Discussing science writing and communication

OSM_townhall_smallDuring the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu late last month, ClimateSnack and Resclim held a town hall event to discuss scientific writing and communication skills.

The event was very well attended, with approximately 200-250 people. Mathew Stiller-Reeve (from Uni Research) lead the discussion with 4 expert science communicators: Heather Galindo from COMPASS; Christie Wilcox from University of Hawaii and Discover; Christina Schallenberg from the University of Victoria; and Kim Martini from University of Washington and Deep Sea News.

The discussion flowed very nicely and the panel contributed with so many take-home messages you’d need a truck to actually get them all home with you.  The main idea for the event was to show that we can actually improve our scientific writing by practicing our writing skills with a general audience. Kim illustrated this early on in the discussion when she explained why she writes for Deep Sea News, ‘I write for a variety of reasons, Definitely selfish reasons. It’s helped me become a better writer.’ She followed up later in the discussion by saying that ‘I’m writing a paper and I’ve found that, wow, its actually going a lot better than the last ones’.

Our writing can improve, like Kim’s, if we really know what our audience wants to hear. We cannot just overload our readers with everything. We have to be a lot more conscientious about the process. Heather made this point particularly well: ‘Be selfless! Is [what you’re writing] what they need to know or what you want to tell them?’ This emphasizes how important it is for us to understand our audience, whether it be a general audience or a scientific one.

But once we know our audience and we have written our first draft, we get to the editing stage. Christina told us that a newspaper editor once told her that ‘the part of the piece you love the most, is probably the part you’ll have to cut out’. This resonated with many people in the hall who had also previously been told that an important part of editing is to ‘kill your darlings!’.

We ended the discussion with a pertinent comment from the audience about how scientists are expected to write technically; else they risk alienating themselves from their research community and damaging their careers. Christie answered this nicely and encouraged us all to credit scientists who write accessibly and eloquently when we peer-review articles. As she said, ‘that’s going to start something!’.

We were very pleased with how the whole event went and we hope that it achieved good outreach for both Resclim and ClimateSnack. Indeed, because of our participation in Ocean Sciences, ClimateSnack has potential new groups starting in Hawaii, Princeton, Harvard, Seattle, and possibly also Miami. This success is thanks to the efforts of volunteers from Resclim and beyond, in particular: Marie Eide, Tor Farstad, Ben Harden, Iselin Medhaug, Aleksi  Nummelin, Ingrid Onarheim, Johannes Röhrs.

Keep an eye on the ClimateSnack and Resclim websites for the full video of the event coming soon!

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