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This is a guest post from one of our judges for the Chemistry World Science Communication Competition
50 years ago, while taking a gap year teaching in India, I used to write home to my parents every week (no email or mobiles then). In one letter, I asked my dad, a highly respected editor, how to write good English. He wrote back: ‘Use short sentences, and don’t start them with “It…”‘. I have followed this advice ruthlessly ever since, also applying it when editing texts of all kinds from various unfortunate authors, and it has served me well.
I have spent my entire career trying to make science accessible, and have found that short words and phrases help, as well as short sentences. So I tend to use ‘chose’ rather than ‘selected’ and ‘now’ rather than ‘at the present moment in time’ – just as William Tyndale, translating the Bible into English for the first time, used words of one syllable wherever he could: ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’.
And I try to avoid hype. Listening to commentary on recent tennis and cricket matches, I have been dismayed as shot after shot is described as ‘unbelievable’ or ‘incredible’. No; we have just seen them; they were brilliant, but not unbelievable.
So my advice is: keep the language simple. Using long words, excessive hype, and scientific jargon may make your text sound more important, but will always get in the way of understanding.
Adam Hart-Davis is a writer and broadcaster based in Devon, UK
Find out about the Chemistry World Science Communication Competition and submit your entry here.