Facts, no Fiction

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Popularizing science has become increasingly popular among researchers. Not only is it important to share the knowledge, but it may also help to find funding, if the general public comes to understand the significance of the research. A professional science journalist is driven by the love of science and telling about it. Popular articles on scientific research help us to understand the world and ourselves.

Lazy Fox by Maija Karala (Eurwentala at DeviantArt)
Lazy Fox by Eurwentala (at DeviantArt) a.k.a. Maija Karala.

It is a form of art to write about science. How do you simplify complicated issues and talk about them in a language everybody can understand?

-A good article on science evokes interest in a reader. The article mustn’t alienate readers and it souldn’t feel too difficult to understand. The balance between facts and popularization has to be just right. You should avoid difficult terms, but not difficult topics! science journalist Maija Karala says.

Otherwise a good article on science is like any good article. A great beginning will draw in the reader, narration and humour will keep him/her captivated. Don’t bore the reader! The reader should understand the significance of the topic and why the article was published after reading it.

Maija began writing on science in 2009, when she launched her blog Erään planeetan ihmeitä. She had given up her dream of becoming a researcher after having firsthand experience of scientific work at the third year university courses.

Writing, on the other hand, seemed to fit perfectly. Her stories found their way from the blog to newspapers and magazines. Now Maija has been published in Helsingin Sanomat, Keskisuomalainen and Aamulehti, among others.

Too much or too little knowledge?

The most challenging part of a science article is the facts. It is a problem when the writer doesn’t know the subject and it is a problem when she knows the subject like the back of her hand.  When you are too familiar with a subject, It might be difficult to limit the scope of the article or to concentrate on writing a beautifully flowing text. When the subject is unfamiliar, it might be challenging to explain it to others in a simple manner.

Maija prefers not to write about topics that raise a lot of passions in the society. She thinks it’s challenging for her to stay neutral enough in that kind of situations. Maija has a regular column in a newspaper in Uusikaupunki. She has written there about wolfs as well as cormorants – both very controversial subjects. However, the articles have been published without a murmur.

Spiny and Angry by Eurwentala
Spiny and Angry by Eurwentala (at DeviantArt) a.k.a. Maija Karala.

No Scoops for a Freelancer

Sometimes a science journalist can hit a real scoop. Maija received information about the deinotherium found from Suomusjärvi from her contacts before the official press release. However, in the end the press release came to the newspapers before she could finish her story and it was published as a small new’s article. It’s hard for a freelancer to compete on delivering actual news without the immediate flow of press releases that arrive at the newspapers.

If you want to read Maija’s science articles, visit her two blogs:

Erään planeetan ihmeet

The Humming Dinosaur

 

Susan

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Anatomy of an Article

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An article is like a living creature. It will flourish if it’s taken care of and suffer if some of its parts are neglected. All parts of a good article work in unison. But if the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing, the feet get tangled and the head is spinning, then things don’t look too bright. So, keep your articles fit and firm.

Anatomy of an Article

Head: Title

Without the head one doesn’t survive. Neither does an article. The title can make the story fly or sink it into the bottom of the troubled media waters. A good title is catchy, witty and descriptive – and it doesn’t misdirect the reader. You know all those tabloid titles that promise a hurricane and deliver a stir in a glass of water. That kind of disappointments will eat your readers, so better not fall into the tabloid trap.

Heart: Lead

There’s no end to the importance of a good lead in a press article. The lead contains the main point of the article, attracts the reader to consume the whole story and what’s most important – is not redundant with the main text. The lead brings up the juiciest bit of the story, but leaves the reader still wanting more.

Right Hand: Beginning

The beginning tells what the story is about and why it matters. Go straight to the point here. Numerous articles I receive for the publications I’m editing start with background information. No, no and no. Please don’t make the reader yawn.

Left Hand: Subtitles

The subtitles are an often neglected part of an article. Many writers don’t seem to know what they’re for. However, subtitles are an integral part of the anatomy of an article. They divide the text into bite size pieces and thus facilitate reading. They should also tell a story of their own to those who only skim through the article. A good subtitle will catch the attention of a lukewarm reader and get him hooked.

Body: Main Text

The main text tells the story. Here you should include all the necessary parts that make your point and illustrate your angle to the topic. An interesting article is fit and nicely trimmed. Depending on the media, the allowed word count may be quite limited. Don’t flesh out your story unnecessarily. E.g. in a tabloid size newspaper no extra fat is allowed – the leaner and meaner the story, the better. An article is not supposed to tell everything about a topic, it’s supposed to make a point.

