Five SciComm Essential Reads
Updated: Nov 11
Science Communication Books for Folks Starting Out. Read the original Medium post here.
If you count liberally, there are well over twenty science communication books on my bookshelves. It’s expected, as that was a focus of mine in graduate school. There’s lots of different kinds of books. Some are theory focused, some are application-based, some hurt your head to read, some are rather old and need an update. As I was unpacking my apartment recently after a big move, I started thinking about what I would consider the books that I go to the most often for guidance and inspiration.
Every science communicator will have a different list. I’ve designed this based on what I wish I read as an early undergrad considering entering the world of SciComm. As a result, it will favor public communication and social media, as that’s the world I’ve focused on the past five years. These aren’t listed in any particular order, besides how I keep them on my shelf.
There are lots of different kinds of science communication, so don’t let this short list discourage you. Is there a book you feel like I’ve missed? You’re welcome to comment below if you have a different opinion, or reach out to me personally on social media!
Houston, We Have a Narrative
Randy Olson was first a scientist — a tenured professor of marine biology, in fact — before completely pivoting and entering film school. He shares what he learned about storytelling in his book so you don’t have to attend film school yourself.
The power of story can help individuals comprehend complex topics such as science. Olson introduces the DNA of those stories with an “And, But, Therefore” model. At a glance, ABT helps a person create the fundamental story pieces: exposition (and), conflict (but), and resolution (therefore). The ABT model you generate becomes an elevator pitch, in which you can add detail where needed depending on your audience.
It should be noted that there are many types of science communication besides narrative format. But delivering information through stories can be a powerful way to communicate. You can use this model to create better presentations, stronger social media posts, and even casual conversation with family, friends, or other non-scientists. BookShop Link
A Field Guide for Science Writers
Published in 2006, the National Association of Science Writers created this anthology to help new science writers starting out in the field. Many graduate-level science communication and writing programs require this book for their students.
There are six parts: learning the craft; choosing your market; varying your style; covering stories in life sciences; covering stories in physical and environmental sciences; and communicating to science institutions. Field Guide provides an introduction to everything a science communicator should know.
To be completely honest, I’ve never read this book from front to back, but I have read selections on understanding statistics, reporting from science journals, space science suggestions, and public information officers. If there’s a question you have about general science writing, this book is a solid spot for you to start answering it. Bookshop Link
The Craft of Science Writing
In 2020, The Open Notebook published some of their best articles from their free science journalism website. If you haven’t heard of The Open Notebook and you’re looking to be a science journalist, go bookmark their website right now.
The Open Notebook’s mission is to provide knowledge and resources to science, health, and environmental journalists to sharpen their skills. It is the organizations belief that supporting science journalism supports a healthy society.
Similar to A Field Guide, this book hosts a collection of authors who focus on five different topics including becoming a science journalist, finding the science story, gathering information, writing the story, and building expertise. While not outdated in content, A Field Guide misses some important conversations in both the content creation and academic world. Some important chapters in Crafting that aren’t featured in A Field Guide including impostor syndrome and finding diverse voices in science. I wouldn’t say that Crafting replaces A Field Guide, but rather is a good resource for those who feel like they need the next level. Bookshop Link
Am I Making Myself Clear?
Subtitled “ A Scientist’s Guide to Talking to the Public,” Cornelia Dean created this book to help scientists convey the facts of their expertise. Previously a New York Times editor, Dean now teaches seminars on science communication at Harvard University in which she urges scientists to let their voices reach beyond scholarly publications.
Dean distilled her seminars into this book, where she aims to help scientists improve how they interact with policymakers, journalists, and the public. I like how in this book she highlights unique circumstances like the witness stand, while also covering the basics of communication like knowing your audience.
Unlike the previous books mentioned, this one is more so designed for scientists. Dean highlights how to communicate better about science, with the focus on those who have little to no experience in sharing their field. I still recommend this because Dean explains SciComm principles so plainly and clearly. Bookshop Link
The Non-Designer’s Design Book
Ok, you got me. This one isn’t a science communication book exclusively. However, it does explain essential design principles in a slim volume. I use this to reference when creating graphics for social media and presentations.
Robin Williams’ book teaches the basics of design including proximity, alignment, repetition, and contrast. It’s riddled with design examples and quizzes, kinda like a low-key textbook. It won’t teach you Adobe products, but rather will help a Canva project pop just a little more. Bookshop Link
What are you waiting for? Check out your local library, find your local independent bookstore, or one of the links supplied. Learn new SciComm skills and change the world!