Hello again dear readers. This week I took a look at two pieces cut from the same cloth: a scientific journal article, and a health news article about that scientific paper. The topic discussed was the health of Victorian diets compared to what modern Americans and Europeans eat. The general conclusion was that the Victorian diet was much healthier primarily because it contained much more fruits and vegetables (which don’t technically exist scientifically speaking), but that’s not what I’m here to discuss. What I want to talk about is the way both of these pieces are written.
At first glance, you’ll notice that the news article is much shorter than the scientific paper. It also uses more common and succinct language, while the scientific paper is filled with technical details and uses some specific terminology (read: jargon) that probably require a mild science background (I definitely didn’t know what phytonutrients were). The news article cites a few very general facts about Victorians to help convince people that they’re not just making information up, while the scientific paper has a veritable laundry list of historical citations. It references everything from starvation rates to necessary calorie intake just to prove that people in that time weren’t malnourished. The journal article is certainly more robust.
Now, I’m not trying to turn everyone off to the scientific article (in fact, chances are if you’re reading this you’re my English professor, in which case I hope you’ve already read both papers), but I am saying that it is much more ‘meaty’ than the news article. That’s not to say that the two are entirely different. Both papers attempt to refute myths about widespread Victorian malnourishment, both use factual information to try and convince their readers of the points they make (*cough* logos), and both attempt to prove that the Victorian diet is significantly healthier than what is considered a modern day western diet. They use many of the same techniques to make these points, but the major difference is the ‘barrier to entry’ so to speak. I think scientific papers are written very much under the assumption that they will be read exclusively by those with a background, or at least significant interest, in the topic (and their English students). And the news articles are more of a succinct way to share information with the general public, in this case, maybe those who are looking to try a new diet. As long as the news articles don’t become too sensationalist, I think the two forms of writing complement each other nicely and can allow anyone to get the level of information they desire (provided they have access to the journal, but that’s a completely separate issue).