Here’s a really boring paragraph about Richard Feynman. Feynman was an American physicist known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled helium, as well as in particle physics. For his contributions to quantum electrodynamics, Feynman jointly received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.
Here’s a really sizzling paragraph about Feynman. The man knew how to crack safes and pick locks like an expert. He was also an amateur magician and loved to play bongos. In addition he was an inveterate skirt chaser, chasing a platinum blonde once who followed him back and married him. About physics he said: “Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.”
Of course, those are two extreme examples of approaching the same subject and neither should be embraced when writing science because it misses the point. But I’d still say, go with the latter in mind. The reason being, the former misses the whole point while the latter misses only half of it, leaving the other half—which is pure curiosity—totally throbbing.
For instance, take the theory of relativity. Instead of immediately launching into facts, figures and formulae that the theory is actually full of it’s far easier to whet the readers’ appetite by pointing out that relativity involves concepts such as time being a fourth dimension, that space can be bent or that what we think of as hard matter is 99 per cent nothingness.
Even when talking about something as arcane as quantum mechanics begin by saying it involves things like the act of observing something changing the thing being observed. Or that a cat can be both alive and dead at the same time. Or that the Moon is not there when you don’t look at it. The last incidentally was something the great Einstein himself was extremely uncomfortable with.
The most important thing to remember, however, is that while readers may not necessarily be holding big fat science degrees, they aren’t fools either. The result is they can be instantly put off by a style of writing that seems to be talking down to them as if they were dummies or by a bunch of scientific sounding gobbledegook meant to impress them.
Ultimately the writer’s attitude should be something like, “Hey we’re equals here. Today I’m telling you something about a guy called Richard Feynman who I’m guessing you don’t know a lot about but tomorrow I’d like you to tell me something about Vincent van Gogh who you too can assume I don’t know much about. Only don’t bore me!”