Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Big Ideas: Writing Popular Science
Academic Year
Semester 2
Other Staff

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Proposal  Students will submit two elements towards a book proposal: a written summary of their proposed book (1,000 words), and a list of chapters with brief descriptions (1,500 words). 2500 Words  50%
Semester Assessment Creative Piece  A creative piece demonstrating the techniques taught over the module (2,500 words).  50%
Supplementary Assessment Proposal  Students will submit two elements towards a book proposal: a written summary of their proposed book (1,000 words), and a list of chapters with brief descriptions (1,500 words). 2500 Words  50%
Supplementary Assessment Creative Piece  A creative piece demonstrating the techniques taught over the module (2,500 words).  50%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

Demonstrate an ability to write using the techniques appropriate and specific to popular science non-fiction.

Demonstrate an understanding of the popular science book proposal and publication process.

Demonstrate an ability to conduct thorough and appropriate research on a scientific topic.

Show a sound understanding of popular science through comprehensive reading in the genre.

Demonstrate, through exercises and workshops, an ability to improve their writing following feedback.

Brief description

Popular science non-fiction finds the story within data and discovery, and presents 'big ideas' in clear, engaging and accessible writing. These books help the general public to appreciate advances in technology, medicine and space travel, and to understand issues such as the climate crisis, data privacy, and pandemics. This module explores the techniques of effective popular science writing, from initial research to the publication process. Students will develop their skills in translating complex ideas into simple narratives, producing writing that is timely and informative while also being as gripping to read as any thriller novel. From selecting a topic to finding their voice, students will be able to explore the major techniques and have their writing workshopped by their peers and the tutor.


This module offers students the opportunity to develop their voice and technique in communicating scientific topics to a general readership. By examining writers of the genre such as Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Hannah Fry, this module will allow students to understand how to write popular science well and get it published. This module will consist of 10 2-hour sessions. Each session will have a discussion of the week's topic and set reading, as well as exercises and opportunities for students to receive feedback on their ideas and writing. By the end of the module, students will have the beginnings of a popular science non-fiction book proposal and the knowledge of how to submit it for publication.


1. What is Popular Science?
This introductory session will demonstrate the lucrative non-fiction subgenre of popular science. We will look at some of the basic characteristics, such as narrative style, structure, and even the cover designs of 'Big Ideas' books.

2. And Why Should We Care?
Popular science books need a hook that resonates with contemporary issues and debates. This session will ask students to think about a topic they are interested in and why it is relevant to today's readers. Hannah Fry's 'Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine' will be discussed as a successful example.

3. Finding Your Voice
This session will look at various approaches to popular science, such as using humour, personal anecdotes, and creating characters from concepts. All approaches, however, share the same characteristic of being accessible. Students will read Maggie Aderin-Pocock's 'Book of the Moon' and practise finding a style that will engage a reader.

4. The Proposal
This session introduces students to the popular science proposal, from summaries to writing samples. Using the topic chosen in Session 2, students will begin to create a list of chapter summaries.

5. Workshop
Students will workshop their chapter summaries.

6. Turning Research into a Story (I)
The first part of this topic will look at the basic techniques of using data and research to create a narrative. From turning subatomic particles into characters to narrating the demise of an Allosaurus using fossil data, students will consider the different ways of combining storytelling components with scientific fact. Students will read and discuss Guy Leschziner's 'The Nocturnal Brain' in preparation for this session.

7. Turning Research into a Story (II)
Continuing from the previous session, students will look at the overall thread of their book. How do you create a flowing, coherent from research into algorithms? By referring to the hero's journey structure, we will discuss how the simple yet timelessly popular narrative structures of stories can be used to communicate a scientific concept.

8. Case Study: Writing the Climate Crisis
By referring to David Wallace-Wells' 'The Uninhabitable Earth', students will examine a case study of a successful popular science book. Students will take part in a writing exercise using research and discussion of the climate crisis.

9. Workshop
Students will workshop their writing sample.

10. Next Steps
Now that we know what popular science is and how to write it, the next steps are getting it published. This session will introduce students to the process of pitching their popular science proposals to agents and independent publishers, as well as how to communicate science for the radio, podcasts, and online journalism.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Adaptability and resilience Understanding scientific concepts and developing the skills to turn them into accessible narratives.
Co-ordinating with others Participating in discussion, and giving and receiving feedback in class.
Creative Problem Solving Students will consider how to turn research into creative narratives.
Critical and analytical thinking Demonstrate an ability to work with both scientific concepts and successful communication and storytelling techniques.
Digital capability Students will use digital technology for writing and research.
Professional communication Students will learn how to communicate concepts and data effectively.
Real world sense Demonstrate an understanding of why popular science is such a successful and widely read genre.
Reflection Reflect on the discussions, reading, and feedback given in class.
Subject Specific Skills Demonstrate an ability to combine thorough research with clear and engaging writing.


This module is at CQFW Level 6