- 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 Jen Christiansen / 2 minute read
It’s not uncommon for editors to turn to visuals only after the words are solidly underway. The thought process could be described as, The reporting is complete, a story arc is in place, and it’s time to move on to the finishing touches. And for me, as a graphics editor at Scientific American, the reality is that I often don’t dive into graphics development until after the first draft of a long-form feature story has been submitted.
For news pieces with faster turnaround, however, graphics need to get rolling before such a milestone is reached. There’s often not time to wait until after a clean draft is in hand.
And, as graphics editors continue to distance themselves from the classic “service desk” model — especially as data reporting and data visualization become more intertwined — it’s important to remember that visuals can be the driving force behind top-notch science journalism.
Memorable examples include:
- “Coronavirus Tracker: The Latest Figures as Countries Fight Covid-19 Resurgence,” featuring charts by John Burn-Murdoch and others, in the Financial Times
- “Why Outbreaks Like Coronavirus Spread Exponentially, and How to ‘Flatten the Curve,’” by Harry Stevens, in the Washington Post
- “What’s Really Warming the World?” by Eric Roston and Blacki Migliozzi, in Bloomberg Businessweek
- “Here’s Every Total Solar Eclipse Happening in Your Lifetime. Is This Year Your Best Chance?” by Denise Lu, in the Washington Post
- “What Is the Higgs?” with drawings by Nigel Holmes and graphics by Jonathan Corum, Alicia DeSantis, Xaquín G.V., and Josh Williams, in The New York Times
What can you do as an editor to make sure graphics and other visuals reflect the same standard you would demand of any text? To realize your graphics aspirations, you may be leaning on sources for raw data, photos related to experiments, and reviews of artists’ sketches. To do that, efficient and coordinated communication among text editor, image editor, and your expert sources is key.
This chapter is graphics-centric, based on my own experience with input from others on photography, editorial illustration, and motion graphics. As all editors know — generalists and specialists alike — how the reader encounters a story is particularly important when it comes to illustrated content. One solution rarely fits all, so thinking about different ways to serve the same content via different media — printed page, desktop computer, mobile-phone screen — as well as to different audiences is critical. That challenge is not specific to science-centric content, so I don’t dive into making the material legible across many platforms. Instead, I focus on the process of determining when visuals might be a useful addition to a science-centric story, along with tips for producing and editing them.