Bragg judges reveal their top 3 writing tips!

Bragg essay writing tips from judges
Want to write an award-winning essay? Read these judges' tips first! Image: Shutterstock

Want to become a published writer before you even finish high school? Read this to give yourself the best shot at winning the 2020 UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing

Every year, the UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing invites students in years 7 to 10 to submit a short essay responding to a particular topic, with a stack of cool prizes (and writer cred!) on offer. This year the essay theme is “The Big Ideas Saving The Planet”.

The winning essay will be published in the 2021 edition of NewSouth Publishing’s highly acclaimed anthology The Best Australian Science Writing as well as in CSIRO’s Double Helix Magazine, on CareerswithSTEM.com and on newsouthpublishing.com. The winner will also be awarded a $500 UNSW Bookshop voucher and a subscription to the Australian Book Review

Plus, winners and runners up will get the opportunity to attend the Bragg Prize award ceremony and launch of The Best Australian Science Writing 2020 in Sydney! 

This is a seriously awesome opportunity for any aspiring writer. Entries are open until 28 August 2020 – but before you submit yours, check out these writing tips from the very people who will be choosing this year’s winning essay!

Judge: Heather Catchpole

Head of Content and CEO, Refraction Media (publisher of Careers with STEM)

1. Understand your audience 

It’s all too easy to include impenetrable jargon, unwieldy sentences and cringeworthy LOL colloquialisms that jar audiences and take away from your writing. Think about who you are writing for and why. Keep your tone appropriate and engaging for the audience you’re aiming to connect to. This can be particularly tricky when communicating science research. Your task is to translate high-level ideas and concepts into an essay your parents or peers could read. Think about whether an analogy might help, or if you might be able to speak with someone who has expert knowledge, but also the ability to communicate clearly, and include a quote from them.

2. Look outside of the box for ideas

Often researchers can be found on social media, in YouTube videos or on university websites or news stories explaining their research. This could help you to get some ideas for your essay topic. Try FameLab, CareerswithSTEM.com or 3-Minute Thesis to find some great examples of researchers communicating their work to the public.

3. Tap into your passion

Before you tackle your essay, think about why this is important to you. If you have a strong link to, or a passion for the topic you are writing about, this will come through in your writing. Oh and don’t forget to fact check! You don’t want to become another fake news story.

Judge: Sara Phillips

Executive Editor Asia-Pacific, Partnership and Custom Media, Nature Research

1. Tell a story

Facts and figures are all very well, but information is actually retained by the brain better if it is included in a story. Because you’re writing an essay, you may think that stories are not appropriate. But you can still incorporate mini stories all the way through.

2. Stories should have a beginning, middle and end

That means, you should set the scene, with all the background information your reader needs to understand what’s going to happen next. Then, something reasonably dramatic should happen. It doesn’t have to be life and death levels of dramatic, but it should be something interesting enough that your reader wants to keep reading to find out how it ends. And finally, you need an ending. You need to provide enough information so that there are no unanswered questions left hanging in the air, and make your reader aware that the drama is over. There are a million ways that good story-tellers take this structure and change it around. But when you analyse any story, the beginning, middle and end are always there, sometimes you just have to look a little harder to find them!

3. Use emotion… but carefully

Surprise, intrigue, horror, fear, worry, joy, nervousness. Including what emotions someone had in reaction to events can be a great way of making your audience relate to your story. But don’t go overboard. Including an emotional adjective in every sentence is a sure-fire way to do terrible writing. Emotions, like the Cookie Monster says about cookies, are a sometimes food. Have a think about what is the most important part of your story and save your description of emotions just for that bit.

Judge: Stephanie Schwarz

Teacher at Moriah College, Sydney

1. Be engaging

The writing must be engaging for me as the reader – we need to be able to feel and share in your passion for your selected topic.

2. Start strong

Your piece should start strongly to entice me to want to read more. Then you need to sustain this interest throughout your essay, by not just including a list of facts or concepts, but by continuing to tell a story that captivates us.

3. Finish strongly too!

You should end strongly with a sentence or two that summarises for us as readers the reason that you selected this particular topic.

Judge: Lisa Harvey-Smith

Astrophysicist, author and Australian Women in STEM Ambassador

1. Don’t assume that your audience knows anything about the topic

Writing about a galaxy? First explain what a galaxy is. Then add layers of colour, using things or concepts that are familiar to the reader. For example: “Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is a gigantic city of 200 billion stars with long arcing spiral arms winding around its flattened body like the tentacles of an octopus.” This paints a vivid image in the reader’s mind. It also teaches something about science and our place in the universe. Don’t over-use these images, but they are lovely when sprinkled through the text.

2. Mix up sentence length

Sentences shorter than 10 words are easy to read. If all your sentences are short, your writing will sound robotic and boring. Switch between longer and shorter sentences to add flow. Remove words that add nothing to the text. Don’t try to sound clever, just be you.

3. Mix up your word choices

There will be words that you over-use or repeat a lot in your writing. One of mine is “amazing”. Jump on Google and type ‘synonym of amazing’ to find words that have a similar meaning. It will add a lot of sparkle to your writing!

Gemma Chilton

Author: Gemma Chilton

Gemma has a degree in journalism from the University of Technology, Sydney and spent a semester studying environmental journalism in Denmark. She has been writing about science and engineering for over a decade.

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