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5 science writing tips from a science communicator + Bragg judge

Science writing tips

Working on your Bragg essay but hit a roadblock? Take a deep breath and read this epic tips

Below are five science writing tips from Heather Catchpole, science communicator and CEO of Refraction Media. Oh, and she’s also a UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing judge. From finding the perfect topic idea to getting the actual words down, Heather shares insights into the writing process to help you write a winning essay.

Good luck and happy essay writing! The judges can’t wait to read your big ideas on artificial intelligence.

Science writing tips

1. 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, or 3-Minute Thesis to find some great examples of researchers communicating their work to the public.

2. 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.

3. Just start

Think about how you can approach the story. Is there something unique or interesting that connects you to the subject? Writing about what interests you most means your passion will shine through in your essay. Once you have an idea, just start writing! Don’t try and get it perfect, just start jotting down as many ideas as you can think of – you can improve the language and structure later.

4. 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.

5. Always proofread! 

When you have finished your essay, get someone to proofread your essay (and not just by pasting on Google Docs or online grammar checkers). If you correct grammar and spelling errors in the final draft, your essay will make a better impression on your readers – and you also want to make sure that they understand your ideas.

About Heather Catchpole

Heather Catchpole is a business owner and communications expert with wide experience in collaboration, startups, science and technology sectors. She is the CEO of Refraction Media, a STEM specialist content company that has worked with the Australian Academy of Science, Chief Scientists Office, Cooperative Research Centres, Australian Council of Deans of Science, Google, Atlassian, CSIRO and many more.

Heather excels at distilling complex messages, onboarding stakeholders, facilitating mentorship and promoting a culture of collaboration.

A journalist, presenter and producer, Heather has experience working with media, universities, government, educators and large finance, science and technology corporations. She is the founder of the Careers with STEM brand, promoted by Barack Obama’s 2016 CS for all initiative and responsible for distributing 2 million free STEM careers magazines to high school students in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Heather’s wide-ranging background includes creating a virtual tour of a nuclear reactor and reporting for ABC radio from fossil digs and live volcanoes. She is the author of a number of children’s books, including most recently Ready, Set, Code!

RELATED: Meet the judges: Bragg Prize 2023

Other good things to keep in mind on your essay writing journey

Here are some more science writing tips and tricks the Careers with STEM team have learned along the way that you might find useful too!

Make time for your essay writing. Instead of sitting down and pressuring yourself to write it all in one go, carve out time in your schedule to chip away at your work. It will feel less daunting and it’s a good lesson in time management.

Take breaks. Inspiration not hitting? Go for a walk, meditate, sit in the garden, pat your cat… Just get away from your computer and take a deep breath. Clearing your head like this often lets the ideas creep back in when they’re ready.

Bounce ideas off your family and friends. Explain to them what your topic is and find out what their burning questions are about it. This will help you identify what other people know or don’t know already, and might give you some angles you hadn’t considered before. This could also be handy when structuring your essay.

Be kind to yourself. Even the best writers get writer’s block and they do this kind of work all day, every day! You will craft something interesting and unique – just trust yourself and your process.

Don’t ask ChatGPT to write your essay for you. Please. We want to hear your voice and your ideas.

Enter the UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing competition

The UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing is a competition for Year 7-10 students in Australia. The competition opens April 27, closes August 25 and winners will be announced October 23. This year’s topic? Artificial intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has been a big part of the news for 2023: it’s already a big part of our lives and is rapidly evolving. How does science and technology use or benefit from AI and how should we best navigate a future where AI is part of our everyday lives?

In your essay, use 800 words to explore how we use and benefit from AI, with a particular focus on science. Your essay might explore any of the following questions: 

  • What is AI and how does it work?
  • How do we use AI technologies such as machine learning and natural language processing in science and our everyday lives?
  • What are the dangers and benefits of AI?
  • What are the ethical implications of AI?
  • How can we address society’s concerns about AI? How might AI impact education? What are its limits?
  • What impacts AI may have on the creative thinking, imagination and originality of science?
  • What jobs might the use of AI create or replace?

Get all the details, learning about the prizes and submit your entry on the competition page.

Keep up to date on all things Bragg prize by signing up to the Careers with STEM weekly e-newsletter!

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Love science and writing? The UNSW Bragg Student Prize for Science Writing opens for entries April 29.