Writing Science

Sunday, September 22, 2013
As a nonfiction writer, I’ve had the opportunity to write about both genetics and geology for young readers.  I’ve written about disease in horses and the biology of sharks.  While I also write history and crafts, science topics are often easier to sell because there is less competition. If you want to write science for young readers, here are five things you need to know:
  1. Kid Friendly Topics.  Whether or not a science topic is kid-friendly is going to depend on your audience.  If you are selling it to an education market, it obviously has to be educational. Kids don’t mind learning something new, but for their selection a topic needs to be fun and fascinating.  There is more overlap between educational and fun then you might think but you have to know which aspect to emphasize when you approach the publisher.
  2. Respect Your Reader. Whether you are writing about chemical reactions within the sun or the biomechanics of flight, you cannot write down to your audience. They may be shorter, they may have less life experience than you, but kids are smart.  When they are passionate about a topic, they can be scary smart like Boyan Slat, the 19-year-old who has invented a way to clean the plastics out of our oceans. Write down to this market and there is no point in submitting your work.
  3. Talk the Talk.  It may be tempting to avoid the jargon that often accompanies a scientific topic, but if you’ve ever known a three-year-old who adores dinosaurs or a five year-old fascinated by rockets, you’ve heard them use the terms themselves. If you want to play on this playground, you better come with the right toys and in this case that includes the buzzwords and lingo that show you are in the know.
  4. Build Bridges. Jargon is good but if your reader doesn’t already know the topic, you must be reading to frame concepts in terms your readers understand.  When I wrote geology, I compared stratigraphy to layers of cake and icing. Find something your audience knows and use it to help them cross into the world of your topic. 
  5. Seek Professional Help. When I’m writing about a field other than my own, I need to make sure I didn’t skew any of the facts when I made the work more accessible.  Every scientist I have ever approached has been willing to review my writing for free. 

Writing science is a great way to put your work into the hands of young readers who are eager to learn all about the world, past, present and future.  You just need to know how to get your work into their hands.

Sue Bradford Edwards is teaching Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults in the WOW! Classroom this October and November.  


Sioux Roslawski said...

SueBE--Great advice. I'm a 3rd grade teacher, and you're spot-on--kids love to use the jargon, because they like to think of themselves as experts in the areas they're passionate about. (And, often they ARE indeed experts.)

Margo Dill said...

Sue: As always, this article is right on target. I remember when I took a course with the Institute of Children's Literature almost 15 years ago now (WOW!), and the best advice I received was: LEARN TO WRITE NONFICTION. IT PAYS! ;) So true, and your tips will help even more. I love your example of comparing geology to the cake--that is a great idea--to use the terms but find something common to help kids that don't know the terms. PERFECT! :)

Anonymous said...

Sue, this is great advice. I would also add that it's important to use kid-friendly comparisons. I rely on them in every single article I write so children can learn new concepts easily.

Anonymous said...

Sue, this is great advice. I would also add that it's important to use kid-friendly comparisons. I rely on them in every single article I write so children can learn new concepts easily.

Marcia Peterson said...

Great tips Sue, all helpful. A small sample of what you offer in your Writing Nonfic for Kids class!

Anonymous said...

You are 100% right. The comparisons have to be kid friendly. I've actually figured out the cubic feet in a back pack so that I could give amounts in terms of back packs.

LuAnn Schindler said...

Helpful comments for non-fiction writing.

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