Help me find the “Best” Shortform Science Writing!

Longform anthologies abound but anthologies of short writing?…Not so much.

Like many young non-fiction writers, I devour anthologies.

When I roll into the bookstore, I descend upon the bargain tables and used book cellars, hungrily scanning for anthologies I can add to my collection without breaking the bank.

Anthologies are how I discover new writers. They’re also my textbooks for learning the form that I aspire to write some day — namely, the longform.

It may or may not have taken me longer to find my phone to take this picture than to find the books…And I’m allegedly a millennial. #NotaPhotographer

Yeah, there are dozens of genres within longform, and yeah, if you ask someone what magazine story they remember most from the past year, they’ll probably mention a longform article. (…Unless they just stare at you blankly…) Longform has become the vehicle-of-choice for non-fiction writers’ biggest ideas and grandest narratives. They’re the non-fiction writer’s equivalent of Oscar-bait, and my particular corner of non-fiction — the science writing community — does a stellar job of documenting and sharing behind-the-scenes stories of standout features via sites like indispensable The Open Notebook, Knight Science Journalism at MIT’s blog, and Mosaic’s behind-the-scenes blog.

But here’s the thing: No one will pay you to write a longform feature until you’ve more-or-less proven yourself in other forms.

Namely, the short forms: front-of-books (those 200–350 word stories that populate the front sections of your favorite dead-tree publications) and daily or weekly news (those stories in your Twitter and Facebook feed about the coolest scientific studies of the week).

Examples of various front-of-book species from some of my favorite magazines

There’s no shortage of examples of science news and front-of-book stories on the Internet, but it’s kinda hard to find solid shortform exemplars.

And us beginning writers, we need examples. Conveying the complexity, wonder, and terror of science in a couple hundred words is tough. What are the best ways to structure daily science news stories? Which turns-of-phrase will get a story to stick in readers’ heads (and get you noticed by editors who can pay you)? What will get you retweeted or featured on weekly news round-ups?

Twitter feeds, news round-ups, and writing conference panels are all great places to start looking for those answers…But lately, I’ve been wondering, why the heck isn’t there a yearly “best short science writing” anthology?

And why don’t I start one?

The Plan

Starting this spring, I’d like to publish a quarterly round-up of excellent short science writing on my blog at dianacrowscience.com.

The first one would cover January-March 2016 and debut in the 1st or 2nd week of April. But to make this project happen, I need your help! Send me recommendations. Tweet to me about new, emerging writers that you love. Post links to short articles that have taught you something new in the comments. If you want to keep your suggestions private, email me at diana@dianacrowscience.com.

Some of the stories will come from obvious sources like Popular Science and Wired, but my goal is to showcase the diversity of shortform writing on science, health, environment, and technology. Send me links to your favorite health stories from Ebony or Sports Illustrated. Make sure I know about standout clips from smaller outlets like Ensia, Chemistry & Engineering News, Yes!, Circle of Blue, and anywhere else you find interesting writing about science. Surprise me!

The Categories

Since there’s just as much genre variation in short science writing as there is in long science writing, here’s my tentative “chunkification” scheme for organizing the articles:

  • Short-Short & Front-of-Book (under 350 words)
  • Medium Short (850 words & under)
  • Single-study Deep Dives (700–1200 words but focused on one study)

If you’re not sure whether a piece is too long, err on the side of sending it.Also, feel free to nominate stuff you or your friends have written.

And if you are super-into this idea, I’m definitely looking for guest editors!

Because trying to identify standout science writing from a 3-month deluge of internet is not a one-person job. If you’re interested in helping narrow down the long list to a short list (no pun intended), email me at diana@dianacrowscience.com.

So until, April, keep the suggestions coming!

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