An important note in passingWhenever you take notes from written sources including press releases and encyclopedias

Thing, it's a good way to test your comprehension if you cannot rephrase the idea, you didn't get it. Second, you don't want to lose your Pulitzer because someone discovers you were plagiarizing. I downloaded it from the web as background and forgot it wasn't mine would be a lame excuse. If you think you might want the actual words, keep them as a quotation, using quotation marks and restating the source (because pieces of paper do get separated). Then double-check to make sure you have it...

Are you in a power struggle with your teacher or editor

The editor is always right. This arresting phrase comes from Rob Kanigel, who was a freelance writer at the time he said it, twenty-odd years ago. Of course, I did a double take. What This from a man who always wanted to spend all afternoon talking through all my edits, comma by comma From a man who always thought I had violated his manuscript Oh, he said, I don't mean that you're always right. I mean that if you see a problem, then it's there. Even if I don't like your edit, I have...

Are you trying to write a term paper The closer you are to

School, the more likely you are to be writing a term paper, purely out of habit. I remember the first article I ever wrote It was about the campus cops of Cornell, and it went through four separate, from-scratch drafts before I stopped 132 finding one more way to make it dull. Fundamentally, in a term paper you tell. In professional When writing, you show. In a term paper, the reader is the teacher, Feeling who by definition knows all and must read the paper any- Stuck way. In professional...

As a student seeking interviews you should know that people find it much harder to say No in person especially

If you approach the speaker after a brown-bag lunch, she will know you're not fishing blindly and that you already know something about the subject .And after all, you have just sat through her lecture, looking bright-eyed, and you are not asking for much an hour over sandwiches, perhaps, you to bring the sandwiches. Everyone has to eat lunch, right I have also interviewed people on their car phones. We'd have an appointment for their drive home one evening the...

Be a writer at all times not only when you sit down at the

The more you live as a writer, the easier it will be to write, because much of daily life will serve as practice. The way you speak, listen, watch, and read will have much to do with how well you write. 9 Ideas Speak precisely. Make it a habit to say what you mean, VVOrds rather than settling for a close approximation. If you're not sure what you mean, say something like, I need a minute to think about that, so that other people know you're not ignoring them. As a secondary benefit,...

Before you start to write write a head and subhead

The process will force you to get precise about both topic and approach. As a unit, the heads have two jobs to lure the readers in and to constitute a fair billing. Consider pheromones, the chemical signals with which animals (including us) attract mates moth pheromone does nothing for rutting bucks and vice versa. In the same way, the allure of your headline should speak specifically to the right readers, the cluster of people you are talking to. Obviously, the...

Contents

Finding Out Research and the Interview 45 4. Writing Getting Started and the Structure 69 5. Writing The Nitty Gritty 95 6. Refining Your Draft 111 7. When You're Feeling Stuck 129 Afterword 145 2003 The Johns Hopkins University Press Foreword 2003 Robert Kanigel All rights reserved. Published 2003 Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 The Johns Hopkins University Press 2715 North Charles Street Baltimore, Maryland 21218-4363 www.press.jhu.edu Library of...

Conversely whatever you wish to deemphasize should go in the middle of the sentence and paragraph The middle of the

However (a slalom flag to mark the unexpected) Dr. Jones explained built in 1942 funded by the NIH The middle of the paragraph is the place for their equivalent in full sentences. The middle also makes a good home for items that only a few readers will need, for whatever reason the phone number of a clinic, or a highly technical detail, or an explanation that only the least-sophisticated will need. Keep such items short and tuck them into parentheses or a subclause, in the middle. In that way,...

Do not confuse a topic with a story idea

A story idea arrives in a phrase or sentence with a verb, preferably an active one. Something specific happens, in detail. For example Why clouds of dirt stop rain falling in the desert. Agent Orange is still poisoning the Vietnamese, but now it's in the food. (These catchy news heads come from the May 26, 2001, issue of New Scientist, always a good read.) Once you can boil down your idea into a specific, active statement, you have the makings of an article. It is this kind of developed idea...

