Tag Archives: shortform

Best Shortform Science Writing: January-March 2017

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

[Above:  Header from an 1884 science magazine called Knowledge, led by British astronomer Richard Anthony Proctor. Its tagline reads: “A magazine of science: plainly worded – exactly described.”  Image via Wikimedia Commons & public domain.]

Late January 2017 saw a shift in science journalism so subtle that you probably wouldn’t notice it unless you make your living writing press releases. I happened to be interning in the press office of a prominent family of scientific journals that publishes basic research almost exclusively, so I felt it. And since our press office tracks the coverage of all studies from its journals, I saw data, too.

What we noticed is coverage of our papers in the first half of January 2017 looked a lot like the first half of January 2016. But on January 20, 2017, coverage of our journals’ papers saw a drop. Our February 2017 coverage stats were below our February 2016 numbers, both in terms of the percentage of studies covered and in the number of outlets that covered the popular studies. The numbers improved since then.

We’re biased, but we think it’s unlikely that our press releases suddenly got worse. The journal family is focused basic biology and chemistry (y’know–octopus RNA, flu-killing peptides in frog mucus, stuff like that), and it seems that science journalists, in aggregate, weren’t writing as many stories about basic research as they did in February-early March last year.

That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing, and it may be the standard science journalism community response to a new administration, regardless of party. But in my mind, it raises the question: How do we decide what counts as “science writing”? Where do we draw the distinction between “health policy” stories and “science of health” stories? Is there a distinction to be drawn at all?

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Best Shortform Science Writing October-December 2016

Best Shortform Science Writing October-December 2016

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

[Above: A fish-eyed view of a newsstand in Paris. Photo by Mark Mitchell via Flickr & Creative Commons 2.0 License] 

Science writing at its best doesn’t just impart facts; it has the potential to change the way we think about issues and phenomena. And yet, the vast majority of pieces on science writing–especially the short news stories designed to be consumed on a daily basis–simply focus on telling stories to people who are already interested in science.

The shortforms–the daily news briefs, front-of-book blurbs, and succinct blog posts– are the training grounds for emerging science writing writers, but they’re also underused as a place for experimenting with new ways to convey science, environment, and health stories to the public.

So my writing New Year’s Resolution is to experiment more, both in my blogging and in the sorts of stories I nominate for the 2017 @SciShortform round-ups. I hope you’ll join me by carrying out some experiments of your own and sharing them with the shortform editors.

You can nominate stories via this Google form or simply by tagging us at @SciShortform on Twitter. (Be sure to include a link to the piece you’re nominating in your tweet!)

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Best Shortform Science Writing July-September 2016

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

[Image above by Silke Remmery via Flickr and CC 2.0 license] 

After nine months of searching through short science stories with an eye out for some of the best that the genre has to offer, I’ve come to a conclusion: Investigative pieces under 1200 words are rare.

Since the investigative genre often hinges on journalists showing their work and offering evidence on top of evidence on top of evidence, the relative dearth of short-n-sweet investigative pieces makes sense from a logistics perspective. At the same time, most members of the general public encounter science not through investigative reports but through brief segments on TV news shows and by the short but (hopefully) informative articles that crop up in Facebook news feeds.

And then we wonder why the public seems unable to effectively question science and why science journalists have a reputation for being less critical than their colleagues in business and political reporting…

Anyway, if you see any standout investigative or data pieces in the next few months, I hope you’ll share them with the editors of Best Shortform Science Writing. You can nominate stories via this Google form or simply by tagging us at @SciShortform on Twitter. (Be sure to include a link to the piece you’re nominating in your tweet!)

Special thanks to our editorial team’s new recruits– Dyani Lewis, a freelancer based in Hobart, Australia and Nola Taylor Redd, a freelancer based in Atlanta, Georgia– as well as our returning editors Sarah Lewin of Space.com and Amanda Alvarez of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan.

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Help me find standout “short-form” science writing

Today is a big day for me, and not just because my 1st byline for The Atlantic went live today.

Although seriously, go check it out.

TheAtlantic_HiVscreenshot

It’s also special because I just went on record announcing my intention to compile a quarterly “Best Shortform Science Writing” roundup, so that us science writing whippersnappers can see examples of how front-of-book and daily news stories oughta be written. You can find my full spiel about why we need such an anthology here on Medium, but the takehome message is that I need you, my dear Internet readers,  to send me ideas for which stories I should include.

The “Best Shortform Science Writing” will be quarterly– as in every 3 months– and the 1st one will cover January-March 2016. The only problem is I just came up with this idea a few days ago, so I especially need suggestions for memorable short articles from January and February!

Since “shortform science writing” is a hugely diverse category,  here’s my tentative “chunkification” scheme for organizing the articles:

  • Short-Short & Front-of-Book (under 350 words)
  • Medium Short (850 words & under)
  • Single-study Deep Dives (700–1200 words but focused on one study)

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