When You Put It Like That… Humour in Science Writing
When trying to get science information out into the community, and making people really want to know about it, the difficulty is usually either that they don’t easily understand, or they find it boring and are just not interested. One way to make a certain topic more interesting and engaging, is to add humour. It just adds that little extra life to your piece of writing, and can be all you need to go from ‘Nah, that’s pretty boring, I don’t really want to read it’ to ‘actually it’s quite funny and interesting to read’.
‘Roaches and radiation’, by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki uses this technique, to help create interest in what could possibly be an otherwise uninteresting topic to some people. In this text, Dr Karl discusses radiation and the popular myth that cockroaches will be the last living thing on the planet come the end of the world. Whilst cockroaches are indeed more tolerant of radiation than us humans, it turns out that there are many other insects who are much more resistant to radiation than both humans and cockroaches.
By humanising cockroaches, and adding their ‘personality’ to the article, Dr Karl engages the audience, and makes it feel more like a story, which in turn makes the facts seem more interesting. He grabs the audiences attention by making references to things like bands, and adding in extra interesting facts here and there, separate from the body of text. I began reading this knowing that it was a ‘science humour’ piece of writing, and I think this contributed to my initial impression, which was that I didn’t find it as funny as I was expecting it to be, but the humour was still there, more subtly woven throughout.
I find humour to be a very effective technique to add interest and engage an audience. I mean, who doesn’t like something that’s funny? Of course there are limitations to when this technique should be used, and sometimes it’s just not appropriate. It could appear to be in bad taste if applied to the wrong subject. So like everything it depends on what media it is being presented in, and who the target audience is. When used appropriately though, and as long as it matches with your own sense of humour, a piece of writing using this technique would not often fail to appeal to, and successfully engage you.
So for an area like science writing, where one of the most prevalent issues is how to engage the audience and get people interested, humour is a very useful tool. I can’t really think of a better way to engage an audience, can you?