Le Cirque de Science Communication

Like the graceful, magical trapeze artist, the science communicator should enthrall her audience.


Silence. Dimmed lights, baited breath. Sequins shimmer and sparkle, winking at the audience below; a thousand pairs of eyes straining upwards as one, waiting. Her poise is perfect: she is ready.

Lights, heat, a crescendo of drums and she is falling, soaring, twisting and turning, spiralling to dizzying heights. She is dancing against gravity, teasing the trapeze.

The audience feels it, elated and breathless as she soars, stomachs flipping as she falls, racing hearts pounding a rhythm for her stunts. Then suddenly, an eloquent curtsey, a flourishing wave and the show is over. The spell is broken, but the crowd is enthralled.


As a science writer, I want to enchant audiences just the same. Skin-tight sequins may not be my everyday work clothes, but I still can’t resist a bit of sparkle. Just as our trapesiste bends and moves with grace and elegance, I flex words to engage and delight.

Like the circus, science writing can push audiences out of their comfort zone and into unknown territory, but how do I gently guide readers through complex concepts so they never feel ill at ease?


Just observe the breath-taking stunts high above your head in the Big Top. Or rather, see how one clever trick flows smoothly, confidently, to the next, how awesome leaps are linked by small, unspectacular yet elegant moves of the hands and feet.

In science writing these transitions are the connecting sentences that help the text flow naturally and in a logical order. They summarise key ideas and link them together, holding the reader’s attention as they build up the big picture. Slightly boring, perhaps, but they are carefully crafted for maximum effect.

The best transitions also maintain the momentum of prose to spur the reader to the end, pushing them to learn more about proteomics, particle physics or the minutiae of mitochondrial dystonia. Momentum never pauses, but never rushes; words that set the pace are words well spent.

Never waste words

Wasted words can destroy momentum, so we keep things simple. We slash pronouns and ration adverbs. We avoid unnecessary, distracting detail. We also believe that even the most complex ideas can be expressed and explained – in different ways for different audiences, but always with clarity and style.

Dare devils

If we want to enchant, we have to be different. It requires daring. It requires experience.

And always brutal editing.

But at the end your science will soar. And when the words are done and the spell is broken, readers will leave enthralled.

Filed under: dissemination,science copywriting,science writing,Tips | Tags: , , | By Edwin on August 29, 2013 at 12:51 am

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