Recursive article about articles
I love sci-pop. This is such a special genre, it’s like neither scientific nor artistic, but something in between. And here’s the catch: to write a good sci-fi, you need to be able to both science and art, and not only everyone has such a combination of skills. The author can master the word, but superficially understand the subject, causing hellish pain to a much more advanced reader. Or vice versa – to write in full accordance with the facts, but in such a way that already on the fifth line it makes you sleepy. It is impossible to formalize art, but you can dissect a popular science text and analyze its features, which I am going to do – right on the example of this very article.
In general, there are a great many pitfalls in the difficult task of writing: this is the inability to put words into sentences, and the inability to clearly express a thought, and simply banal illiteracy. Sometimes you come across an opus, the author of which even forgot to declare the problem, let alone bring the reader up to date (as you can see, I just did it). I don’t know what will happen in the end, but I hope something good.
Well, okay, there is an introduction, I added a bit of modesty, now we need to develop the problem declared in the previous paragraph. How does scientific pop differ from a scientific text in general, if we talk about the deepest essence of these concepts? information model. In the reader-text interaction model, a scientific article is passive, because the target reader initially really wants to read it – he needs information about, say, the features of penguin breeding in microgravity conditions. He works with this, and willy-nilly, he will still read your text. In the case of a popular science text, the opposite is true: the reader, in general, is indifferent to it, and here the author of the article really needs to be read. The reasons are not important, the very fact of their presence is important – after all, for some reason he wrote this article and posted it. I am writing these lines now, hoping that they will help someone. The other one may just feed his ego. Also a good option.
This radically changes the approach to writing a text, although it leaves the basic principles unchanged. In a scientific article, rigor and unambiguity are important. The author of a scientific article does not need such a concept as fascination – as we remember, a potential reader is already 100% fascinated. In a popular science text, you need to sit on two chairs at once: keep the narrative unambiguous and at the same time make it fascinating. As a consequence, it should combine the principles of both a scientific article and a work of art. These are the ones I want to consider below.
From a scientific article, we take the structure, albeit with reservations. For example, this text does not begin with an annotation at all, but with an enticing phrase, and only then comes an annotation, moreover, in a free form – this is already taken from a work of art. But it fulfills its task, namely, it indicates the problem and its key features, on which the entire subsequent information flow will depend. And, in fact, now that they are indicated and even emphasize the conclusion made, we can begin to consider specific elements.
Narrative. In our case, this is a sequential chain of images and concepts, which is transmitted to the reader with the help of the text. Right now, for example, you are reading about how right now you are reading about how right now you are reading about how right now … uh, wait! Okay, I’ll change it: a little earlier you fixed in your mind the concept of “narrative”, which will be used further in the text, and immediately got an example – recursion, which served as a decorative element to maintain interest. And now I move on to the next link – namely, the form of storytelling in a popular science article. As you can see, this link is directly related to the previous one. This whole block about the narrative is part of a more general one, covering the considered features of writing popular science articles, and the subblocks go sequentially, intercepting each other’s thoughts.
This is the whole point: within a single block, the flow should not be interrupted. The previous phrase, for example, although it starts a new paragraph, is directly related to the previous one, briefly summarizing what has been said for the further development of thought. And the previous phrase develops this idea, giving an example and explaining it. As well as the previous one, which complements the thesis with one more example. You can go on and on, but the narrative should not drag on, otherwise it overloads the brain. So you can draw a line under this block and move on to the next one.
Check valve. It’s the thing in a pipeline that only allows fluid to flow in one direction. For the information flow, a similar principle is true: any dependencies between the images and concepts used go from top to bottom, but not vice versa.
In this sense, the text resembles a program. You can’t use a variable before you declare it – same here. When introducing a new concept into the text, one must either explain it or make it clear from the context. Having mentioned the non-return valve above, I immediately gave a description of what I understand by this term, and now you are reading this very paragraph with this knowledge in mind. Now it works as an example, when otherwise it would be just a piece of text without a function.
It is curious that even in works of art with a non-linear plot, this principle is respected. Suppose a new chapter chronologically precedes the previous one, but the characters introduced in it have either already met before, or are somehow presented to the reader. It’s just that the logical and emotional chains work differently now.
Terminology. For example, in the very first paragraph, I mentioned the genre, referring to it popular science texts, and someone must have been indignant already that, they say, in fact, the genre is completely different, but this is not entirely true.
Don’t cut off the flow with a sudden thought, as I just did. You can slightly smooth this cliff or even make it part of the overall plan (as I did just now, yes), but still – it’s not worth it.
The fact is that today the concept of “genre” does not have a precise definition, so I am free to interpret it in different ways, as long as the meaning is clear from the context. And, in my opinion, it was quite successful: even if you do not agree with the interpretation of “genre” I used, you still understood the phrase. Another thing with the “check valve” – this term is used in a different sense, but I used it metaphorically and, in fact, simply invented a new definition for it in order to more conveniently designate one of the components of the problem. It is not by chance that the block about terminology comes after the narrative and the check valve: it depends on both of them, both due to examples and in meaning. And although both of them apply to the entire text, the terminology should be singled out as an example of a text subsystem that clearly demonstrates the essence of these concepts.
All of the above is also true for literary texts, it’s just not so obvious in them. In addition, it can also serve as a literary device that is undesirable to shove into a popular science text. The task of fascination, however, still remains, and in most cases it is solved by simply lightening the text: unloading heavy structures, sacrificing unambiguous understanding, introducing colloquial words, slang, and so on. All these things do not work for the direct perception of useful information by the reader, their purpose is to keep his interest from drifting away.
Why do we need simplification and colloquial words? To “bring” the author closer to the readers, to show that he is the same person as they are, and not an abstruse nerd. Why introduce emotional expressions into the text? To give it liveliness, turn the usual narrative into a first-person story. Wow, epta, we’re not describing a scientific study here, hr-r, ugh. Personally, I like to use as illustrations the most idiotic and ridiculous (however, technically completely correct) images, for example, the twin paradox on the example of not abstract nameless pilots, but the evil Taysh’yn’kahr’bun’yuk and the kind Yu. This brings some confusion in the narrative, but amuses the reader, which means it works. Here, even here I was able to shove them, but I was afraid that it would not work out, and I would have to do with penguins alone.
The perception of any text is based on the same principles, which, in turn, depend on our brain. The writer only uses these principles to solve this or that problem – in a scientific article this is a dry report of information, but the further we move towards art, the more we add new and new subtasks to this. The popular science genre is somewhere in the middle between art and craft, and if the first cannot be formalized, then the second is not so sad. At least some general patterns are emerging, and you just need to apply them correctly.
Naturally, this is only the very tip of a huge iceberg, and the overall picture is much more complicated – primarily because people are all different, and they perceive the same text in different ways. Moreover, the writer himself is hampered by cognitive distortions, in particular, the curse of knowledge, because of which it is very difficult for him to understand how the written will be perceived by the outside. Even though I checked the described concepts on the example of the text that described them, I’m still not sure that everything turned out as it should. Feedback helps, but only partly.
This is the result, and now we need to write some spectacular phrase to complete. Taysh’yn’kahr’bun’yuk wishes you good luck in the hard work of writing, and remember: manuscripts don’t burn.