Science Journalism’s Manifesto for the Simple Scribe

“To make some­body read it”. That is the only reas­on for writ­ing, accord­ing to the renowned Guard­i­an edit­or Tim Rad­ford, author of the “mani­festo for the simple scribe”.

This mani­festo, pre­vi­ously dis­trib­uted to edit­ors at Elsevi­er and Nature, con­sist­s of twenty-five writ­ing tips that col­lect­ively tell a sci­ence writer all they need to know to write con­sist­ently good copy.

Many, if not all, of Rad­ford’s tips are rel­ev­ant to writ­ing styles oth­er than sci­ence journ­al­ism. Some favour­ite quotes:

You are not writ­ing to impress the sci­ent­ist you have just inter­viewed, nor the pro­fess­or who got you through your degree, nor the edit­or who fool­ishly turned you down, or the rather dishy per­son you just met at a party and told you were a writer. Or even your moth­er. You are writ­ing to impress someone hanging from a strap in the tube between Par­son’s Green and Put­ney, who will stop read­ing in a fifth of a second, giv­en a chance.

No one will ever com­plain because you have made some­thing too easy to under­stand.

If in doubt, assume the read­er knows noth­ing. How­ever, nev­er make the mis­take of assum­ing that the read­er is stu­pid. The clas­sic error in journ­al­ism is to over­es­tim­ate what the read­er knows and under­es­tim­ate the read­er­’s intel­li­gence.

Remem­ber that people will always respond to some­thing close to them. Con­cerned cit­izens of south Lon­don should care more about eco­nom­ic reform in Sur­i­n­am than about Mill­wall’s fate on Sat­urday, but mostly they don’t. Accept it.