What is the secret to writing a successful popularization?

What? You think I’m going to reveal the secret?

No way!

That’s partly because I don’t actually know the secret—but we can explore the question, as sparked by a recent post by Gretchen McCulloch, known for her surprise best-seller Because Internet.

I’ve discussed pop science books before, mostly math and linguistics in particular (what a surprise). Only academic snobs despise the entire genre, so I will take it as a given that reaching the general (educated) public is a good thing, not a bad thing. If you read McCulloch’s post—as you should if you actually want to write pop science—you will enjoy both its format and its content. The format is an extended dialog between McCulloch and an unnamed correspondent, unnamed because they are a composite of various real people who have written to her. As for the content, I have a caveat that becomes obvious if you actually go to read her advice: the advice is very long and very detailed. It’s not just a dozen or so maxims! It’s 14,000 words distilling the voice of experience.

So what’s the secret? As indicated above, I can’t and won’t give a pithy answer, but if you seriously want an answer you should definitely read, digest, and follow McCulloch’s advice. It has the ring of authenticity!

Categories: Linguistics