Archive for the ‘Elements of Craft’ Category

Four editors give tips on writing headlines. You won’t believe what happens next.

Good headlines achieve balance. They pique the reader’s interest without demanding it, they allude to the story without giving it away, and they give specific details without being technical. On top of that, good headlines should also be “funny, surprising, clear or crisp,” says Laura Helmuth, the science and health editor at Slate. 

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Naming the dog: The art of narrative structure

  A few years ago, I adopted a puppy. I’d picked the runt of the litter and in the weeks that I waited for him to wean, I made a list of a dozen or so potential names. In the end, I used none of them. I needed to spend time with the dog before […]

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Creating characters on the page

“There’s no better place to find characters than science,” Erik Vance says. He should know; he makes characters come alive on the page all the time. Vance, a freelance writer based in Mexico City, has covered a wilderness medic who is creating a nasal spray to buy time for snakebite victims, a whale biologist who specializes […]

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Smooth scriptwriting

Like reporters on any beat, science journalists have the option of telling stories through a variety of media. Audio and video provide alternate ways of crafting compelling narratives. But writing for multimedia outlets involves a different set of skills than writing for print. A group of science journalists and producers recently guided TON through the process […]

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Tackling the physical sciences

Imagine that you are a salesperson tasked with selling a special product. Most people know very little about the product, and many have had a bad experience with similar items. People can’t see what you are selling, and it is unlikely to impact their lives immediately. Such is the plight of the reporter who covers […]

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The first critic is you: Editing your own work

Self-editing is a selfless endeavor. You cut, replace, rearrange and endlessly re-read — all for the reader’s benefit. “Journalism is all about having a sense of empathy with your audience,” says Dan Fagin, director of the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at New York University and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Toms River: A Story […]

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Covering the environment beat

Taking on the environment beat is like marrying into a big, colorful family. Environmental reporters need to keep abreast of news in many different niches, including climate change, ecology, ecosystem management, public policy, international relations, business, health, transportation, public lands, water and energy. How can an environmental journalist keep tabs on all these facets of […]

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Dispatches from fact checking

I am a magazine fact checker. This is how I describe my job: “I verify and put a check mark above every single word in an article. If it is incorrect, I put a box around it and suggest a fix.” It sounds boring, but it rarely is. At its finest, fact-checking is a little […]

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Nailing the nut graf

Writing a nut graf can feel like showing your work on a math test or stopping at traffic lights when no one’s around. Ask journalists about how they constructed a nut graf, and some might actively avoid the question: At least three of the journalists I interviewed for this article talked first about characters and […]

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Weaving a seamless tale from threads of narrative and exposition

Many moons ago now, more than I care to remember, I had come from India to study for my master’s in computer science at the University of Delaware in Newark. All foreign teaching assistants, and I was one, had to undergo training on the intricacies of teaching American students. And as part of that training […]

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Writing revealing stories based on unreliable sources

  This conversation began with another one. And that one began with a reprinted chapter of Will Storr’s book on people who were unpersuadable — that is, whose beliefs didn’t match agreed-upon reality but were nonetheless fixed. In this chapter, excerpted in Matter as “The Itch Nobody Can Scratch,” the fixed beliefs people had were that […]

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Data Journalism: A Primer for Science Journalists

Did you ever know someone who was devastatingly handsome, made great conversation and whom everybody talked about even after he left the room? That’s kind of how I think about good computer-assisted reporting (CAR), also often referred to as data journalism. These projects turn spreadsheets into insightful infographics, support stories with concrete context, get passed […]

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