Science has always been ripe with controversy. For centuries, people debated whether the sun revolved around the Earth or the Earth revolved around the sun. Today’s debates often deal with the ethics of stem-cell research, the extent of global climate change and the possibility of human cloning. These controversies make science a perfect forum for editorial-style papers, persuasive arguments written in the format of newspaper or magazine opinion pieces.
Editorial writers should always be well-informed about their topics. Donald Murray, a renown writing teacher who won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing at Newsweek Magazine, believed writing starts with a collecting stage. You might gather topics, opinions on scientific issues or facts about a controversial issue. The “abundance of specific information” Murray said writers need are facts, observations, statistics and quotes. During the collecting phase, you expect to visit libraries, interview a few experts and surf the Internet. Collecting is extremely important for writing a science editorial because readers may be well-informed themselves and will expect accurate and logically organized supporting details.
Design Your Writing
Murray wrote, “The writer needs a plan as an explorer needs a map.” It’s hard to organize a piece after you have started to write, he said. He referred to this stage as “design.” Karen Caine, a teacher and persuasive writing expert, recommends starting by developing a thesis statement, a sentence that states the claim or opinion you plan to support in the editorial. By nature, the audience for a science editorial is likely to be highly skeptical about claims, so you need to pull the most convincing information from your research. From there, you can outline your supporting information, taking care to investigate the accuracy of your facts and the authority of your experts for your science-minded readers.
Speak to Your Reader
Murray said the voice of the writer speaks to the reader from the page. As you draft your editorial, you need to be aware of how your writing will sound to your readers. Murray wanted writers to maintain a consistent, strong voice throughout the piece. The audience for a science editorial probably wants the rational, logical voice of a scientist in your draft. Murray suggested reading your drafts aloud to yourself -- or have someone read it to you. You need to listen like a reader and pay attention to the places where your voice is most effective and least effective. However, remember your audience is likely to be as influenced by the data you use in your argument as rhetoric.
Get It Straight
Caine says the purpose of the revision stage in editorial writing is to make your already persuasive argument even more convincing. She says editorial drafts usually need work with elaboration. She advises looking for places where you need to expand on the details you provide in the supporting paragraphs of your editorial. She also advises writers to check the facts carefully. Factual flaws weaken your argument, as do gaps in logic. Caine says lapses in logic usually occur when a writer fails to explain how the supporting information he's presenting relates to the thesis of the editorial. A science audience used to analytical reading will spot logic gaps quickly.
- A Writer Teaches Writing, Donald Murray
- Writing to Persuade, Karen Caine
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