Brilliant Stuff

April 21st, 2007

Novelist and essayist Alan Lightman, an adjunct professor of humanities at MIT and author of the best-selling novel Einstein's Dreams, revealed the secrets of good science writing on November 16. His Salomon Center talk, "Writing the Science Narrative," which was sponsored jointly by the physics and English departments, was the final event in the yearlong Einstein Lecture Series, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the publication of Einstein's most famous and influential papers.

After reading passages from some of his favorite science writers - including Rachel Carson, Gina Kolata, Richard Feynman, James Gleick, David Quammen, and Einstein himself - Lightman read from his own work and drew from all these authors his "recipe for brilliant science writing":

  1. Read a lot of good science writing.
  2. Always write about something you love, something that moves you.
  3. Research the idea. Find out the history of the subject. Find out where the cutting edge is. Talk to the experts.
  4. Think about why this work is significant. Think about the consequences. Think about the human impact.
  5. Don't avoid hard science. Talk to experts and ask them to explain it to you.
  6. Find out what the story is. There's always a story.
  7. Bring in people and the human element.
  8. When you've written a draft, have nonscience friends read it.
  9. Revise, revise, revise, revise.
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Related Issue
January / February 2006