Do not let writing intimidate you you already know how

Or at least, you know the hard part how to catch and hold someone else's attention.You have been practicing that art since you were two months old, and by now you're pretty good.You're bound to be. When you write, transfer in your social skills. Think of the reader as if you were speaking directly, or perhaps writing a letter, and plunge right in. Just write down whatever you would say. In that way, you will automatically avoid the big mistakes starting with the punch line, for...

Do not regale your friends with everything you learned If

All went well, you came home bursting with great stuff.You are just dying to tell and you need to feel that way when you write. Do not squander all that good steam on a dinner party. Do not talk socially about a story till you have finished writing. This peculiar advice is born of something I saw happen again and again The writer would do the first few interviews and come back all excited to tell me how X said this, and Y said that, and did I know that such-and-so She'd go away to write, and...

Do you have an emotional agenda you are not revealing

You may remember that in chapter 2 I told you not to write about the subject closest to your heart, meaning material that came to you as a revelation, a bolt of lightning that lit up the entire internal landscape. I argued that you were too close to the material to manipulate it and would likely write with the tone of some unfortunate person ranting on the subway as I did myself, when I tried to write about my heartfelt topic. Wait, I said. Let it season in the basement of your mind. With so...

Doublecheck your understanding as you go along

Things like, I think I hear you saying that Or, Would it be correct to say that Or, That sounds to me like analogy . Does that image work for you If you keep checking, both you and the scientist can be as-64 sured that you're on track. There's no shame in not know ing your expertise lies in how to translate research for the public, not in the research itself. Furthermore, what confuses you is likely to confuse the reader, so any correction will be useful. And if you've hit on some useful...

Drop wordy clumps or replace them with single words

So obviously important from a survival point of view so obviously important to survival feel a vague sense of uneasiness feel vaguely uneasy increased sharply in amplitude spiked significantly reduced volumes of gray matter significantly less gray matter An early clue came from an event that occurred about 150 years ago. 126 An early clue came about 150 years ago. Wherever you find the word not, look for a stronger way to state the idea. Not is weak and easily missed, so that careless readers...

Finding Stories

Now that you have your curiosity unleashed, your eyes and ears wide open, and your notebook handy, let's try a little Doing finding viable story ideas, either for books or articles, and starting the work. You'll notice I said finding, because that's the way to do it. As discussed in the last chapter, everything is interesting. It follows that everywhere you go, the ground is littered with excellent story ideas. Alas, most of us walk right by, often because we have some preconceived notion about...

Foreword

As I stepped into her office, I found Elise in her desk chair, bent over a page of manuscript rolled up into her typewriter. She didn't look up. She never looked up. Just a year or two earlier, that would still have infuriated me. Social graces, Elise Remember those But by now I was long past the point where I paid it any mind. So I sat and waited while she finished. Finally, she pulled out the page, gathered it together with one or two others and, still not looking up, passed them to me. It...

From that viewpoint your goal in writing is to capture and serve as many different readers as possible yet stay focused

Directly address the key reader, offering 100 percent of what that person needs (e.g., rudimentary world news). Then you throw the others a bone whenever one comes to hand (corn blight in Ohio, Pope visits Venezuela, Janis Joplin dies). I am going to discuss one example in some detail, in the hopes of infecting you with a good feel for how to proceed. Identifying the core reader is a crucial decision, one that needs thought. Suppose you have an assignment to write about infant vaccination for...

Getting Started and the Structure

I love having written. Now let's go on to actual writing, which we will discuss in terms of articles. While you may eventually write books, most books develop from articles. So You've got your story idea, you've done good interviews, and you've studied the background material.You know who, what, where, why, when, how, who paid, and why it matters or you think you do. Now what In writing science, there are three main criteria lucidity, lucidity, and lucidity. Once...

