Eureka! Science Writing for General Audiences

Complete Syllabus

In this class we’ll take a close look at the writing and research skills needed to craft engaging nonfiction about scientific discovery, research, and policy, and practice them over the course of five weeks. We’ll discuss how literary elements such as scene, character development, and narrative can bring scientific topics alive for general readers, as well as how to document research and interviews to prepare for the fact-checking process. Participants will complete one essay, and will also be given optional short exercises that can later be incorporated into longer pieces. We will also discuss how to identify and query markets for science-based nonfiction. Participants will receive personal feedback on their work from the instructor and feedback from other class members.

How it works: Each week participants will be given a written lecture (topics listed below) and a selection of readings. Also during each week, participants will discuss writing problems, the assigned readings, and other general writing topics with each other and with their instructor through an online class discussion board. In week four, participants will submit a full-length essay for instructor and peer review. Assignments are given on a per-week basis, and there is no need to be online at any particular time of day.

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Week 1: The hows and whys of great writing about science
In this first week, we’ll look at the current landscape of science writing opportunities and discuss the need for exciting, accurate writing about scientific research and discovery. We’ll look at examples of writing that seeks to be (or has proven to be) policy-changing. We’ll also discuss some practicalities, such as ways of recording and note-keeping that can make the fact-checking process go more smoothly. Participants will have an optional writing exercise of up to 500 words. 

Week 2: Scenes and characters: finding a way into the story
What if you weren’t there when the eureka moment happened? What if the eureka moment is months or years away? This week we will look at how to bring research alive on the page—even if it seems static in the lab—by learning note-taking and interviewing techniques that will help with writing three-dimensional actors and putting them into realistic spaces. Participants will write a draft of part of their essay (up to 750 words) and submit it to the instructor, optionally this exercise can also be shared with classmates for peer reviews. 

Week 3: Lights, camera, action! Finding scenes within research
This week we will put ourselves in the shoes of a brand new science writer (regardless of our scientific expertise) and hit the metaphorical pavement. We will talk about how to find newsworthy stories about research and track down experts who can help. We’ll address questions such as how to ask for an interview if you haven’t sold the story yet, when to write the story first and when to pitch first, and how to be sure your sources are reliable. We will also look at how to find scenes within our work, to get those characters and settings to interact, while while maintaining factual accuracy. We will also talk about the pitfalls (and occasional practicalities) of re-creating scenes, speculation, compression, conflation, and compositing. Participants will have an optional writing exercise of up to 500 words.

Week 4: The beginning, middle, and end: finding an arc
Scientific research is often a very long-term, on-going process. Discoveries and findings are announced intermittently and often with inconclusive or anti-climactic results. How can we find an engaging story within such an unpredictable process? How can we craft relatable stories about inanimate objects, non-human organisms, complex policies, or scientific theory? We will discuss techniques for making large stories small enough to reach a non-expert reader and connecting those small stories back to their larger concepts. Participants will write an essay of up to 4,000 words that incorporates exercises from the first two weeks (or new writing based on skills practiced during the exercises) and submit it to the instructor. Participants may also submit work to their classmates for peer review.

Week 5: Finding markets
During this final week, we’ll discuss how to find markets for science-based nonfiction. Which literary publications foster science and nature writing? Which popular markets publish literary coverage from the science frontiers? We will discuss how to query editors and how the revision and fact-checking process works once your piece or project is accepted for publication. Participants will have an optional writing exercise.

 

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Questions? Check out our FAQ page or contact our Director of Education, Sharla Yates at yates[at]creativenonfiction.org.