The Fascinating Challenge of Translating Scientific Jargon into Compelling Reads

I’ve always had great admiration for scientists. I’m definitely not one of those conspiracy theorists who think science is a scheme to steal everyone’s DNA and make invincible robots or something. Many of my clients are scientists of one kind or another, and I’m honored that these brilliant individuals chose me to help them translate their scientific findings into compelling reads. I’ve worked with everyone from neuroscientists to wildlife researchers to Antarctic data-gatherers. So, when I say I enjoy translating scientific jargon into compelling books suitable for the layman to read, it is truly an understatement. 

The African wildlife researcher was probably one of my most difficult scientific clients because, despite the fascinating nature of his work, he was very much a “just the facts” type of guy: data-driven. He had camped in the field, studying the elusive honey badger. He even befriended some of the pioneering wildlife photographers who introduced this fascinating animal to the general public. But when my client told me of his exploits, he often left out what most readers would consider the fascinating details, making it difficult to translate his scientific experiences into a compelling read… but not impossible.

For a ghostwriter to translate science into a compelling read, in a case like this, the ghostwriter needs to ask evocative questions. Those are questions that make the client think twice about something he has taken for granted. For instance, in one case, my client described an occasion where he was involved in herding giraffes … in his usual ultra-matter-of-fact way, of course. 

I asked the client to describe what the giraffes looked like close up, and he said, “You know. Like giraffes. Go on Google Images and see what giraffes look like.” 

Hmm… I do know what giraffes look like, generally. Who doesn’t? But when I’m translating such a unique scientific experience into a compelling read, what I really want to know is what the giraffes looked like to him. What unique characteristics did he notice about the giraffes when he was so close to them? Did they make unusual sounds? What did they smell like? Were they relaxed around people or skittish? Was it scary to be so close to such a big animal? But this client’s scientific mind was made in such a way that he simply collected the facts relevant to his research and failed to remember any other facts including feelings, sense memories, and quirky details—in other words, a pure scientist. 

That’s okay. I found a workaround that would enable me to translate his scientific endeavors into compelling reads for laymen, anyway. 

Since I couldn’t get any funny, fascinating, weird or wonderful details from him about the animals he studied, I instead used the animals’ known habits as metaphors for the lessons he wanted to teach in the book. You see, the book was about how to do scientific research in a very businesslike, unbiased way. Understandably, the client was very bothered by researchers who succumbed to the temptation to romanticize and anthropomorphize animals. Each chapter of the book dealt with a different topic on the subject of doing proper field research. So, the way I used his fascinating experiences was to open each chapter with an anecdote about one of those field experiences. Instead of being written in a poetic, creative style (which would have required a level of unique detail he could not provide) the anecdotes were written in a metaphorical style, where the animals in question showed a certain wisdom that researchers should adopt. For instance, wildebeests use caution around water that may contain crocodiles. Similarly, wildlife researchers should also beware of the dangers lurking beneath the surface of inaccurate data collection processes.

Sure, that’s not the groovy, dramatic, exciting, and swashbuckling African adventure story you may have hoped for, but it did succeed in translating science into compelling reads for other scientists (the preferred audience) who were ultimately grateful for this book’s approach: it was no-nonsense but with a fun and funny hook to start each chapter. Despite his general lack of humor, my client really liked the way I used creativity to make the book more fun to read than the typical science journal. As a ghostwriter, that’s the kind of challenge I really enjoy, especially when I’m honored to translate scientific ideas for truly brilliant researchers into uniquely compelling reads.

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