After many years of blogging, and consistent with my desire to move toward retirement, we have ended the Insights blog. Thanks to Doug Bedell for his years of blog support.

Writing With the Universe in Mind

Posted on June 3, 2013
Filed Under Communication, Technology | Leave a Comment

It would have been great to have attended the  “A Day of Dialogue” discussion that was held recently by Library Journal on science writing. It featured Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), Dave Goldberg (A User’s Guide to the Universe)  and Simon Winchester (The Professor and the Madman) on “The Art of Science Writing.”

Appetite-for-WonderDawkins encouraged science writers to write with respect for the language itself, “to listen to the cadence of words that best express what the writer seeks to describe.” (His memoir, An Appetite for Wonder, will be available this fall.)  Goldberg explained how “he feels the necessity, even an obligation, not to steer his readers far away from their inherent sense of wonder at the universe, and at all that remains unknown.” And Winchester, along with Dawkins, “noted more than once that science is not merely useful; it is ‘poetic.'”

Of course, these three prominent science writers have broad, general audiences, rather than colleagues in a workplace who have to accomplish specific tasks safely.  They write as much about the unknown as the known. They are science “popularizers,” bless them, and aren’t writing, basically, for  fellow team members. Yet, beyond clarity, there is something definitely to be gained by viewing workplace compatriots as though they are fascinated by the process you’re describing, not merely rendering. That needn’t add a lot of extra words; but it does imply being mindful of how your process  connects with others in a sequence that enables a system – power generation or some other form of industrial production, for example – to unfold safely and efficiently.

You don’t want to envision yourself writing for a broad audience when you’re polishing off an operational procedure or some other form of technical instructions. But you do want to write clearly and efficiently enough that you catch and hold the interest of fellow workers in executing a procedure safely and efficiently. That’s not necessarily an assured outcome, but it can be made more-so by economical and effective writing.

Procedural writing needs to be as engaging, in its own terms, as a meditation on the universe. – Doug Bedell 


Leave a Comment

If you would like to make a comment, please fill out the form below.

Name (required)

Email (required)



Email Subscribe