CurioCity Writing Guide for Volunteer Authors

Latest additions and updates

Quick links

Contents

Before you start

Please make sure that you have registered as a Let’s Talk Science volunteer on the Volunteer Portal and that you have submitted an online bibliography. Details are provided on the "Getting Started" page.

Back to top

About Let’s Talk Science and CurioCity

More than half of Canadian high school students opt out of taking senior-level science and math courses. Most teens recognize that STEM skills and knowledge are important to society in general. But they don’t think these subjects relate to their own lives and interests.

Let’s Talk Science hopes to change this through programs like CurioCity.

Created with the classroom in mind, CurioCity is a web-based program intended to be appealing to both educators and students. It connects students and teachers with the STEM community, while giving students a place to explore STEM issues.

One of the key ways it achieves these goals is by publishing short articles written by volunteers like yourself. By approaching interesting STEM-related topics in an original way that will capture the attention of teens, you can help students in Grades 8-12 (Secondary II-V) see how STEM is relevant to them.

Articles published on CurioCity are supported by a range of other resources available to students and educators. For example, many articles feature Starting Points, a series of questions that help promote thought and discussion in the classroom.

Back to top

Your commitment as a volunteer author

Writing articles for CurioCity offers a lot of flexibility. We don’t request any formal time commitment and you can choose to write a single article or several throughout the year. If, at any time, you no longer want to receive communications from CurioCity, please contact us at volunteers@explorecuriocity.org.

You should be prepared to write your article within the two weeks after your assignment sheet is approved. You will normally receive feedback on your submission within two weeks. We request that you submit any revisions within the following week. After that, your article will normally be published within a week.

Altogether, the publishing process normally takes about 45 days from the time you choose a topic to the time your article is published. Here is a summary of the process. Details on each step are provided in the next section of this guide.

Author activity

Time

Editing team activity

You choose a topic and submit an assignment sheet.

Three days

An editor approves your assignment sheet.

You prepare and submit your article.

Two weeks

An editor sends you confirmation that your submission has been received.

Two weeks

The editing team reviews your submission, makes edits and comments, and returns the article to you for revisions.

You make any necessary revisions to your article and notify the editing team when they are complete.

One week

Once your article is published, you log your hours on the Let’s Talk Science Volunteer Portal.

One week

The editing team reviews your revisions, makes final edits, and publishes your article. You will receive an email with a link to the published article.

Back to top

The publication process

Choosing a topic and submitting an assignment sheet

New volunteers should always begin by reading a few recently-published articles. This will give you a better idea of the sorts of topics that are covered, as well as how different authors present scientific information in a way that is accessible and interesting for teens.

Ideas for new articles are regularly posted on the CurioCity Volunteers Facebook Page by staff and volunteers. You can also contact us at volunteers@explorecuriocity.org to discuss articles ideas.

Articles that feature clear curriculum connections are more likely to be used by educators. A list of topics covered in Grades 8-12 (Secondary II-V) in different provinces is available here. Challenge yourself to make even the most obscure curriculum topics interesting and relevant to teens!

If your article is inspired by a particular study or news article, avoid simply rewriting or summarizing what is already available online. Try to approach your topic in an original way that will grab teens’ attention. For example, you could narrow the focus to a specific concept that teens need to understand to see the relevance of new research or to be able to properly discuss what’s in the news. Or you could highlight how a specific piece of news or research is relevant to broader STEM-related issues.

Avoid writing an article that simply presents a list of facts, however interesting or relevant they may be. Always try to explain some of the science behind the facts you present. Why is a particular fact true and how have researchers studied the question? What scientific concepts do the facts in your article illustrate?

Before submitting your assignment sheet, make sure that a similar article has not already been published. Click on the magnifying glass in the upper left corner of the screen and select Articles from the Resources menu in the search panel. Search for a few keywords related to your chosen topic and review the results. If you do find that a similar article has already been published, try and think of ways that you could modify your article to make it more original.

Once you’ve settled on a topic, it’s time to submit an assignment sheet. Tell the editors what you want to write about, what sources you plan to use, and how you will make the topic relevant to teens. Within three days of submitting your assignment sheet, a member of the editing team will contact you to either give you the go-ahead to start writing or to ask for more details on your topic.

Writing and submitting an article

The article you submit should include all of the following elements:

  • A title that is “catchy” but still reflects the content of the article. A reader should know what an article is about by reading the title.
  • A main text that is 500-700 words long. It should begin with an introductory paragraph that will pique the reader's interest for the general topic while letting them know what specific subjects will be discussed. Subsequent paragraphs should each address a specific point raised in the introduction. The article should finish with a concluding paragraph that sums up your main points. The conclusion is a great place to offer some suggestions for further investigation and discovery, or to ask readers what they think about a particular question raised in the article. Please see the Additional guidelines section for more information on writing your article.
  • At least two Fast Facts (“Did you know?”) that are no more than two sentences long. These should be interesting details that are related to the topic of your article but aren’t included in the article itself. Fast Facts need to make sense on their own, since they won’t always appear directly alongside your article.
  • Parenthetical citations and a list of references. Please see the References and citations section for details.

The sample article included in this guide provides an example of what your article should look like upon submission.

Also, feel free to suggest any images, videos or other media you think would complement your article. Make sure these are teen-friendly and include any relevant information on the rights associated with the media: where you found them, who owns the copyright, whether they are free to reproduce, etc. Wikimedia Commons has a large collection of free-to-reproduce media. Let’s Talk Science also has an account with iStockphoto for stock photography and other media.

