AKEN Affiliate Week: Science Writing Skills by Alda Norris

Greetings! I’m Alda Norris, Ph.D, evaluation specialist with the Institute of Natural Resources, Agriculture and Extension (IANRE) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.I serve as webmaster for the Alaska Evaluation Network (AKEN). As we spend this week highlighting the innovative work of our Alaskan affiliate members, I’d like to offer some tips related to science writing. One of the challenges evaluators can face when recommending methods, sharing results, etc. is putting technical information into understandable terms.

Cool Trick:

Use analogies. Sharpen your analogical reasoning by brainstorming metaphors and other comparisons that would be meaningful to your audience. Invest in a thesaurus. Relating a new or complex process to something clients or participants already understand will save you a lot of time and confusion. Just be sure it’s not a faulty analogy.

Lessons Learned:

When communicating with participants, head off attrition by making sure acronyms are spelled out, instructions are colloquial and examples are relatable.

Sometimes we forget there may be folks in our meetings that don’t share the same shorthand and jargon that we are used to in the evaluation world. If you want the community to be excited about the results or invest in future projects, are you conveying outcomes in an accessible way?

Hot Tip:

Consider how to make definitions and descriptions more appealing without sacrificing the basic science. Here’s an example that compares two basic explanations of the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, which I am lucky to see every winter as an Alaskan.

Wikipedia’s technical description: The aurora is caused by “disturbances in the magnetosphere caused by solar wind” that “alter the trajectories of charged particles in the magnetospheric plasma. The resulting ionization and excitation of atmospheric constituents emit light of varying colour and complexity.”

Geophysical Institute’s lay-friendly description: An aurora is a “luminous glow seen around the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. The light is caused by collisions between electrically charged particles streaming out from the sun in the solar wind that enter Earth’s atmosphere and collide with molecules and atoms of gas…”

Hot Tip:

Increase your audience’s science literacy!Using techniques like data placemats will help them better find their voice in the evaluation process.

Rad Resources:

Consider the label swaps listed in Writing for Lay Audiences: A Challenge for Scientists


The American Evaluation Association is hosting Alaska Evaluation Network (AKEN) Affiliate Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from AKEN members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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