How art and science collide to make the perfect environmental copy

Of all the enviable brain-types out there, I find scientists to be a source of wonder. Their extraordinary analytical minds allow them to connect dots invisible to the rest of us.

In my working experience, I see many of these amazing scientific minds put to good use for the environment and natural resources. These are great people. Fiercely intelligent, quirky, and burning with the magic combination of insatiable curiosity and a need to make the world a better place.

These super-humans do have one flaw though. For better or worse, most people who work for environmental organizations — especially if they’ve had any scientific training — have been programmed to write in a very academic, formal style.

Unfortunately, that is almost always a formula for failure.

When a superior intellect is a bad thing

Although a rare gift, the environmental sciences do have a scattering of noteworthy brains that can operate on both the level of a top-tier scientist, and posses the ability to translate that data into inspiring, soul-achingly beautiful language. 

I’m referring, of course, to the poet-scientist, who holds a special place in American environmentalism.

Lucky for us, these greats have used their talent to spread the need for resource protection and environmental awareness.

However, for the average scientific or environmental organization, if you can’t nail down a John Muir or Rachel Carson to write your everyday communications… what can you do?

What I hope is abundantly clear is that you can’t do the writing yourself.

Sometimes scientists need a translator

That formal, academic language scientists are so rigorously trained to use is often the fallback when trying to communicate about important work. Many people are under the false impression that using it will impress the average reader.

But, the average reader has not been trained to read academic language, and formal, dry articles can bore the pants off even the most devoted follower.

In my experience, when a reader can’t understand what you’re saying, you won’t get their support, and in the end, that means you won’t get their money.

Where art and science meet in the middle

In a broad sense, copywriting (a unique combination of science and art), is simply a style of writing meant to persuade a reader.

So, for those science heavy organizations wishing to impart a finding that will impact the world in some positive way, a good copywriter will not only be able to communicate your information in language everyone can understand, but they’ll take it a step farther and inspire your reader to take action.

Action can be a simple changing of the mind (anyone who has tried to convince a nonbeliever that climate change is for real knows that changing an opinion is, in fact, no simple thing).

It can be a call to attend a rally or getting someone to sign a petition. It can be simply getting someone to donate to your cause (that’s also not as simple as it sounds), or to share your story on social media.

The truth is, although copywriters must think and create like an artists, their work, unlike many forms of art, can be measured.

And, as we all know, scientists love to measure.

Create, test, measure, adjust. Repeat.

To write a persuasive piece meant for anyone around the world to understand and take an action on, you have to be willing to get creative, take some very unscientific risks, and write like you’re explaining your project or product to a 10-year old over pancakes (before you’ve had coffee).

It has to be that easy.

I’m not saying a good environmental copywriter is going to dumb-down your work. Never.

But seriously, no one, regardless of how educated, technical or rich your supporters are, has ever said, “Gee, that was way too easy to understand.”

Scientific writing is generally an informative and intellectual experience.  But, persuasive writing–copywriting– must appeal to the heart.

And it’s the heart that propels someone to action, not their intellect.

People are looking for inspiration, not facts. The facts won’t exactly disappear from a well-written piece, but they’ll become part of the rationale for taking an action, not the reason.

We need your scientific minds to keep up the good work. But, as I’m sure you know, competition for funds and attention from the public is fierce. There are 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S. alone willing to take your place in the hearts of a supporter. No matter how great your cause, or how impressive your findings, if someone else is explaining their work better, you’ve already lost.

So to you admirable, super-humans…don’t forget to check your ego at this door. Elicit some help. It will help your cause, and your work, in the long run if you get someone else to translate your findings to the general public.

After all, it’s almost impossible for someone in your position to put yourself in your readers position.

You simply know too much.

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