Knees: End

Time to wrap it up. The end is the last chance to make an impression on the reader. If you can make him go weak at the knees with your writing, he’ll certainly remember at least one thing from you article. So save one savoury bit for the ending of your story.

Feet: Captions

Together with subtitles, captions are the most misunderstood part of an article. If the article has wonderful pictures, they’ll easily draw the attention away from the main text. This is where great captions can lure the reader back to the main text. They are equally important with mediocre or worse pictures and can save the article. Make captions tell something extra you didn’t put into the actual article – it’s your bonus for the reader.

Susan

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The Secret to an Efficient First Edit

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Editing ad infinitum - How Do You Survive?

Congratulations! You’ve just completed your novel, thesis or other long and demanding writing effort. Now it is the time to make sure the finished work will shine. Every advice in the blogosphere tells you that this is the most important part of the process of writing. And they are quite right. You should invest your time into editing properly.

However, in the quest for perfection, it might happen that you’ll never reach the level that suffices your inner critique. Reading your text again and again, you start to wonder whether you should reorder you chapters, rewrite the entire text to a different point of view, kill a character here and there…

It is easy to prolong editing into infinity. And we all know what the result of that is, don’t we? Yes, another manuscript in the drawer (or in that bulging folder on your PC titled “My Novel”).

So how do you survive the first edit?

Four Secrets of an Efficient First Edit

Make yourself a plan. You did one for writing the manuscript, didn’t you? Without a clear roadmap it’s so easy to end up rambling in the woods.

First edit is the beginning. You can and will return to the text after it, so now you can be fast and furious.

The best would be to arrange a beta reader to read the manuscript right after the first edit. Then you would get an outsider opinion when you’ve fixed the worst errors, but before you’ve spent days and days on polishing something that might end up in the bin anyway.

So, let’s plan for the first edit:

  1. Decide your goals. You can’t tackle everything, so pick the most important editing goals. At this point we are talking about substantive or developmental editing. What needs fundamental editing? The flow? The plot? The POV?
  2. Determine the time needed. How much time do you need to reach the goals you set for yourself? Be realistic and cut off goals if necessary. Then allocate each editing point the time you think it deserves.
  3. Carry out the job. Edit, edit and edit – but no more than you gave yourself time.
  4. Never look back. This was the first edit. Now you’ve tackled the most pressing issues of your manuscript. It’s time for the second opinion – get your beta reader ready and send the manuscript in for comments.

Susan

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Editing for Writers

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Editing in a nutshell

Nutshells are for cracking, so let’s crunch! Editing is something you either love or hate. I like it so much I’ve made it my job…  Even if you’re not as enthusiastic as I am, it’s one of the most important phases in creating a text. There’s really no going around it – you can’t opt out of editing.

Editing is the afterthought you give to your text to bring it to its best. It is also an opportunity to find the embarrassing, but oh-so-human errors we all make. That way you’ll ensure they won’t find their way to the published work.

Editing - What does it really mean?

As a writer and editor I do a lot of editing. When I talk about it with clients, I notice it’s not at all self-evident we’re always talking about the same thing. There seems to be a bit of inconsistency concerning the concept itself and what it involves. There is also a plethora of terms used in this connection – we all have our own names for the different parts of the process.

What is often missed is the fact that all editing is not the same. There are different stages in editing that treat the text at different depths.

3 Stages of Editing

When a writer edits her own text the different stages of editing are not always strictly separate. Have you ever rewritten an entire chapter after having moved on to spell checking phase because the winning idea stroke you in the wee hours of the night? I hear you…

However, if you hire someone else to do the editing, it is important to know what you want to achieve with it and which kind of editing will do the job. So, let’s tackle the jungle of editing:

Developmental / Substantial/ Structural Editing or Rewriting is the most invasive form of editing. At this stage I work on the structure of the writing; rearrange and rewrite paragraphs, even cut off large junks of text. On a novel I would now check the plot arc and ensure the uninterrupted flow of the text. On an article I could change the angle or bring up a new main topic from the text.

Copyediting is the next stage and the one we usually refer to when talking about editing. At this stage I check the grammar and style, polish the text to be at its best, but don’t do any major changes to it. I can change wording, cut off excess wordiness, check the consistency of the point of view(s), fix all factual errors and unintended omissions and generally make the text presentable.

Proofreading is the final and most superficial form of editing. Now I check that all the necessary changes from the previous editing rounds have been made and the text is as it should be when it’s being published. I fix the final forgotten punctuation marks and see that the formatting is in order. After this stage the text is ready to go to publishing.

 

Susan

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