Week 4: Get to the meat

When scientists write for other scientists, they learn to thoroughly discuss the background, then the supporting details, and finally get to the conclusion. When we write for the public, we should flip that whole routine around, and instead put the bottom line prominently at the beginning of the piece. This way, readers will know early on why they should even care about your piece and they’ll keep reading.

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AAAS Communicating to Engage.

We spent most of our class time giving and receiving feedback on our blog post first drafts. We made sure to find our favorite parts of the blog posts we read, as well as areas we felt confused. In addition, we looked for elements we’ve talked about in class:

  • Elements of a story: setup, complicating action, development, and climax
  • Concise and concrete writing
  • Share the bottom line early (get to the meat!)

Students: What has been the most challenging part of writing blog posts about cog sci research? What kinds of feedback do you plan to incorporate in your next draft?


Here are the Class 4 slides.

Featured Image: Editing by Benjamin Solah. CC BY-NC.

Week 3: Writing Concisely

When we read blog posts, we expect to enjoy our experience. We expect it to be satisfying, interesting, and to require a lot or medium amount of effort. Blog posts are more likely to fit that description when the writing is concise and concrete. As a group, we made a not-so-concise sentence more concise and an abstract one more concrete.

We focused most of our time on sharing the outlines of the blog posts we’re working on. Prof. Coulson generously allowed us to all look at hers and help her point our areas where we might be lost as readers and would benefit from more concise or concrete writing.

Students: As you’re working on your blog posts, check out the apps Irregardless.ly and Hemingway App, which we can be use to identify problem areas and suggestions for improving text. It might be interesting to apply those apps to the scientific papers you’re writing about.

Do you find the research paper you’re blogging about to be generally concise and concrete, or does it have room for improvement in these areas? What kinds of changes can you make to the passages to make them more concise?


An announcement: Check out the University of Michigan’s “Teach-out” course on EdX (it’s free): Stand up for Science: Practical approaches to discussing science that matters.

Here are the Class 3 slides.

Featured Image: Correction by Quinn Dombrowski. CC BY-SA.

Week 2: Communicate with stories

Today we focused on the power of narrative for communicating science. We practiced telling our own stories, and reflected on what made those stories memorable. What emotions did they engage? This exercise was inspired by an online mini course by Khan Academy and Pixar: Art of Storytelling.

We then dissected stories into at least 4 parts (notes thanks to the Engage series at University of Washington):
a) Setup: a quick(!!) chance to establish the situation and the protagonist’s goal
b) Complicating action: something that takes us in a new direction
c) Development: often includes struggle, suspense, action, or humor
d) Climax: learn whether the goal was achieved

We watched a video by SciShow: Does meditation affect your brain? and picked out the four elements of a story even in this short 5-minute video.

As you work on your blog posts that describe Cognitive Science research, make sure you are thinking about the research you’re writing about as a story. How can you portray the 4 story elements to the reader?

Students: Do you think presenting science as a story is effective? Why or why not? What are the challenges for translating scientific research into stories?


Here are the slides from this week.

Recent work shows that narratives are not only helpful for communicating science outside academia, but may also be helpful for academic papers. Recent research shows that scientific papers on climate change that included more narrative elements were cited more than those that were less story-like (remember – citations are one of the largest signs of success in academia!). Here’s a post I wrote about this work.

Featured Image: Reading a book at the beach by Simon Cocks. CC BY

Week 1: Why communicate science?

We’re excited to kick off our seminar on Cognitive Science Blogging! Today we began to get to know each other, and we discussed reasons for communicating science, and for blogging more specifically.

Using that discussion as a jumping off point, we want to know: Why are you here? What about cognitive science interests you? Why are you interested in learning more about blogging?

I’ll start off: I have always been fascinated by humans. I grew up with Harriet the Spy, and I worked to emulate her. I always had a notebook on me, and I hid wherever I could to watch humans and document what they were doing. Now that I’m working on my PhD in Cognitive Science, I might just be playing a more grown-up version of Harriet the Spy. I no longer hide, but I still observe as much as I can about humans and try to document it so I can better understand the fascinating creatures we are.

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Can you get any cooler than Harriet the Spy?!

I began blogging at the end of my undergraduate career because I loved the discussions that my Cognitive Science courses brought with them, and I didn’t want to lose that enrichment. I kept blogging because I realized that it was a great way to push myself to keep discovering interesting ideas, reflecting on them, and practicing my communication skills. It’s low-stakes: for a while, my mom was the only person I could count on reading my work, but that meant that I could have fun with it. My blog is almost four years old, and I still write often because I’ve found that it challenges and excites me in ways different from my full-time research.

I am so excited to share what I’ve learned and what I’m still learning about communicating cognitive science through blogging with our class!

Students, please comment – why are you here? What are you excited to learn more about this quarter?


Here are the Class 1 slides.

Join us this spring to learn about cog sci blogging!

Welcome, Freshmen & Sophomores! This Spring 2017 seminar will help anyone who’s curious about the mind and behavior improve their writing skills. We’ll discuss and practice science communication skills, and by the end of the quarter, you’ll have a honed blog post about a cognitive science topic of your choice. You’ll learn interesting things, gain tangible skills, and meet people who share some of your interests.

You do not need any prior experience in cognitive science or blogging to take this seminar. We will meet 8 times during the spring quarter, all on Wednesdays from 2-2:50.

You can find more information on UCSD’s Freshman Seminars here, and be sure to check out the About page on this site for the course description. For even more information, here’s the syllabus – but please note that it’s a work in progress.

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I blog… by alamodestuff. CC