A Science Writer’s Guide to Writing Long-Form Content

By Tanaaz Khan

We’re honored to publish this guest post by our colleague, Tanaaz Khan, a freelance writer specializing in long-form content for the health and technology spaces. Keep reading for Tanaaz’s detailed insights on crafting the best long-form web content as a science writer.

Writing long-form content in the sciences? Here’s a guide to making your science writing stand out. #SciComm #MarketingTwitter

Science writing takes many forms

Writing is a common aspect of the sciences. Every scientist is a writer, whether they are writing a research paper or abstract, or submitting a dissertation. 

Many people believe science writing is limited to academic formats, but that’s not true. An entire industry segment exists for science writers who want to write for the general public.

Most of it is focused on long-form content that aims to explain complex topics or inform the general public about current trends in science/ medicine. Some popular kinds of science writing are:

  • Science journalism
  • Business writing
  • Biographical writing
  • Science opinion/commentary

Irrespective of the kind of writing, the principles of writing remain the same. You need to keep it simple, authoritative, and relevant — but when you have to write a piece over 2000 words, that’s not easy. Most online content is repetitive, unoriginal, and has zero value. So, how do you create content that stands out?

As someone with a science background, you have valuable research skills that can help you write authoritative, substantive articles. Science-backed writing leads with value, not fluff. Despite this, as someone with a science background, you probably have not had formal content writing training.

What’s the best way to communicate scientific topics through long-form writing? This article will focus on tips you can use to create effective and credible long-form content for businesses.

8 tips for writing in-depth long-form content

With long-form content, writers tend to go on tangents by going broader, not deeper. Because this approach is less valuable to readers, it leads to wasted time, effort, and space.

To help you avoid these pitfalls, here are eight tips to polish your writing skills.

1. Think about the reader’s intent

You’re writing for your readers, so it only makes sense to think about what they’re looking for and how you’ll give them what they need. To consider the reader’s intent in your article, you can try to focus the article towards just one person. That person can be someone you know who might read your article, or a hypothetical “reader persona.”

An excellent way to think about this is to ask yourself questions like:

  • Would the reader be interested in this topic?
  • Why this topic, and why now?
  • What message do I want the reader to walk away with?
  • Why should the reader trust me with this topic?

For example, if you’re writing an article on managing COVID-19, chances are the reader either has COVID-19 or knows someone who does. It would be pointless to start with an introduction about what the infection is and how you can get it. The reader is explicitly looking for management tips—so you need to give them that.

Here are a few additional questions to think about:

screenshot of tweet from kaleigh moore
Source: Kaleigh Moore on Twitter

2. Conduct in-depth research

Research often starts with a quick Google search. To create an authoritative, in-depth piece, you need to go beyond that. You should always use primary and secondary sources—each of these will help your piece stand out.

For primary sources, you can always reach out to experts in the respective field via social media or email. If you’re writing an article on menopause, you can reach out to gynecologists, endocrinologists, nutritionists, and menopause researchers for a quote. 

In a business context, your client might also have internal resources like customer interviews, research surveys, white papers, or even subject matter experts (SMEs) you can speak to. Ask them beforehand.

For secondary sources, you can dig through research and review papers (PubMed, Google Scholar), books (Google Books, podcasts, online forums, social media channels, etc.), to pull out relevant information. Try to make sure that your sources are recent, published in the last three years—unless they’re an evergreen resource. Science evolves, and so should your data.

3. Focus on one core idea

Just because your content needs to be of a specific word count doesn’t mean you can go on different tangents while exploring it. Think of your content as revolving around a central idea, a thesis statement. You have a hypothesis—and now you have to prove or negate it.

So, stick to one core idea and expand on it. Go deeper, not broader. Ideally, your article should focus on one topic → one audience → one takeaway. Anything more is tangential.

To create a narrative around your thesis statement—your idea—you can use your subheadings to offer logical arguments. Building an outline can be crucial to keep you on track. Let’s talk more about outlining for long-form science writing next.

4. Create a comprehensive outline

Once you have all your research in place, create a detailed outline. I’m emphasizing “detailed” because the details will help you shape your piece—and identify missing and/or weak points.

When I create my outlines, I include the following:

  • Target keywords and/or keyphrases (for SEO-focused articles)
  • Proposed headings for each section, SEO-optimized with HTML header tags (H1, H2, H3)
  • Talking points under each section
  • Potential examples
  • Internal links (links to other pages on the site)
  • External links (outbound links to content on other sites)
  • Suggested media, such as images or embedded video
  • Suggested callouts — attention-grabbing text highlighting aspects of your content, branded images, etc.
  • A call to action (CTA) to encourage readers to take some sort of action.

