- How Science Works
- Sources and Experts: Where to Find Them and How to Vet Them
- Making Sense of Science Stats
- Editing for Story
- Editing Controversial Science
- Holding Science to Account
- Covering Health Care
- Climate and the Environment
- Fact-Checking Science Journalism: How to Make Sure Your Stories Are True
Illustrating Complex Science Stories
- The Role of Visuals in Science Journalism
- The Process of Building Science-Centric Graphics
- Strategies for Using Visuals to Put Breaking Science in Context
- Special Considerations for Data Visualization
- Uncertainty and Misinformation
- Editorial Illustration, Photography, and Moving Images
- Additional Reading and Resources
- About the Author
- Social Media and Reader Engagement
- Popular Science
- Op-Eds and Essays
- About This Handbook
By Rachel Feltman / 2 minute read
The challenges of editing a journalistic article on a scientific subject are no different from those of editing any other sort of content. Your job is to polish a writer’s prose and poke and prod at the reporting without sacrificing the integrity of either. You are acting as the article’s first reader and greatest advocate — spotting narrative roads in need of swift rerouting, and holes in need of filling — to ensure that its intended message reaches as many readers as effectively as possible. Depending on the publication you work for, you may be tasked with tweaking your writer’s style to fit the tone of the intended platform. Your goal is always to elevate the piece, whether that requires a few touch-ups or a major face-lift.
But much more nebulous (and daunting) than a simple line edit is the challenge of making a journalistic article into an engaging and entertaining story. This can become a Herculean effort for stories rooted in health and science. There may have been a time when many straight-down-the-middle pieces of news could get away with being, well, straight-down-the-middle from a narrative standpoint. When readers had to subscribe to a newspaper in order to stay informed, they had no choice but to tolerate the dry treatment of a serious topic — and what topic is more serious than science? The old-school journalistic norm held that these pieces of news should be technical and precise; if readers’ eyes glazed over and jumped immediately to something more engaging the next column over, editors were none the wiser.
I don’t need to explain to you how much this has changed. With 20 percent of Americans copping to getting their news on social media — and many of the rest relying on digital news sites — every story must be arresting in its own right.
Editing a piece to make it as riveting as possible is no different when the subject is scientific, but it may present potential pitfalls if you’re used to other subjects. It’s easier to inadvertently sacrifice facts for a thrilling plot line when the facts themselves are foreign to you. On the other hand, science stories have long been seen as outside the interest of the general reader. An editor must be cautious not to muddle the truth in pursuit of making a piece more engaging, but that doesn’t mean all science stories should be dry and academic.
This chapter will help you to recognize moments when the urge to make a scientific story more compelling can lead you or the writer astray — and to understand how to present even the most technical findings as thrilling pieces of content.