‘Park Downhill’ and Other Essential Advice for Science Writers

Ed Yong on the Craft of Science Writing and Communication

Gavin Lamb, PhD
The Startup
Published in
11 min readAug 31, 2020

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When it comes to science writing and communication, there are few writers as skilled at their craft as Ed Yong. He’s something of a science writing prodigy. His writing spans topics ranging from the microbes that inhabit our bodies and orca conservation to language genes and most recently, the current global pandemic.

In fact, Yong’s coronavirus reporting has been widely praised as some of the most well-researched, compelling, and informative coverage on the pandemic. He currently covers science as a staff writer for the Atlantic, and his work has appeared in National Geographic, Nautilus, Scientific American, Wired, Aeon, Nature, the New York Times, and more. To boot, he was also recently awarded the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting for his pandemic coverage with the Atlantic.

In college, Ed studied everything from molecular biology to animal behavior and even started a Ph.D. program with the plan to become an academic researcher. But after toiling away for two years in his Ph.D. program, he realized that talking about science – and how other people do it — was much more intriguing to him than actually doing science himself.

So he dropped out.

Or rather, ‘dropped in’ to a self-apprenticed blogging marathon. Over the course of a decade, he slowly built up a reputation as a talented science writer with his blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science (now defunct since 2016). When he ended his blog in 2016, he had written over 1,800 articles.

After blogging for a few years, Yong began submitting pieces as a freelance writer to National Geographic, Scientific American, and other well-known publications. For hopeful science writers looking to get started, tracing how Ed Yong managed to make it in a fiercely competitive trade is worth examining.

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Gavin Lamb, PhD
The Startup

I’m a researcher and writer in ecolinguistics and environmental communication. Get my weekly digest of ecowriting tools: https://wildones.substack.com/