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Are impact factors worth considering?

Stack of journals

Tara Haelle interviews Ivan Oransky on the value, and lack of value, in using a journal's "impact factor" in weighing whether to cover a scientific paper. Oransky's advice is to be careful: "I think of impact factors, when used in a limited way, as one among many criteria by which to judge a given paper. I’d stress that it should never be used alone, and that a roster of sources to bounce studies off is much better in the long term than an impact factor assessment."

Inside that dental floss story

Dental floss

Kristen Hare interviews Jeff Donn, a national writer with the Associated Press, whose story last week revealed there's no evidence that flossing your teeth actually works. Donn tells Hare that his story began with a tip from his son's orthodontist. That led to a deep dig into research archives and a Freedom of Information request: "When I started to look at research, I realized that it was a good tip — and definitely the best one I ever got from an orthodontist."

Inside the Panama Papers project

Panama Papers and cash

Gerard Ryle, director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, explains how hundreds of journalists used technology to turn 11.5 million leaked documents into stories about an offshore tax haven empire: "There's a kind of irony in what we've been able to do. The technology — the Internet — that has broken the business model is allowing us to reinvent journalism itself. And this dynamic is producing unprecedented levels of transparency and impact."

Caveats on covering stem cell research

Cells drawing

Joy Victory warns that writers as well as scientists must guard against hype in stem cell research: "The onus is on journalists to be careful when using words like 'breakthrough, paradigm shift, revolution, cure, and game-changer' — even when this language comes from scientists, peer-reviewed abstracts, studies and institutional news releases. Dig deeper, and ask why they’re using that kind of language, because the answer may not be what most people would think."

Some tips for producing a podcast

Microphone and computer

Podcasts can be an effective tool for writers to promote their work, but producing a successful one requires some advance thought and more than a little bit of technical expertise, Devon Fredericksen writes in a post with links to resources: "Many beginning podcasters use a pretty basic recording and editing setup that might already exist on their computer. But don’t underestimate good sound quality — better sound quality directly impacts the size of your listenership."

How a PR pro builds relationships

Cell phone

Denise Graveline shares her tips for building productive relationships with reporters, including this about pitches: "Giving reporters tips, instead of pitches, does more to advance a potential relationship. That means sharing info that doesn't necessarily benefit you or your organization directly, being willing to point them in the right direction, keeping them in mind on something they might not otherwise see. Be useful first, before you have the need for coverage."

How many drafts are enough?

Man typing on laptop

Stuart Horwitz brings some structure to answering a question that more than a few writers ask themselves: How many drafts does it take to turn out a finished story, book, or other piece of writing? His answer is three: "We’ll call the first draft the messy draft, which is all about getting it down. We’ll call the second draft the method draft, which is all about making sense. And we’ll call the third draft the polished draft, which is all about making it good."

The roots of new media storytelling

Scheherazade und Sultan Schariar

Some of today's most successful digital news sites are built on narrative foundations that Shakespeare would recognize, James Sullivan writes in a report on a Power of Narrative conference session by Upworthy’s editorial director, Amy O’Leary: "Just as Scheherazade preserves her own life by telling the murderous king a little more of her story each night – the ancient version of the cliffhanger – writers should always leave their readers wanting more."

Lessons for science writers from film

Studio lot

Journalism is nonfiction and film is mainly fiction, but science writers can still learn from screenwriting, Diana Crow writes: "Most science writing grad school programs include at least one unit on scripting and making documentaries. But I think that screenwriting has more to offer science writing than just a means of structuring story arcs. The techniques screenwriters use to develop characters, set up scenes, and deliver exposition can all be imported quite easily."

A fiction writer talks about scientists

Woman in silhouette against sky

Eileen Pollack writes about her struggle to produce a book about a biologist whose mother's death from Huntington’s chorea prompted her search for the gene that she too may have carried: "Writers have plenty of tricks for conveying technical information without ruining the pacing of a narrative. Think of the filmic strategies the director of The Big Short uses to explain the financial details of the mortgage fiasco without losing the attention of non-tycoons like me."