Publisher: Oxford University Press Date of Publication: 2006
Price: ISBN: 0 19 517499 2
Pages: xiv + 321 Format: Paperback

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Target Readership Sen Secondary For help with criteria, click here


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1 - Learning the craft; 2 - Choosing your market; 3 - Varying your writing style; 4 - Covering stories in the life sciences; 5 - Covering stories in the physical and environmental sciences; 6 - Communicating science from institutions.



Let's face it - unless we can communicate our ideas we can't really have claimed to have made a valid thought or contribution! It follows that the better we can communicate, the more able we are, as teachers or students, to win the argument, get the grade, or just make a statement. This website has covered writing books in the past (although these are few in number considering the importance of the task - but see here) but this one takes a totally different slant on the matter - it aims at science writing in the widest sense gathering over 40 contributions to deal with the topic.

The aim of the text is to act as a "boot camp" - a place where current practioners can explain the basics of their work with the idea that new writers can glean some of the essentials. At a time when science issues are becoming increasingly complex (c.f. global warming) and the audience attention span seems less it is crucial that we have some way of countering the 'sound-bite science' that daily assaults our senses. Part one looks at the basic ideas: those points which are fundamental to good, accurate reporting. You start by assembling a wide range of sources. This gives you the depth and breadth to assess the value of what you are being presented with. Once you can put the story into context you need to see if it is worth a story as opposed to a footnote. Part of this requires that you understand the statistics presented. The next stage is to gather some basic tips about telling the story leading inevitably to the final product - a piece of writing with an individual's own style and flair. If you've survived to this point the next part, part two in this bok, is to get the story to market. It's not just a question of the quality of writing although that certainly counts. There's also the need to fit the piece into the market available and I suppose that this is where there are going to be upsets. However worthy, a piece will only be published if the editors think that their audience will actually be bothered to read it. The aim of any publication is to make money and if your story won't do that then it's unlikely to get published. This means you need to refine your work and your market. Contributors here discuss the needs of small and large newspapers, magazines, journals, broadcasts (and now webcasts), freelancing and editing. Each one has specific needs: the moral is to write according to their needs and not yours. Part three takes another perspective on writing - the need to vary one's own style to fit the needs of the publishing format. Here, the reader is given some insight into the various types of communication that one can find: writing to a deadline, investigative writing, narrative, exposition, essays and an unusual piece referred to as "whiz-bang" science - the great idea that can be told any time but that might just get an audience involved. It becomes clear as we go down these various avenues that there is a great deal of precision needed and that this takes time (all the contributors seem to be key members of their respective areas of journalism). Parts four and five are focussed not on the way to write but on the area written about. Each area of science has its own pitfalls and here's the place to discover them. We start with life sciences - medicine, infection, nutrition, mental health, behaviour, genetics and cloning. It's obvious that these are not the only areas in science but their inclusion here is interesting in that it highlights those areas which are presumably deemed most 'newsworthy'. It should be possible to argue that there are other parts equally worthy but then that would be the journalist's job to persuade the editor! For our purposes, part five might seem the better bet covering the physical and environmental sciences with examples from technology, space, environment, nature, earth sciences, climate, and risk analysis. The final part of the book deals with repoprting outside the media i.e. giving reports of events from institutions. There's the usual selection: universities, government, corporates, museums and non-profit groups but there's the unusal addition of crisis writing: the need to 'manage' stories about institutional problems which highlights (if anything else were needed here) that science is not a neutral occupation.

This is a great text about communication. The practitioners here not withstanding (and possibly not even those given the way have written) there are few of us how could not do with a guide like this to improve what we do. It doesn't even have to be about journalism - don't our students deserve just as much care with their notes and instructions? This book covers a vast range at breakneck speed - few chapters are more than 5-6 pages long so there's a geat deal of information in its most concentrated form. It also practices what it preaches- its good writing about writing well. As such it really deserves to be on every library shelf (and probably in every education course as wel!).


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