Best Shortform Science Writing January-March 2016

(A Highly Subjective Round-up of Standout Science News)

[Photo above by Raúl Hernández González via Flickr & Creative Commons]

How short is a shortform piece of journalism? Under 250 words? Where does that leave all the pieces clocking in at 500, 700, or 1200 words? Those were the first questions that reared their heads when I decided to attempt to compile a list of “best” shortform science writing from the first quarter of this year.

Creating a taxonomy of short non-fiction seemed to be the way to go, but doing so proved tricky. National Geographic’s Phenomena bloggers write posts on the latest studies that are about the same length as newspaper pieces on healthcare policy, but stylistically, the two genres are quite different.

And although almost every print magazine sports a collection of short “front-of-book” stories (in its front pages, naturally), the lengths of front-of-book pieces vary wildly by outlet. The Atlantic’s front-of-books, for instance, are usually at least twice the length of Popular Science’s. Where to draw the line? And then what do you do with different styles of reporting?

Where does a riveting “As-told-to” like Ebony’s “I Survived a Heart Attack at 33” by Meliah Bowers Jefferson, as told to Tiffany Walden, fit into the science and health journalism landscape? How do we classify the blogs and listicles that increasingly are the public’s main sources of information about science, environment, health, and tech?

In the end, I decided on a taxonomy of six categories— characterized by length and to a lesser extent, reporting style– and a grab bag of interesting but overlength submissions called “Honorable Misfits”. The picks are necessarily arbitrary, but hopefully a solid sampling of stand-out science writing from 2016 so far.

This round-up would not have been possible without the editorial efforts of Sarah Lewin (staff writer at Space.com) and Jennifer Welsh (editor-in-chief of WonderHowTo), who each read through dozens of suggestions from the crowd-sourced Google Form.

Nor would it have been possible without dozens of suggestions from science writers and readers like you. Seriously. No one writer (or set of three writers) can peruse all of the science webzines, newspaper sections, and regional print outlets, looking for excellent science stuff. If you enjoy these pieces, please help out by joining the crowd and suggesting pieces for the April-June 2016 roundup. (Bonus points if you send us suggestions from an outlet not represented on this list!)

So without further ado, here are the inaugural “Best” Shortform Science Writing picks:

Short Shorts (Bite-sized stories that left an impression, under 350 words)
Top Picks:
Honorable Mentions:
Short Shorts, Oversized (Still bite-sized but with a bit more narrative spin, 350-600 words)
Top Picks:
Honorable Mentions:

 

News-length (Quick hits on science trends & breaking news, 501-850 words)
Top Picks:
Honorable Mentions:

 

Single-Study Deep Dives (Explainers & behind-the-scenes riffs on nifty studies, 700-1200 words)
Top Picks:
Honorable Mentions:

 

Data & Investigative Quick-Hits (under 1200 words)
Top Picks:
Honorable Mentions:
Columns, Op-Eds, & Blog posts (under 1200 words)
Top Picks:
Honorable Mentions:

 

Honorable Misfits  (Suggestions sent to us that were too long, too old, and/or in a different language but hard to leave out, anyway)

 

Help make this round-up a recurring event!

If you liked this list (or if you think that we snubbed a deserving outlet or writer), please send suggestions for the next quarterly “Best” Shortform Science Writing. That post will cover April-June 2016 will debut in mid-July.

Until then, cheers!

(Slash, it would be really lovely if y’all came back more often to read Diana’s weekly blog posts. But yeah, 3 months until the next big round-up.)

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