Academic VS explainer science writing: what’s the difference?
Online readers often come across a variety of styles of scientific writing. Often, there are vast differences between the content and style of academic science writing and popular science writing. So how do they differ? And what are they used for?
The purpose of academic science writing
Academic science writing is used to advance the knowledge of the scientific community. This kind of writing uses specialised jargon and plenty of data and detail. The quality of the data and the context and references provided by the author demonstrate credibility to a reader. The language used is aimed at a specialist audience with prior knowledge in the field, but it should also be economical, specific and clear. The reader should come away from the article able to conduct further research and reach their own conclusions based on the findings of the study.
Academic writing should be entirely factual, sparing and unbiased. There is no need for an academic science paper to build a narrative that appeals to the emotions of its audience; it is there to present information to an informed audience.
This is aimed at an audience with specialist knowledge. It is not suited for authors interested in engaging a broader readership. That’s where explainer science content comes in.
The purpose of explainer science writing
Explainer science writing seeks to educate, entertain and engage a lay audience. There are many explainer science blogs on the internet, offering a way into understanding cutting-edge science. Because these blogs are not subjected to the review of experts in the field, though, some may spread inaccurate information.
Explainer science pieces often quote experts on hot topics, and good writers will supply robust references and links to trustworthy primary source material, such as original studies and publications by respected science organisations to back them up.
There are a few ways to find trustworthy explainer science pieces, one of which is to search in news databases. Trustworthygeneral news sites will usually have expert, authoritative and reliable science content. The purpose and format of any writing depends on the target audience, and the audiences for academic science and explainer science writing are vastly different.
A question of style: academic VS popular science writing
The key difference between the two types of writing is register: scientific jargon versus plain language. But style is an important difference as well.
Academic science writing can be longer and more densely populated with data, offering a high level of detail and extensive background information. Combining new data with their own contextual knowledge, an expert audience can see the whole picture. Academic science writing can be a dry read, but it is meant to inform, not entertain.
In contrast, popular science articles use a simple style, and aim for maximum readability. The author might break down the content into digestible sections with helpful headings, incorporate multimedia elements and carefully select the correct level of detail, balancing accuracy with clarity.
Popular science pieces use a hook in the main paragraph to draw in the reader. Meanwhile, the conclusion should reward the reader. This approach can be challenging if – as often happens in the world of research – there are no definite answers to share. The information is the focus of the piece, and it must be faithfully depicted, but the writing must be engaging to captivate the target audience.
Key points to take away
Both academic and popular science writing seek to persuade the audience, though both use different techniques. No matter the audience, the writing must be clear, evidence-based and captivating in order to maintain the reader’s attention, earn their trust and compel them to learn more.
The audience defines the way in which information is written and presented, and a study read by professional researchers may well cross over into accessible lay content for the wider public. When considering a piece of science writing online, it is a good idea to learn a little about the site, the author and any affiliations to assess its reliability.
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