I'm embarking on writing my first popular science book on a controversial subject. For sure the writing must be rational, coherent with a clear train of thought and littered with references to be convincing. On the other hand, too much of that and the book will be all but "popular."

What I chose to call the obvious is the narrative, the self-evident and prevalent theories about connections with other fields of science. To me as a reader, this is usually the good parts as long as they're well supported by the research bits.

Many scientists write very defensively to "cover all the bases," but to me that style of writing is boring with a pinch of gutlessness and I really want to avoid falling into that trap. Especially as I'll in the coming months will spend countless hours reading books and articles, and I have a strong feeling that the tone of writing is contagious.

Most importantly I do want to write for people who are not very technical or familiar with scientific literature. So while the subject is controversial and thus requires some number-juggling, the style in many ways needs to be obvious.

So how to strike a balance between the two? Can you think of any rule of thumb or perhaps even a successful example of such a book? I realize asking "how much fact is too much" is impossible to answer, but I'm thankful for any guidance I can get.

  • 2
    'A Brief History of Time' by Stephen Hawkings was very popular. Even if scientists didn't love it, some very difficult topics were brought to the public at large. Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 16:33

3 Answers 3


I think the approach to this is to make what you write entertaining. Try to keep the style light, so you're not overwhelming the reader with facts.

Use a steady build up, make the first few chapters skipable by someone who understands the field, but allows the layman to grasp the basics of where you're going.

Keep the obvious stuff at the beginning, with clearly labelled chapters, and a paragraph at the top explaining what you're going to cover. Perhaps instructing them to skip it if they are comfortable with those concepts.

When you start getting into the heavier topics, maybe have a couple of sentences reminding the reader of the bare outline of the chapter that explored that topic.

Popular science books are usually popular because they are enjoyable to read, and don't feel like a science lesson. That is usually done by letting the personality of the writer seep out between the facts.

  • said, "make what you write entertaining. Try to keep the style light". That summarizes the answer perfectly. People read books like that. great answer.
    – raddevus
    Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 13:47

It seems to me to mostly depend on your target audience.

  • Scientists of this field will want full throttle facts,
  • General scientific types will expect to be convinced by strong backable data
  • Interested non-scientists may relate more to argument that make sense and are logical rather than specific proof,
  • The general skeptic reader will not trust any facts and may reject any attempts to convince him by “proofs”
  • The general reader will not care either for logic or facts, as long as it is interesting.

If you attempt to reach the broadest audience, discard all the boring bits and write a fiction novel on the subject.

  • Do you think it's possible to aim at #5 and still make something interesting for #2 and 3? Commented Jul 2, 2015 at 11:28
  • @Jonas Byström No i don’t think you can be technical yet popular. I am sure other members will jump in with exceptions to the rule. You éther chose an academic paper or a vulgarization. Even in a vulgarization of a scientific subject, your limited audience will almost exclusively be scientists looking for a "lighter" take on a scientific subject. Most people would never buy a book with a scientific subject matter if it is not at least romanticized. Also a general reader wouldn't be interested in a book where he had to skip over boring bits and jump over whole chapters to get to the gist. Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 0:13
  • Maybe write it more academically since that’s what you seem to be more used to. Then if it is a "hit", write another book devoid of facts. Commented Jul 3, 2015 at 0:13

Successful example: Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series. The first book, Rendezvous with Rama, read to me like a history book written 50 years from now. Very hard sci-fi, technical, a bit dry. The next three in the series, written with Gentry Lee, are more typical fiction, and center on the adventures of one family who are (I think — it's been a while) mentioned in the first book.

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