Ideas Before you go to bed that night review and flesh out your

No matter how well you take notes, there is never time to write down all the details so do it now, while you still remember. Also, jot down any questions that came to mind as you were on the way home. In an ideal world, you would even type your notes in a full version. At the least, review them. As you review, put red asterisks (or some other prominent mark) beside the bits that really get your attention probably they will need to appear (in some form) in the final article. You...

Ideas Replace passive verbs with active ones as you surely know

The rule is universally taught. The single major exception comes in science writing, where you will occasionally need to say, A is associated with B. That's pretty darn passive. It could mean almost anything and from a scientist's point of view, the ambiguity is the point A is associated with B explicitly means that while A and B connect, no one is sure how. It might turn out that . . . Both A and B are caused by C, which remains to be discovered. Or A and C together cause B,...

If you lack a mentor follow good rules in a flexible way

Adopt all usual guidelines, but watch out for the times when they do not quite work. For example, yes, an anecdote is a good way to open. But you notice this time it feels mawkish. Hmmm Through such moments, when you let the material tell you how it wants to be presented, you can evolve a workable state of being on your own. Keep a journal. Writing programs often require students to keep a journal a good plan for any aspiring writer. Journal-26 ing will help you acquire two crucial habits (1)...

Look for abstractions many of which will be flagged by words ending with ation or izationWhere possible rephrase the

Especially vigilant in science writing, as abstractions are epidemic in scientific journals. After you've read a dozen journal articles, they may sound normal to you, too. Even after all these years, I sometimes go through a draft explicitly looking for these tenacious little monsters. A few sample fixes Utilization of the system has been low. Few customers use the system. A very different pattern of response emerges when subjects with prefrontal brain damage People with prefrontal brain damage...

Make interested sotto voce noises of any sort congenial to your personality People need to know you are with them

I tend to murmur things like Wow or Intriguing because I'm an enthusiast, but something else might work better for you. There's only one taboo Do not say uh-huh. Some people take that as meaning, Oh, I already knew that. If so, it will stop them cold. The only way to not say uh-huh in an interview is to not say it in ordinary life. If you have that habit, break it. When the interview is over, even though you are prepared to stay, don't be hard to get out of the office. About five or ten minutes...

One last question Who else should I be talking to

Fertile, knowledgeable, enthusiastic source will be your best lead to another, because the good guys know one another. But stay courteous. Be sure to get permission, in some form that mirrors what you would actually say Is it okay to say you suggested I call Is it okay to say you thought she might like to talk to me When you have such a referral, even a Big Name may give 58 you time, even when you are still a student. Bear in mind that referring you on is taking a chance, al- Research beit a...

Only with all big pieces in place should you go ahead to polish your writing a process not unlike that of a plastic

Pat pat pat, tuck tuck tuck, here there and everywhere it's important to keep everything in synch. If you perfect the face (metaphorically, the opener) before starting the neck and belly, the contrast will make the untreated parts look worse than they are. It will throw your judgment off. Worse, it will prevent you from seeing systemic fixes, in which you solve editorial problems by preventing them nipping them in the bud, often a page or more before the problem shows up. This type of...

Polish your prose late in the process rather than early

More you work on a piece, the deeper it burrows into your neural pathways, and the harder you will struggle to see it freshly. The more effort you invest, the more every word will seem precious near impossible to change. Save yourself some trouble. Write the first draft completely, including examples and technical details as needed, but never polish an early draft. So long as the train of thought is clear, you can leave things a little fluid and keep chugging. Your subconscious is probably...

Prepare your questions ahead of time and write them

That is not to say that you will ask them as written. If the interview goes well, after the first few questions you'll be having a lively conversation, and you won't even be looking at your questions.You'll be making eye contact, with an occasional glance at your rapidly scribbling hand, and what comes out of your mouth will be a direct response to something the scientist said. You'll be tackling the subject in an order governed by his train of thought and in language that reflects his in...

Read at cruising speed like any other reader but jot down your reactions in the border Note that wordyour reactions not

The paper looks different from the screen, where you've seen those words so often. Reading on paper, then, will reinforce your hard-won sense of newness. Second, with your computer turned off, you'll be less tempted to go in and fix just this one little thing which can easily turn into three little things and the spinning of wheels. Most of us, given the chance, can spend five to ten minutes moving a single comma in and out, in and out, which feels like progress because the screen is...

