Write-a-thon

The ComSciConRMW Write-a-thon is an opportunity for attendees to directly apply their developing communication skills to a project of personal or professional significance. This project can be in the form of a written blog post, podcast piece, video, comic, or any other form of science communication.

 

To prepare for the Write-a-thon, participants will prepare a piece for peer review by October 1. These pieces will then go through one round of peer editing before the conference. At ComSciCon participants will meet in small groups with expert writers and editors to further critique and improve each piece.

 

The conference organizers will also be on hand to discuss publication of the final pieces in regional or national publication outlets. You can find examples of published attendee writing from the national ComSciCon conference here.

 

Timeline:

  • Monday, Sept 30: First draft due for peer edits

  • Wednesday, Oct 2: Peer editing groups assigned

  • Monday, October 7: Peer edits due

  • Monday, October 14: Revised drafts due for expert review

  • Saturday, October 19: Expert review at ComSciCon

 

Guidelines:

The write-a-thon should help you push your own personal boundaries.  Get out of your comfort zone! Try a new writing style, write about a topic you are interested in but know little about, talk to other attendees about your work, approach the panelists, but most importantly have fun!

 

Start by picking a topic that interests you then pick a target audience (a New York Times reader, an elementary school teacher, a high-school class), then ask yourself why your topic should interest the target audience or what role it plays in their daily lives. A typical piece should be about 600-800 words (2-3 double-spaced pages), and definitely no more than 1000 words. If you are submitting a podcast or video, please keep your piece under 5 minutes. If you are submitting a comic or other graphic narrative, please limit to 5 pages.  

 

Upload your piece to the Google Drive folder by October 1. When you upload your draft, please call it Title_LastName_Draft1. For example, if I wrote a piece about insects I would call my draft Bugged-Out_Anson_Draft1. Also, please add up to three descriptive words to the top of your draft as well as your target audience and target publication. For example, I might add: Ecology and Conservation, science-minded public, Nautilus. This will help us sort those pieces into groups.

 

We have contacts open to publishing Write-A-Thon pieces at these outlets: Scientific American Blog, The Conversation, NatureJobs. Other outlets you might consider: Massive Science, Harvard’s Science in the News, the “Bites” blogs (Astrobites, Envirobites, Chembites, Oncobites, and more!), CO Arts and Sciences Magazine (or your home university news site), Science Buffs.

 

You can write whatever you want (as long as it's about science) but here are a list of prompts to help with brainstorming:

  • Do you use a new or fancy instrument? What kind of measurements does it make and why are they interesting? How does the machine work? (explainer)

  • What is a commonly held belief in your field of science that has been challenged or overturned recently? Is there controversy within the field or between scientists and the public? (explainer/opinion)

  • Write about a recent or seminal discovery in your field or a related field (science news)

  • Interview and/or write about a person in your scientific community. What is it like to work in their field or lab? Have they overcome specific obstacles to do science? Do they have any unique hobbies? (scientist profile)

  • Write a concise, compelling summary of a published paper on which you are an author (science news)

  • Put your audience in your shoes: Tell a story about what it’s like to do your lab or field work (first person)

  • Write about the intersection of science and society (e.g. funding issues, scientific literacy, science in politics) (opinion)

 

Tips for getting published:

  • Start with your target publication -- read their site and figure out what kind of stories they publish, as well as their tone. Do they have any first-person stories? Do they publish opinion pieces? Do they stick to science news stories? What about explainers? Is their tone conversational, very serious, full of puns, or snarky?

  • Choose a type of story that you’ve seen published by the target publication several times. Examine the structure of those stories and write an outline of your story based on that structure. (More help on analyzing story structure here.)

    • Example of story structure for science news:

      • Lede - Hooks the reader in, summarizes the story in just one sentence, and gives one big reason why it matters.

      • Nutgraf - aka nutshell paragraph. Adds in more details about who the scientists are, what kind of research they did, and why - what wasn’t known before?

      • What the scientists did

      • What the scientists found

      • Why it matters

  • Make sure you write a STORY -- with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Many first time writers pick a great topic, but have no story. Think about the topic in terms of characters, scenes, and action to find your story. Write headlines for your story -- if you are struggling to find one headline, you might not have honed your topic into a story.

  • Focus on VERBS. As you write each sentence, think about the action in that sentence, and several different verbs to describe that action. Use a thesaurus to spice up your verb vocabulary! Use adjectives sparingly.

  • Shorter is better -- shorter words, shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs.