Writing for Science


Woman writing surrounded by textbooks and scientific equationsOverview:
Are you a scientist or science communicator who wants to learn to write in an engaging and accessible style? Are you a creative fiction or non-fiction writer wanting to write about science?

This course gives you a stimulating introduction to the art of science writing. It combines practical writing workshops and discussion of your own written work with examination of the considerations involved in science writing.

This course does NOT focus on writing academic papers.

Target audience:
This course is for scientists or science communicators who want to write in an interesting and accessible format to suit their audience – whether it is adults, children or other scientists.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will have:

  • learned how to write about science in an engaging and creative way
  • experienced different styles of good science writing and determined what constitutes good and bad science writing
  • built up a variety of techniques for creating engaging scientific writing 
  • evaluated your own writing and that of other class members in a critical yet constructive way.

Course outline:
The course includes some lectures, but most of the time is spent on discussion, working both individually and in small groups on writing exercises and having this work critiqued by the rest of the class.

Each of the sessions follows a similar pattern:

Group discussion and exercises

  • You will consider questions like: What is good science writing? How do we make our writing creative and engaging without ‘dumbing down’? How do we avoid overusing jargon?

Individual focused writing exercises with guidance

  • You will be given individual exercises including how to identify good science writing, writing short bites of information (such as press releases, brochures, museum labels and information for children) and moving on to longer articles.

Day 1:
Group discussion
Introduction and consideration of major issues in writing for science.

  • What is good science writing? 
  • How do we make our writing creative, engaging and accurate without ‘dumbing down’? 
  • How do we communicate science with a general audience? 
  • How do we avoid overusing jargon?

Individual and group writing exercises
Instruction on how to structure a piece of science writing. Guidance on how to write a brief. Individual and group exercises with guidance in writing ‘road maps’ and briefs for pieces of science writing. Includes individual and group feedback from the class.

Group discussion
How to write an engaging first draft. Techniques for getting started once you have written a structure. How to write a ‘rock ‘n roll’ version. Writing opening and closing sentences.

Individual and group writing exercises
Individual and group exercises with guidance in writing first drafts of pieces of science writing. These may include short articles, museum labels, press releases, brochures, television and radio scripts.

Wrap up and review of the day.

Day 2:
Individual and group feedback on first drafts written on day one.

Group discussion
How to edit and rewrite your science writing. Techniques for saying more with fewer words. Individual and group exercises with guidance in rewriting and editing your work. Individual and group feedback on edited and rewritten work.

The presenter and group will critique the work you may have brought along to the workshop. You will engage in critiquing, in a workshop situation, the work of others.

Wrap up and review of day two.

No formal assessment is undertaken, but you will be given writing exercises to work on between sessions, and it is expected you will arrive at both sessions with work you have already produced (though this can be in draft stage).

Morning and afternoon tea are provided. You will need to bring your own lunch or you can buy it from nearby food outlets.

Class limit:
This course is limited to a maximum of 16 participants, so please enrol early.

Dave Armstrong is a columnist for the Dominion Post and a playwright. He won the fiction category of the 2008 Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing and was a judge for the same prize in 2010. Dave has worked as a museum writer, written for educational science publications and the children’s television science show Q. He co-wrote, with Dr Hamish Campbell, an episode about mass extinctions for the Radio NZ science series In the Goldilocks Zone.

Dave has also written extensively for screen and stage. He has won Best New New Zealand Play three times at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards for The Tutor and Niu Sila (co-written with Oscar Kightley) and Where we Once Belonged (with Sia Figiel). Dave’s other plays include The Motor Camp and Le Sud. His latest play, Central, tackled issues of conservation and biodiversity, and won the 2015 SWANZ Writers Guild award for best play.

Dave’s television credits include Billy (co-writer), Spies and Lies and Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby (co-writer). Dave won an AFTA television award for Best Comedy Script for Spin Doctors.

Dave is a former secondary school teacher and currently teaches an undergraduate television writing course for Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters.

“Valuable teaching”, Writing for Science participant (2018)

“I felt fully involved at all times”, Writing for Science participant (2018)

“Great course, wish I could spend every Saturday doing it!”, Writing for Science participant (2018)

“Really great course with a top notch tutor, thanks”, Writing for Science participant (2018)

Relevant links:
Faculty of Science
International Institute of Modern Letters
Armstrong Creative

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140.
Phone 04 463 6556,  Email: conted@vuw.ac.nz

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.