Science made simple

Cherie Winner, the science writer for Washington State Magazine, knows how to write for diverse audiences.

Whether writing for first-graders or teens, alumni or faculty, she has a talent for making science easy to understand. 

Winner earned her Ph.D. in zoology from Ohio State University and spent 15 years as a freelance writer. She has been writing for the magazine and WSU News Services since May 2005.

Her love for science and learning new things is her driving force. 

“Scientists are excited about what they are doing and I like talking to people who are excited about their work,” she said.

Part of her job is staying aware of research being done on campus and keeping her eyes open for good stories.

“There are so many stories to be told,” she said. 

Looking for ongoing projects sometimes means walking up and down the hallways in science buildings and asking colleagues what is going on. Since she is surrounded by a plenitude of research, picking just a few stories is sometimes the frustration of her job.  

Winner said she tries to be aware of her own biases and personal interests when choosing a topic. Going out of her comfort zone is part of the fun, she said.
“The first story I wrote for the magazine was about mathematics and statistics. That was way out of my background,” she said.    

No matter how complex the story is, Winner keeps her writing simple enough for a general reader to understand and find interesting. She puts articles together like a story, removes unnecessary jargon and aims to capture the scientists’ enthusiasm for their work.

Science for all
Winner has published about 20 children’s books on topics including wildlife, erosion, camping and even cryobiology (the study of the effects of very low temperatures on living organisms). She won a 2006 Children’s Choice Award for her book, “Cryobiology.”

Writing for a young audience requires her to boil down the science to the most basic components. It can be a challenge to simplify without leading to the wrong conclusion, she said.  

Some of her books are serious, but some allow her to be humorous and show her lighter side. She said she tries to think like a kid and include analogies or a “gee-whiz factor” to make the science interesting and memorable.

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