By Mariam Melkumyan
Scientific blogs, like the Lions Talk Science (LTS) blog, aim to get scientists and researchers to share their research with the lay audience and explain complex scientific findings in simple terms. As scientists, we are trained to write articles in specific ways, using complex scientific words and billions of acronyms, using passive voice, and not saying “I” or “we”. This writing style makes for dry articles, so unless the topic is incredibly interesting, not even other scientists will read these peer-reviewed articles. Surely the lay audience will not go out of their way to read and try to understand these topics. This is where scientific blogs, like LTS, shine. In addition to honing communication skills by conveying valuable information to a lay audience, writers can also boost their CV, explore new topics, improve their scientific communication, and increase your visibility to the scientific community.
Let’s say you read one of LTS’s many emails and decided to write an article. What do you write about? How do you even start? How do you make writing fun? If you have ever asked yourself these questions, know that even our editing team asks them too, and this blog post is perfect for you! In this article, I will give some tips and tricks on how to write a lay audience article and some topic ideas for articles you can write.
Tip no. 1:
Forget everything, except for grammar and good sentence structure, you were taught about scientific writing when writing an article for the lay audience. Do not write in passive voice. Use simpler words. For example, instead of saying “the effect was attenuated by the drug”, say “the drug reduced the effect”. Instead of writing for a scientific group, write for someone with an eighth-grade literacy level. Writing at an eighth-grade level makes the writing easy to simple and understand. Microsoft Word has a feature that allows you to check the readability level of your article. If you are not sure if your writing is too simple or too complex, use this feature to test the grade level of your article. According to Microsoft Word, this article is at a grade level of 8.9 which means it is easily readable for the lay audience.
Tip no. 2:
Tell it like a story, not like a group of facts. Listening to or reading a well-written story is a lot more engaging than reading a stream of facts. So, try to make your article into a story. Imagine you were telling someone (a child, your parents, your grandparents, your non-science friends) about your topic, and write out how that conversation would go. What questions would they have about your story? What are the most important parts of your story? What is the “wow factor” of the story? What is the hook that makes someone keep reading? Why are you passionate about the topic and what do you want the reader to take away from your story?
Tip no. 3:
Ask your non-science friends and family to read over your article. Can they understand it? Is there anything that is unclear or unnecessary? For example, when I started writing LTS articles, I would add a lot of unnecessary neuroscience lingo and fill my articles with names of brain regions and functions. The amazing editors of LTS let me know that a lot of what I had added was unnecessary and took away from my main point. When I received that comment the first time, I was upset. How can everyone not love neuroscience as much as I do?! But the more I thought about their comment and the more I read my article, I realized that they were right! Filling my article with names of structures and functions that were not very relevant to my topic, took away from my main point. Of course, you want to have scientific terms in your articles, and it is definitely encouraged to have those terms in scientific blogs. But you have to make sure to use just the terms that are relevant to your story and explain those terms so that everyone understands what you are talking about.
Tip no. 4:
Have fun! Writing isn’t supposed to be daunting and boring and soul-sucking. Writing should be fun and engaging. If you aren’t having fun when writing about a topic, find a different topic that sparks interest and joy in you. For example, I like understanding human behavior, so I have written articles on topics like why we yawn or why we feel burnt out. Other LTS writers have other interests, like the Alzheimer’s disease, expanding Hawaiian islands, the things our cats can teach us, and the James Webb Telescope. An important part of making the writing fun is knowing that your writing doesn’t have to be perfect, as the article will go through multiple iterations of editing through the amazing LTS team before being published. Knowing that the LTS team is there to help edit your article may take the pressure off of perfectionists like me, making writing more enjoyable and fun.
Now you have some tips to write a science-themed article for the lay audience. But what should your topic be? Well, the topic can be anything that excites you. But to help you find a topic, our editors have shared some of the topics that interest them.
- Anything related to your research. If you want to explain your research to your non-science family and friends, you can write an LTS article and explain your research, talk about your recent findings, recent publication, or summarize and explain your dissertation work.
- Anything seasonal and related to nature. For example, with the spring comes allergy and gardening season. You can write an article on how and why pollen affects so many people, how allergy drugs work, how to take good care of your plants, what wildlife is around us and how they appeared here. For the summer season, some interesting topics are the science behind sunburn and sunscreen, pollution in the oceans, the different types of organisms are in the ocean, and fun science experiments to do while on vacation. Another interesting topic is the human interaction with nature and how our environment influences us in ways we don’t notice.
- Anything surrounding an occasion (i.e., awareness months/days/anniversaries). For example, during brain awareness week you can talk about various topics in neuroscience; for Earth day you can write articles about climate change, planting trees, and carbon emissions; in October is the 100 year anniversary of the founding of Disney Brothers Studios which means you can write about the benefits and harms of animated movies and tv for our brain development, the importance of diverse role models in movies and tv, and the science behind rollercoasters.
- Anything about a potential career avenue and research you would like to pursue. You can interview a scientist in a field you are interested in and write an article about the field. You can write an article on how to streamline your PhD experience to fit a field you are interested in. You can also write an article on a topic of a specific field you are interested in. For example, if you are interested in cancer research, you can write an article on cancer prevention. If you are interested in industry position, you can write about pharmaceuticals. You can use LinkedIn to find press releases on any recent pharmacological breakthroughs and write an article about that breakthrough.
- Anything about up-and-coming technologies. Any recent breakthroughs in biotechnology, astronomy, animal communication, any technological advancements. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly prevalent, and an interesting article topic would be how AI will influence science.
These are just potential topic ideas, but there are so many more topics that exist (Figure 1). If there is something that interests you but you are not sure how to start writing an article about it, just send an email to the LTS team at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help you publish your article!
So, find a cool topic you are interested in and start writing! For more help on the LTS process, check out https://lions-talk-science.org/how-to-contribute/.
- Writing scientific articles for the lay audience helps increase the general understanding of science.
- To write an article for a lay audience make sure to tell a story, ask your non-science friends to read your article, and have fun!
- You can write articles on a variety of topics and this article has some examples of topics to help you get started.
Special thanks to LTS editors Greg Kincheloe, Carli King, Stephanie Baringer, Olivia Marx, Victoria Pearce, Jackson Radler, Savanna Ledford, and Julia Simpson!