The Science of Writing

Writing about science and technology can be a daunting task given the often complex nature of its subject matter. Before understanding why most metals are thermal and electrical conductors, for example, you must first understand the way in which metal atoms bond, which requires further knowledge of the attraction between ions and electrons, which in itself requires a fundamental knowledge of what electrons, protons, etc are. Because technology and science constantly builds upon itself like this, writing about science and technology can be lengthy if the writer tries to explain everything, or the piece can be specialized, requiring a little to a lot of prior knowledge and expertise in the subject, if the writer seeks to only discuss a particular topic. Beyond simply explaining the significance and mechanics of a scientific find or technical development, details into how something was discovered or created can also be an issue in writing about technology and science, as the procedures that led to the discovery can sometimes seem complicated or arbitrary without the history behind the discovery or the background of the inventor. This leads to the heart of the problem with writing about scientific and technical matters; what is the proper balance between the background or narrative of the discovery and the explanation of the discovery and its significance?

To answer this question, the purpose of the writing and its intended audience must be considered. Unfortunately, extremely technical papers riddled with field specific terminology tend not to be the most thrilling readings, so, if the purpose of the writer’s work is to interest its reader, they should probably avoid using complex terms and explanations and write simplistically about the discovery and its historical context. Dually, if an author seeks to inform its readers, diverging from the significance of a discovery and relaying what the scientist or engineer behind it enjoys doing in their spare time is highly inappropriate. Even when writing for the purpose of explaining, though, the writer must direct their work towards even more specific audiences ranging, for instance, from high school students to accomplished astrophysicists. Students may not understand or appreciate the significance of the cosmic censorship hypothesis in determining the structures of singularities the way an astrophysicist would, and I doubt astrophysicists enjoy reading about topics as basic as the formation of cations and anions. Thus informative papers must distinguish a basis of common knowledge for the audience and build upon that basis according to their subject. Overall, writing, even in regards to science and technology, is not an exact science. There are many ways to write scientific and technological papers, but catering a paper to a desired reader and with a specific intent is standard and must be considered at all times.

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