Refining Your Draft

The first law of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts. Poul Anderson Refining your draft is much like editing someone else's work, except that you always have the writer handy maybe too handy, as the inner writer tends to defend the status quo. (Oh, but that image is so funny.) An editor, by definition, has one enormous advantage that the writer does not a fresh eye. Not knowing what the manuscript is supposed to say, the editor can tell what it does say, the better to spot any gaps...

Remember that you cannot tell how well you are writing

Most writers have an occasional day when writing feels like flying Your mind is quick and clear, your verbs are active, the sun is out, and you feel like a minor deity, able to recreate the world (if only re- and only on paper). Then there's the occasional day that feels like creeping along a trail in the dark, extruding each sentence slowly and with pain from somewhere near the umbilicus. In between those extremes come days when you feel like a carpenter, putting together...

Similarly if you find yourself unsure of any major fact or interpretation check it out or think your way through it

If the groundwork of your article will not hold weight, you cannot safely build. The answer is probably somewhere in your notes. If you think you have to query the scientist, a useful format is this one Is it correct to say X, or would it be better to say Y I am wondering about Z. Doing it this way will force you to articulate your question with such clarity that if you in fact know the answer as can be the case you'll realize it. Great And if you do have to query the scientist, your nice...

Since the organic shape is in the material not imposed by you it carries information It can tell you when and where

Mississippi with only two tributaries Such a thing cannot be therefore, a big chunk of information is missing, if not two or three. Poke around. Maybe you've overlooked something important. The same is true of a subject's texture. As you probably know, much of nature is fractal (i.e., self-similar), meaning the same at every magnitude. The tiny ins and outs on a sandy beach echo the bigger ins and outs of the rocks in the inlet, which in turn echo the jagged coastline as a whole. You will see...

Take out the garbage wordsat least most of them By

Garbage words, I mean puny all-purpose modifiers such as very, really, rather, sort of, kind of, somewhat, quite, absolutely, extremely, and on and on. These words have a legitimate use in speech, as a quick way to add emphasis or shift a meaning. They do well enough, helped out by gestures and facial expression. And besides, in conversation we always get a second chance. If the other person did not understand us, we can try again. In writing, however, we have to say it right the first time....

The Nitty Gritty

As you write, keep your eye on the ball. I borrowed the sporty image in this mixaphor, hackneyed though it is, because in sports we all know it's true (which is how it got hackneyed). It is hard enough to hit a tennis ball streaking toward you at 118 miles an hour. It cannot be done by a person who is preoccupied with losing, or his appearance, or anything else. The athlete must stay focused on the job at hand, and so must you Keep your mind on the subject matter. Think straight, knowing what...

They are an expected part of learning so much so that ani of Attitud

They call them prelearning temper tantrums, because the frustration means that the creature is about to get it. Neurologists have a saying Neurons that fire together wire together, and they mean that literally. When a group of neurons fires hard enough to activate other neurons, the receiving neurons actually create new receptors to hold the connection, which is called a neural pathway. To illustrate the point, a neurologist once picked up a small, black rock from...

Think about the subject matter and mark your material

With your reader(s) held in mind, review all your notes and printed matter so that all is fresh in your mind, seen as a whole. If you are writing a brief news item, such a review may take fifteen minutes. For a major feature, it may take several days. Relax You will get the time back when you write. Just keep combing through. (You can see why immersion and planning tend to blur.) Now that you're no longer struggling to understand, the pondering phase is fun, a time when you...

Unpack all overpacked phrases and sentences For example

According to Paul Brooks, her biographer, Rachel Carson, a scientist with a literary flair, started the ecology movement with her book, Silent Spring. Concise is good, but that's overdoing it.You can move some of that material elsewhere in the paragraph and do feel free to create a new sentence. According to biographer Paul Brooks, Rachel Carson started the ecology movement with her book, Silent Spring. Carson was a scientist with a literary flair Take out or prune every item of which you feel...

