In July and August, around 20 young people from all over the world conduct research in an HZB team. And they also blogged. The results are as varied as the students themselves – from dry accounts to nearly literary essays to really exciting texts which triggered curiosity ! This is how it started and why:
Many scientists find it difficult to write. They hardly need it in their studies, so they have no practice – and later, when they summarize their results, they have to stick to the given structures anyway as scientific publications have a clear scheme.
However, many scientific articles have only a handful of readers. If you are satisfied with communicating with a handful of people who are interested in exactly the same subject, you might stop reading on.
Practice is the key
But everyone else should start writing. Really! You have to practice it, even if you learned writing in primary school. A text is never finished the first time. It is worthwhile to revise it, maybe several times. By this I don’t just mean spelling and punctuation (which of course must also be correct), but above all content and structure! It is very helpful to ask yourself a few questions in advance: Who do I write for? What could interest these readers in my topic? What do I want to say myself? Why exactly is this important? And how can I package this so that it reaches the reader?
To provide a playground for writing experiences, we started the blog project with the summer students at the HZB. The students come from Canada, Egypt, Italy, Russia or other countries and are embedded in a scientific team at the HZB, making their first steps into research. We invited them to a workshop on science communication, giving them an ultrashort introduction, with some exercises and presenting them some journalistic tools. Then they are given access to the HZB science blog. They are encouraged to report on whatever they think is interesting and comment on the blog posts of others.
The result are some texts of astonishing quality. You want to learn more when Ilyas shows how a hive finds the best feeding place and how a similar process helps to optimize it today. Or when Nikki describes in a clever text her first astonishment that there are no ready-made solutions in research. Ekaterina starts with a burning laptop on somenbodys knees and elegantly transfers to materials that turn heat back into electricity. And Francisco immerses the reader in the fantastic visions of Jules Verne and shows how a part of these visions becomes reality today. Many other contributions are also worth reading. See for yourself.
Is it worth the effort?
But is it useful to invest time in writing texts that others read with pleasure and to their profit? I think so: if you want to apply for funding later on, you should be able to describe convincingly – and not only to your peers, but as well to managers or politicians – why the research project is important.
There are even intrinsic reasons: Writing clarifies your own thoughts! At least if you take the time to revise, enrich, purify and refine texts. In her personal essay in Nature, biologist Amanda Niehaus describes what creative writing brings to her research: New ideas and inspiration.
PS: For those who really want to learn more about creative writing, I recommend an interview with the world-famous writing teacher Julia Cameron.