Dr. Steve Zinn (pictured) is an animal science professor at the University of Connecticut and the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Animal Science. Through his work for JAS, Zinn sees highly-technical science writing from authors around the world. I decided to speak with Zinn to learn his opinions on scientific writing and how he thinks scientists can communicate with the public.
Do you think it’s important for scientists to work on their writing skills?
I think it’s important for everyone to work on their writing skills. I think that with time and practice, everyone gets better, and there’s always way to make our writing sound better.
Can writing benefit scientists in any specific ways?
Well, it’s the medium in which we communicate our science. So I think I’ll steal the quote from somebody else that “good writing can hide bad science, but bad writing can really hide good science.
Are there any common mistakes you see animal scientists making?
Well I think there’s no “common mistakes.” I think that for those for whom English is not their primary language sometimes have difficulty communicating their science in English.
When you read an article about science in the newspaper, and there anything you wish reporters did differently?
I think it would be nice if science writers actually talked with scientists and checked their facts—and not necessarily relied on popular commentators and spokespeople—and were actually able to comprehend the science.
Do you think scientists would be willing to help writers out with that?
I think it absolutely depends on individuals. Not all people will do it, not all people want to do it, but there are people who will do it. It’s not an all or nothing thing. It’s about finding the right person, and the availability and the level of trust.
As a scientist, let’s say you get together with friends who are non-scientists, do you have any trouble explaining what you do in non-technical terms?
For my research, I have very little trouble doing it. I don’t do a lot of it, but I don’t have much trouble doing it—especially the more applied part of what I do. That’s easy to discuss.
And do you have any tips for scientists who need to discuss their work with non-scientists?
Make sure that you understand what you’re doing in the way that you would talk to your classes about it. And try not to get tripped-up in our jargon.