AMSS 2019: Communicating Ocean Sciences Workshop

If you followed our blog over the summer, you might remember my series of posts on outreach and communication. Helping audiences understand and be inspired by science is something I spent a lot of time thinking about, so I was very excited to attend this morning’s Communicating Ocean Sciences Workshop, led by Hakai Magazine’s Jude Isabella.

20190128_115553
Renae, Amy, Jess, and I trudged through the cold, snow, and dark this morning to attend the workshop.

Science Through Storytelling: Writing in Three Acts

This workshop largely focused on utilizing storytelling and creative writing techniques in science writing. Specifically, Jude talked to us about structuring our narratives into three acts (plus a postscript):

  • Act I: The Hook. Draw your audience in with action.
  • Act II: The Unexpected. Take your audience in a different direction, create conflict, drive up the tension.
  • Act III: Race to the Finish. Resolve your conflicts.
  • The Post Script: Help transition your reader out of the story.

The three acts create a sort of “frame” that science writers can construct their narrative around and help them drive the message they want to convey. Knowing your destination (or rather, knowing the point you want to make), can make the journey more enjoyable.

Writing Tips for Communicating Science

photo of activity slide during workshop
For the “active” portion of the workshop, we applied the tips and rules we learned to a piece of our own writing.

Part 1 of the workshop focused on storytelling while part 2 dealt with more mundane writing tips. My favorite tips from part 2:

Use the Active Voice

Eschewing the passive voice is something I (and apparently many other writers) struggle with. In my case, switching to the active voice while engaging in any sort of science or technical writing results in the Ghosts of Ecology TAs Past flashing before my eyes, waving failing research papers in my face.

To be or not: Use action verbs

Building off of using the active voice, Jude’s next tip was to use action verbs instead of the generic “to be.” For example:

  • “I am a scientist” vs. “I study sharks”
  • “I am a writer” vs. “I write”
  • “I’m a student” vs. “I study marine science”

Replacing to-be’s with action verbs can help writers keep their message on point while also keeping it concise.

Ditch the Negatives

Building on making your writing more concise with action verbs, ditching negative statements can also help make your narrative more concise and understandable. This is another area where I struggle; sometimes it’s easier to talk about the bad than focus on the good. 

Onward

Today’s workshop inspired me to re-visit some of my old projects and re-examine them with storytelling in mind, particularly my sleeper shark story map. My goal will be to incorporate the lessons and experiences from the 2018 season into the story map and create something that’s more narrative and less info-dump.

I’m looking forward to tonight’s poster session and the rest of what AMSS has to offer!

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