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Essay competition writing tips

Posted by , on 23 May 2012

Have you started writing your essay yet? The Node and Development’s essay competition, “Developments in development”, is looking for essays in which you express your views about the future of developmental biology.

In this competition, you’re writing for other scientists, but you’re not writing a scientific paper. It’s an opinion piece. You can use facts to strengthen your cause, but ultimately it will be your persuasive writing that gets you a place on the shortlist or in the front section of Development.

Resources for science writers
If you’ve recently written mostly scientific papers, it might be hard to adjust your writing style, so we’ve found some websites with advice and tips to help you out.

The first is a collection of science writing tips on the Guardian, “Secrets of Good Science Writing”, which they published in the weeks leading up to their own essay competition. Not all of their advice will apply, because they focus on writing for non-scientists, but some of the basic writing tips from professional writers are very useful. For example, in one of their entries, Ed Yong analyses Carl Zimmer’s writing, and points out how he achieves pacing by varying sentence length. It’s one of my favourite writing tricks.

The second link is a website called The Open Notebook. It’s a resource for and by science journalists. They share tips and tricks that you might find useful while you are writing your essay, and they list even more resources that are worthy of further exploration.

Know your audience

The sites linked above focus on popular science writing, but you will, of course, be writing for an audience of fellow scientists. How is that different? In some ways, it might be easier. One of the most difficult things of popular science writing is gauging what your audience knows. You can’t explain too little, or they won’t understand; you can’t explain too much, or they’ll get bored. For the Node and Development’s essay contest, you won’t have to deal with this: you know your audience! They are developmental biologists, and you can assume that they all know at least as much as a first year PhD student in the field.

Keep your audience in mind, and look at some of the other writing tips we’ve linked to. You still have several weeks to write, but the sooner you start on your first draft, the more time you have to work on the details.

Good luck!

(Full contest info. Deadline for submission is July 2nd.)

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