Significance editor Brian Tarran explains how members can get involved with writing for the RSS and ASA flagship statistics magazine.
As a member of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS), we hope you enjoy reading each issue of Significance. But have you ever considered writing for the magazine?
Significance exists to demonstrate and explain the valuable contributions made by statistics and statisticians in all areas of life – from policy and politics, to science and society, to business and beyond. It also provides a platform for statisticians to offer a statistical perspective on the big stories of the day.
The magazine would not be what it is without the brilliant contributions of RSS members, so we encourage you to share your stories and viewpoints with us. This is your opportunity to tell the world about the importance of statistics, and to perhaps inspire a new generation of statisticians and data scientists.
But before you set about writing for the magazine, we have some tips to share to help you craft a successful contribution.
- Make it relevant
Significance exists to tell stories about statistics, or to use statistics to shed light on problems old and new. But those stories and problems should be ones that all readers can relate to – regardless of their statistical background.
Our audience runs the gamut of experience from high-school and college students, to doctoral candidates, to professors and department chairs. But it also includes journalists, politicians, policy-makers and end-users of data. To appeal to such a diverse audience, your article ideally needs to find the human angle - the thing we can all relate to as people, regardless of our education, training and profession.
One of my favourite books to demonstrate this is Command and Control, by the US journalist Eric Schlosser. It is essentially a story about nuclear weapons safety systems, which might have been dry, technical and boring were it not for the way Schlosser weaves through his narrative the dramatic story of the 1980 Damascus Titan missile crisis, including the personal stories of the people on the ground who were killed or injured trying to avert a major nuclear disaster.
- Tell a story
Significance is a magazine. It is not an academic journal. That calls for a different style of writing than one you may be used to – but it is a style you will be familiar with if you have ever read a newspaper or magazine. Indeed, writing an engaging magazine article is no different to telling your friends and family a story over dinner.
First, you need to grab their attention by hinting at something they are going to want to learn about. Maybe it's about a story that's been in the news, or a debate that's been rumbling on for years, or maybe it's about something important they've never even thought of before. Whatever it is, you want to hook them in with a strong opening line and paragraph. You want to connect with them immediately so they are ready and willing to read on.
Second, you need to tell the story in a natural way. Don't frontload the article with a glossary or guide to all the things they'll need to learn about. Tell the reader about these things as they go. Segue from point to point in a way that makes sense and that builds a strong central narrative and a through-line from beginning to end. If you need to make digressions along the way, use sidebars or boxes - these allow you to keep the story focused, while providing additional information for those who want or need it.
Finally, make sure to craft a compelling ending - one that circles back round to your opening paragraphs, to demonstrate to the reader just how much they now know about the topic in question.
- Make it accessible
We do not expect readers to have a PhD in statistics in order to understand our articles, so they must be written accessibly. Of course, accessible means different things to different writers, so we ask that technical and jargon terms are avoided or explained clearly where used. Boxes and sidebars are also good to use for giving any detailed technical explanations that might otherwise distract from the flow of the main article.
We recognise that statistics is a complex area, and simple explanations of models, methods and processes are not always possible. In such instances, we ask that contributors explain the underlying concepts using real-life analogies wherever possible to ensure that readers of all levels are able to understand the work.
And if you want to check whether your writing is accessible before submitting, the best thing you can do is to show it to family and friends and ask them to point out the parts they struggle to understand. That's assuming, of course, that your family and friends aren't all expert statisticians!
I look forward to reading your story soon!