For all my pieces, my outlines are ~70% of the intended length of the article. This sets expectations for what I’m about to write—and makes it easy for the client to approve, too.

5. Write a thoughtful introduction

Now we’re getting into the fun part of the writing process. Make sure your introduction is short, relevant, and sets the context for what’s to come. There are many frameworks you can follow.

I prefer the Problem-Agitate-Solve or PAS framework—something I used to use unknowingly. The PAS framework introduces the problem (your topic), agitates the reader by focusing on their problem (the “why” of your topic), and offers a solution (your takeaway).

The easiest way to do this is by meeting your reader where they are. If you’re writing an article on how to manage COVID-19 symptoms, this could be your introduction:

“Managing COVID-19 isn’t easy. With the barrage of advice online, it’s hard to sift through what is medically sound—and what isn’t. This article intends on offering expert-based advice to manage your symptoms safely.”

6. Think about visual cues

When you’re writing long-form content, the text can be too much for a reader to consume, especially for people reading on their smartphones. Breaking it up with visual cues can help you retain their attention. The ultimate goal is to make it easy on the eyes.

Here are a few ways you can do that:

  • Write in short paragraphs (no more than four lines, not sentences)
  • Use bullet points (like this one!)
  • Use visual imagery like: 
    • Annotated screenshots
    • Branded images
    • Embedded videos
    • Tables
    • GIFs (product demos, fun stuff like memes, etc.)
  • Use formatting like bold, italics, and underline to emphasize words
  • Create easy-to-read subheaders
  • Ensure your article has enough white space
  • Add a table of contents (or ask your client to)

7. Edit objectively (and ruthlessly)

Once you’re done with your article, I’d recommend leaving it for a day at least. It can be helpful to edit with fresh eyes, after some time away from your writing. Here are a few other things to keep in mind as you are editing:

  • Use proper grammar
  • Make sure it’s simple to read
  • Write in an active voice
  • Ensure that your writing has a solid flow
  • Follow your publication’s guidelines

You can use tools like Grammarly or ProWritingAid to improve your grammatical accuracy and flow. To check readability, you can use the Hemingway editor and, ideally, aim for Grade 10 or below.

An excellent way to check for oddities is by running your article through text-to-speech software. Both Microsoft Word and Google Docs provide excellent text-to-speech capabilities. Remember that none of these tools are perfect and are meant to aid writers and editors. So, you will need to do some manual editing to get all the details right.

It takes time to become a good self-editor. You can check out my recent thread on this topic for more tips.

8. Write a solid conclusion

You don’t always have to summarize your entire article for the reader. If they’ve read it, they already know what it said. If they haven’t read it, they may not understand everything you mean.

Instead, focus on a few key takeaways. Here’s my simple formula for a great conclusion:

→ Article’s takeaway + key points + relevant CTA

Go back to your thesis statement and subheaders. This will help you identify how your main points support your thesis statement. Jot down the key points of your article, and tie them back to the introduction.

Remember the PAS framework I spoke about? In the conclusion, you can discuss the article’s takeaways and explain how they address the reader’s pain points: the specific problems or challenges for which your readers seek solutions.

After this, you can wrap up your article with a call to action relevant to the goal of your piece. That’s pretty common in branded work—but in journalistic style writing, you can conclude it with a strong statement.

The final word

Writing long-form content is a tedious process—and it can be even more overwhelming when you’re trying to stand out from millions of articles on the internet. The idea is to create unique and credible content that helps your reader. As a scientist, you have the gift of sharp research skills which help you create authoritative content, which puts the ball in your court!

You must dig through several resources to pick out the most valuable information, combine those insights, and convey them in an easy-to-digest format. If your reader can walk away with one unique takeaway, you’ve done your job well!

screenshot of tweet from nicolas cole
Source: Nicolas Cole on Twitter
photo of tanaaz khan

Tanaaz Khan is a freelance business-to-business (B2B) writer specializing in long-form content for health & tech brands. She helps businesses scale their content marketing efforts online using engaging, evidence-based and data-driven narratives. Tanaaz earned her B.S. in Biotechnology from Manipal Academy of Higher Education in 2019 and has been a science writer since then. Visit Tanaaz’s LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.

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