We hosted a writing workshop series in spring/summer of this year. Across three sessions, members of our team, alongside special guest behavioral scientists and science writers shared advice and wisdom on becoming a better writer. We touched on clarity and cohesion, identifying potential outlets, how to craft memorable hooks and meaningful introductions, and more. You can learn more about the sessions and access the recordings here.
As a complement to the workshop, we’ve compiled our favorite writing resources. Below, you’ll find resources on topics like the mechanics of writing, pitching and writing op-eds, incorporating narratives, the ins and outs of book publishing, and the craft of writing.
When it comes to writing resources, nothing is one-size-fits-all, and no resource list could cover everything. Our aim with the selections below is to provide a manageable set of high-quality resources that you can draw from. Some of the resources are geared toward a specific group, like scientists or journalists, but they all offer solid guidance no matter your background. So, if something attracts your attention, don’t be afraid to dive in.
We hope you find the resources helpful. If you have any favorite resources you’d like to share with us, or if you’d like to drop us a line, please get in touch here.
— Evan Nesterak and Cameron French
The workshop series was supported by a teaching grant from the Association for Psychological Science and reader/participant donations. If you found the sessions or resource list valuable and would like to make a donation to support Behavioral Scientist, please head here.
The Mechanics of Writing
- Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace
By Joseph M. Williams and Joseph Bizup
This is our favorite resource for understanding how abstract concepts like clarity and flow are executed on the page. There are a number of editions, and the latest one can be a bit pricey though worth the investment. Earlier editions will do the job and are less expensive.
- The Open Notebook
The Open Notebook is a resource for everything science writing. Of particular interest might be their “storygrams“—annotated articles by leading science journalists giving a behind the scenes look at their writing. Check out this storygram on how Ed Yong crafted his story about whales in the north Atlantic. You might also find their resources on pitching and masterclass newsletters useful.
- Why Academic Writing Stinks and How to Fix It, And Other Essays on Writing
By Steven Pinker, Michael C. Munger, Helen Sword, Rachel Toor, Theresa MacPhail, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Five engaging essays breakdown common pitfalls of technical writing and how to avoid them, including “Why Academic Writing Stinks and How to Fix It” by Steven Pinker, “10 Tips on How to Write Less Badly” by Michael C. Munger, and “Becoming a ‘Stylish’ Writer” by Rachel Toor.
- Science Writing: Guidelines And Guidance
By Carl Zimmer
The New York Times science columnist and author of 14 books shares notes from the journalism class he teaches at Yale University. The notes cover the structure and style of strong science writing, plus a few additional writing tips.
Aligning Ideas with Outlets
- Aligning ideas with outlets worksheet
We’ve put together a brief worksheet to help professionals who want to write for a popular audience think through who they want to reach, possible outlets, and their core value proposition for the piece. (It is a companion to Session 2 in our Writing Workshop Spring/Summer 2022. You can view the session recording here.)
- How to successfully pitch The New York Times (or, well, anyone else)
By Tim Herrera, Nieman Lab
A New York Times editor provides a primer on pitching, by explaining what he receives and why he accepts or rejects a pitch.
- A database of successful pitches
By The Open Notebook
As a complement to the Nieman Lab article on what not to do, check out The Open Notebook’s database of successful pitches.
- MIT Communications Lab Op-Ed Guide
This MIT guide outlines the structure of an op-ed, offers advice on writing one, and provides several annotated op-eds that were published in major outlets.
- Writing for Newspaper Op-Ed Pages
Edited by David Jarmul, National Academy of Sciences
A selection on writing an op-ed from a National Academies book on communicating science. You can view the full book here: Headline News and Views II.
- Writing to Persuade: Insights from Former New York Times Op-Ed Editor Trish Hall
By Dave Nussbaum, Behavioral Scientist
Trish Hall, former New York Times Op-Ed editor, speaks with Dave Nussbaum about her book Writing to Persuade.
- Houston, We Have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story
By Randy Olson
In this book, scientist turned filmmaker Randy Olson describes how stories can improve science communication and science itself.
Book Writing and Publishing
- The Book Proposal Book: A Guide for Scholarly Authors
By Laura Portwood-Stacer
“A step-by-step guide to crafting a compelling scholarly book proposal—and seeing your book through to successful publication.”
- Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book
By Courtney Maum
“There are countless books on the market about how to write better but very few books on how to break into the marketplace with your first book. Cutting through the noise (and very mixed advice) online, while both dispelling rumors and remaining positive, Courtney Maum’s Before and After the Book Deal is a one-of-a-kind resource.”
- Publisher’s Marketplace
Don’t be fooled by the website that looks like it’s from the early 2000s. This is the definitive publishing industry website, with information about book deals, new releases, and other industry news.
Other Writing Advice and Training Resources
- NPR’s Training Portal
NPR’s training portal is extensive and free to access. You’ll find a range of resources, like how to conduct interviews, a style guide, ethics advice, and more.
- Science Communication Interview Series
By Association for Psychological Science
Four interviews that cover the experience of writing about science for a public audience from the perspective of both scientists and editors.
On the Craft of Writing
- “Draft No. 4”
By John McPhee
A series of eight essays on the craft of non-fiction writing by author and Princeton professor, John McPhee. You can read the eponymous essay here on The New Yorker.
- On Writing: A Memoir of Craft
By Stephen King
“Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have.”
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
By Anne Lamott
“For a quarter century, more than a million readers—scribes and scribblers of all ages and abilities—have been inspired by Anne Lamott’s hilarious, big-hearted, homespun advice. Advice that begins with the simple words of wisdom passed down from Anne’s father—also a writer—in the iconic passage that gives the book its title:
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”