Want people to notice your climate research? Learn how to write.

Posted by K R on

Pretend for a moment you are a climate scientist, or maybe a layperson curious about climate change research. Which of the following intro sentences would prompt you to keep reading a study? This?
Empirical critical loads for N deposition effects and maps showing areas projected to be in exceedance of the critical load (CL) are given for seven major vegetation types in California.
Or this?
The capture of carbon dioxide at the point of emission from coal- or gas-burning power plants is an attractive route to reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.
Unless you already know what “N deposition effects” are (nitrogen deposits from human activities that threaten plant diversity), you'd probably be more inclined to stick with the second one. The writing is clear, simple, and to the point—unlike the first, which is dense, weighty and, for some readers, might require some additional explanation. These are actual examples of the opening sentences of climate change research abstracts that were published in well-regarded scientific journals (Journal of Environmental Management and Science, respectively) and were among those studied by researchers trying to determine whether good science writing can have more of an impact than the dull and expository. Their study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that climate change papers written in a more narrative style — those that tell a story — were the most highly cited by other scientists, an important measure of their influence in the field. Their findings support beliefs long-held in the humanities that narrative writing holds more power than expository writing, and that telling a story — rather than describing observations in an objective detached way — can improve communication, especially when it comes to climate change.

Read More: Popular Science

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