Science Writing Retrospective

This weekend I visited one of my best friends from my undergraduate days at Harvey Mudd College.  The trip put me in a nostalgic mood, and I decided to see if I could dig up some of my school papers from those four years.  Here is a typical passage, taken from a report on telescope tower design for Antarctic observatories.

Telescope Tower Design

A tower that is designed such that its geometry is symmetric with respect to both horizontal axes will deflect symmetrically about these axes when loaded in either horizontal direction. This symmetrical deflection will result in movement that is in parallel with the surface on which the tower is mounted. For the purposes of astronomical observations, parallel deflections will not affect the tip or tilt pointing of the telescope.

I go on to talk about triangle geometry, open frameworks, and centerline-meeting beam joints.  The whole piece is filled with passive voice, dry language, and jargon. 

Since coming to Santa Cruz, I have starting writing about science with a different purpose and audience in mind, and I have had to train myself to banish the passive voice, strive for lively and visual wording, and excise all instances of jargon .  I have also learned that sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words (Apologies, Zinsser, for the cliche).  Here is how I might now present the concept of telescope tower design.

Telescope Tower Design

South Pole Telescope at Night

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