Use quotations from your interviews selectively weaving them as highlights into your own wellcrafted prose

Should quote or paraphrase closely when the words, ideas, or observations are unique to a particular speaker. (That's another way of saying, Don't plagiarize.) Give credit where credit is due. What everyone in the field agrees upon, however, you can state in your own way in your own voice, so long as you get it right. When you do quote your sources, you may properly clean up sentence structure, nip out repetition, and even supply or improve an occasional word (note that I said occasional), for...

Whatever interests youbig or smallwill interest a reader Count on it Then make sure you are open to getting enthused

30 First of all, get out of your own way. Remember that you are not looking for the biggest and best article ever seen on Finding this planet, an idea that will earn you a Pulitzer before it's Stories even written.You're just looking for something good enough to be worth writing and reading something interesting. Interesting is the sole criterion. The process is rather like fishing.You put your line where you think the fish may be, and if something tugs, you tug back.You don't say, Oh, that's...

When Youre Feeling Stuck

Nonwriters often say to me, Oh, it must be wonderful to write so easily. I can just tell it's easy for you. I'm sorry, but no. Stories go around about professional writers who write easily, but I've never known one and certainly never been one. For every easy-sounding paragraph in this book, several awkward-sounding versions were written, rewritten, written again from a new running start, and generally struggled with. One whole chapter got pitched out. Often the hard part is less the writing...

You will recognize good science in several ways

Listen for the cosmic CLICK (as also discussed in the previous chapter with Richard Feynman) Well, of course How could we not have seen that, it just makes so much sense You may feel the click yourself, if you know enough about the field, or the scientist may say it, describing a moment of breakthrough, or other scientists may say it. Whichever, the cosmic click tends to mark a basic discovery, one that will not only hold up but generate future big discoveries, fast and furious. I observed such...

Matter of Attitude

To write nonfiction, whether science writing or any other kind, is an act of intimacy.You are inviting the reader into your world into your mind, no less. As your close companion, the reader will share the alien cadences of your thought. He will borrow your vocabulary, no doubt of a flavor not quite his own. He will be at the mercy of your skills to see, to hear, to think and feel, to assess people and draw them out, to persist until you really know and, of course, to put what you know into...

Research and the Interview

Now that you have nosed out a story idea or at the least a topic or a juicy question you are ready to look for the living, breathing person or people around whom to build your story. These are the people you will interview, based on research you will have done in advance. As a mature working professional, I seldom found scientists reluctant to talk once they had found me to be well informed and considerate of their time. Writing students tell me, however, that they sometimes get the cold...

An opener should follow seamlessly from the head It should rivet the reader establish rapport between reader and writer

Single paragraph, if the piece is very short, say fewer than five hundred words. For a New Yorker style piece, as many as six paragraphs will be okay, but the first paragraph still has to be riveting. Aristotle's advice, to begin in medias res in the middle of the action , has been helping writers for two thousand years now, and it will help you, too. Some people write the body of the text first and save the opener to write last, to benefit from all the clarity that the writing brought. If that...

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to John Marcham, former editor of the Cornell Alumni News, who trained me to E. B.White and Will Strunk Jr., who were my mentors through their classic book to Rob Kanigel and Jackie Wehmueller, who egged me on to Jack Goellner, Katherine Hancock, and Mary Ruth Yoe, who showed the manuscript no mercy to the many patient scientists who coached me on their work to my friends and colleagues at other university magazines, who were always just a phone call away to the dozens of writers...

Feel free to use weird words or even to make words up an

Idea of which I was reminded by the word flob in the last item. Did you know what I meant by flob I am sure you did. Is the word in the current Random House dictionary No, it is not. Is there a better word for that meaning that does already exist Possibly so, but I don't know it. Flob does appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, however, as well as in my aged unabridged Webster, which defines it as to be clumsy in motion and calls it rare. Too bad I thought I had made it up. Instead, I must...