lest they give you an unfavorable review).

8-Even if it is not about people, it is about people.

9-If you write about scientists, make them human. This doesn’t mean make them seem ordinary if they are not. Scientists include ordinary people. Now that I’ve said that, let’s be more honest, they also include a fair number of folks incapable of navigating the aisles of the supermarket. Tell it like it is—I know a scientist who walked to work wearing two different shoes and only realized it on the way home (OK, that was me, but I digress)—but even odd scientists have ordinary struggles. By making scientists human you let the readers know scientists have daily struggles, problems buying cars, issues finding the right the schools for their kids. You want your reader to relate to the characters in your story.

10-Know your stuff. You need to know a story better to write about it for the public than you need to do to write about it for scientists. To write about a story for non-scientists you need to capture the big story and explain complex topics in ways intelligible to folks for whom the topics are new. Don’t shy away from complex ideas, but explain them with clarity. Doing this requires you to know the details AND the broad picture. Imagine you are trying to figure out things about the field you are writing about that the experts missed.

11-Tritrophic is not a real word. Your reader does not know the words tritrophic, ecological assemblage, genomics or parthenogenesis. That is not because your reader is dumb. It is because scientists made up those words and never told anyone but other scientists. Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your readers. Readers can be very clever, but it is not their job to know all of the words that you and the twelve people you call colleagues made up.

12-Share your joy. You are writing about science because you like science. Your reader is reading about science because he or she likes science. If you share your joy in a piece of the scientific world the reader may well feel joy too. If they do, they might send you a letter and you will feel joy again (After thinking, “I’ll be dammed, an actual paper letter.).

13-Your story can turn at the end in a way that changes the perspective of the reader. It is a great sensation if, at the end of the story, we see the topic you are writing about in a new light. In a short article, this turn is most easily made in the last paragraph. If you are writing a book, well, you have bigger problems.

14-Delete. Cut mercilessly (says the guy who has just written a 1300 word list). Cut extra words. Cut paragraphs. Be wariest of sentences and paragraphs you love; they have a tendency to stick around even when they don’t help. As Arthur Quiller-Couch said, murder your darlings. Delete whole essays. Winnow. Writing improves with practice and winnowing is part of practice. Fill your trashcans with attempts. Fill them with whole books. Share what is left over, the cut stone of a story, a stone that anyone would agree shines. Then start over, and when you do, remember it is about the people.

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