How the best science writers keep you enthralled

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I make no secret of the fact that I am President of the Carl Zimmer fan club. Carl’s writing was a big influence for me well before we became colleagues at Discover. So when Alok Jha at the Guardian asked me to write a piece analysing a great piece of science writing, I didn’t have to search very hard. You can find that piece in the Guardian today. Consider it a (short and incomplete) guide to good science writing, and an ode to a peerless chum.

It begins like this:

Scientific papers aren’t known for their catchy titles. Here’s a typical example: “Ancestral capture of syncytin-Car1, a fusogenic endogenous retroviral envelope gene involved in placentation and conserved in Carnivora.”

A good science writer could tell you what each of those technical words meant, or translate them into their everyday equivalents. They would also explain the concepts encapsulated by those words, and why they deserve your attention. And a great science writer might start with something like this: “If not for a virus, none of us would ever be born.”

Photo by Russ Creech