Professional Writing

The Science of Writing

Writing is not an art; it’s better than that.

Or, more correctly, does it matter if writing’s an art, a science or even a humanity and does it have to be just one of them?

My belief is that it’s the attitude of how you treat the subject and the attitude to writing as an art, science or humanity makes a world of difference.

Word Science
Word Science

Arts and crafts

Arts are seen as crafts, each artist unique, their work imitable but not reproducible as it’s the sum of all previous, unique, experience.

I generalise hugely, but I see the central belief of writing as an art is the attitude that you either have it or you don’t, it’s your calling, and if you want to become better all you can do is practice and self-reflect – it’s down to you and you alone.

Arts and eras

Yet we, people, like art. Art defines eras more than science (has anyone outside of physics heard of 1905 described as annus mirabilis?) yet artistic eras come easily to mind – the Renaissance, Gothic, Art Deco.

While writing isn’t the sole definition of an artistic period, it is part of the wider cultural movement. John Donne, The Great Gatsby, Brett Easton Ellis are linked very much as shaping and being shaped by the times.


“The humanities” – a malleable definition if there ever was and I’m not going to hammer out a new one. At my school humanities was the study of history – and its relatives including my chosen child, archaeology – geography and religion.

They are about people, even geography, which focused on humans and the land.

Stories too are about people. Even tales with few ‘real people’ like Watership Down or TRON ending up being about people, they anthropomorphised their subjects and presented in a way to engage their human audience.

Data and people

Unlike art, humanities also collect data – data on people, on use and on things that affect lives. It also makes judgments and evaluations.

However the most judgmental of disciplines is science. Science is man’s measure, evaluator, tool, critic. It pokes and studies, alters and remeasures and publishes.

It is cold and exact, uncaring and indifferent if its work harms or helps humans.

That’s its image based on pop-culture, but how much of this has been produced by science itself.

Robert Millikan

Robert Millikan
Artistic licence

Robert Millikan helped devise the oil drop experiment that helped determine the charge of the electron and throw an electric light on the new world of sub-atomic physics.

However, Millikan may have discovered more than this, or not even the proper charge of the electron – he had to judge and interpret his results. We know now his results were slightly yet he won the Nobel Prize – his experiment, it seems, was flawed yet he chose which results to publish and went ahead anyway.

Messy science

This example reminds me of my days of scientific study – results are not neat, they never match the neat graphs and charts, even when following an expected test.

Science is as much about the scientist and their skill, judgment – and following their instinct.

Just like an artist. So how can I argue that one is better than the other?

Greater than the parts

What makes science greater than art to me is not the discipline. Artists work hard, like scientists the greatest have had training and spend years on their topic. They come together in movements but it seems to me to be more coincidental than through shared development.

The advantage to me of science is not the hard work of the individual, or even the study of data. It’s the attitude to others – science is about replicable, shared ideas.

The whole point of Considered Words is not just to study writing and produce data, it’s about sharing it freely and openly for others to reproduce, debate and share.

Science can artistic, but sharing is the beauty of science. And that’s what makes it the greatest.

By Jonathan Richardson

Jonathan Richardson is a writer and the editor of Considered Words.

He's worked as a journalist, writer and analyst for organisations including the BBC and Which? He's also written for the stage in Cambridge, radio and sketches at the Edinburgh festival.

He's now a freelance writer and data analyst.

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