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Empathy is key to science writing

Empathy is the ability to take another's perspective or, as the saying goes, to walk in their shoes.

Empathy requires the ability to understand, be sensitive to, and respond to someone else's experience. As a science writer, that means focusing on the needs and interests of your reader. It means asking yourself these kinds of questions:

  • What is the reader's background and technical understanding?

  • What is important to the reader?

  • What is the reader's role and how might that affect their attention and time?

  • What kind of decisions does the reader need to make?

  • What guidance will help the reader navigate the report or article?

It may seem obvious that one would write with the reader in mind. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

For example, it can be very tempting to write in a way that shows off one's intelligence or technical proficiency. Other times, obscuring the meaning with complex or vague content is the cultural norm. Most often, the writer is so wrapped up in getting the job done, they simply forget to consider the needs of the reader.

What is your experience? Do you think about your reader when you write? If so, what questions about the reader do you ask? If not, what is keeping you from considering the needs and interests of the reader?

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