Refer to the email approving your assignment sheet for instructions on how to submit your article.

Receiving feedback and making revisions

Because of CurioCity’s mandate and target audience, all articles go through an extensive editing process. This helps ensure not only that the content is accurate and appropriate for teens, but also that ideas are clearly expressed and concepts are easy to understand.

Our articles may be much less detailed and specialized than those published in scholarly journals. However, this does not mean they require any less time and attention from authors and editors. In fact, you may find that CurioCity articles undergo even more extensive editing.

After you submit your article, it will be reviewed and edited by two members of the editing team. The copy editor will focus on logic, flow, clarity, and readability. The science editor will check all of the facts in your article against your references and evaluate how well you explain scientific issues and concepts.

Within two weeks of submitting your article, you will receive an email from a member of the editing team with a link to a Google document. This file will contain an edited version of your article, along with comments and questions from the editors.

Don’t turn red if you see lots of “red”! Edits and revisions are a normal part of the publishing process. The goal is for you and the editing team to work together to produce the best possible article. Don’t hesitate to ask any questions you might have. Please review the comments and edits, make any necessary revisions, and return the article within a week.

Please don’t procrastinate when it comes to making revisions! Unfortunately, many articles come close to publication but take longer than necessary (or are never published at all) because we are waiting on the author for minor corrections.

Final edits, publication and logging your hours

The editing team will review your revisions and make any necessary final edits. We will also look for images and other media to go along with the article. We will do our best to incorporate any suggestions you have made.

You will be notified by email when your article is published. News of your article’s publication will also be posted on the CurioCity Facebook page and Twitter feed.

The notification email will include a reminder to log your hours via the portal. Please do this right away! In particular, logging your activities and providing feedback allows us to:

  • Keep a record of your contribution to Let’s Talk Science and CurioCity so that we can share this information with you on request and incorporate it in any letters of reference.
  • Demonstrate to supporters and partners the time and effort that is contributed by our volunteers.
  • Better understand how we can improve the volunteering process.
  • Share your contributions with your local Let’s Talk Science Outreach site (as applicable) so that you may receive recognition at the local level and contribute toward your site’s goals.

Back to top

Additional guidelines

Attribution

Ensure you’ve properly credited all sources of information. CurioCity takes plagiarism seriously. If you find that another writer’s words or ideas will add to your article, you are free to include them as long as they are properly attributed.

For example, if you are paraphrasing information, simply say something like: “According to Dr. Jane Smith at the University of Cleveland, …” or “…, as explained in a press release issued by the Institute for Science.”

In general, you should avoid direct quotations unless the exact wording used in the source is key to your argument. If you do use a direct quotation, use quotation marks and specify the name and title of the person being cited. For example: “‘The government of Canada does not regulate the price of medical isotopes, which is determined by private companies contracted to the provinces,’ says Health Canada spokeswoman Christelle Legault.”

The source of the quotation or the information you paraphrase should always appear in your list of references.

Opinion and debate

Feel free to draw on personal experiences to build a stronger rapport with the reader and make your topic more relatable. For example, you could talk about how you became interested in the topic, or how it has affected you personally.However, you should avoid expressing your personal opinions on controversial subjects.

In cases where there is no scientific consensus on a general topic or a specific point, you should be careful to explain the different sides of the issue. In particular, you should explain how experts reach different conclusions based on different evidence or by interpreting evidence differently. 

Readability

Ensure you article is accessible to students with a range of literacy levels by avoiding jargon, using simple language, and keeping sentences short. Articles published on CurioCity should have a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score of 10 or lower. You can test your writing at www.readability-score.com. Paste the content of your article (don’t include the list of references) into the text box on the left. The website will provide a series of scores on the right. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level will be the first one in the “Grade Levels” section. 

Don’t worry if the score for your article is a little high upon submission. The editing team will work with you to bring it down.

Teen-friendly writing

As you write, never forget your audience. Junior high or high school students should be able to understand your article and find it interesting. That includes students who aren’t all that interested in science (yet!).

With so many things competing for teens’ attention, you need to provide tight, focused, digestible snippets of information. However, this should not be to the detriment of the article's scientific content. If you need to use a few more words to explain a concept, do it!

When giving scientific explanations, use clear, simple, everyday language. Use analogies that help explain concepts in terms the reader will understand. If you feel a more involved explanation is necessary, try to find an appropriate explanation or description in another CurioCity article or on another website and provide a hyperlink to it.

Whenever appropriate, use the second person singular (“you”) to address the reader more directly and personally. For example, instead of “When a person exercises, their heart rate increases,” write “When you exercise, your heart rate increases.” Also, avoid using the first person plural (“we”) by being more specific. When you say “we”, do you mean Canadians? Students? Scientists? Human beings?

Equations

Whenwever possible, please submit any equations in MathML. Otherwise, please use the equation editor in Microsoft Word and submit the equation in a Word file (not in an image file).

Back to top

References and citations

The editing team uses the list of references you provide with your article in two different ways:

  1. To identify where your found your information.
  2. To suggest additional online resources to students.

Please keep both of these goals in mind as you prepare your list of references.

Identifying where you found your information

The editing team uses your references and corresponding parenthetical citations to fact-check your article, better understand how you researched your topic, and evaluate the overall strength of your sources. It is important that you clearly identify what sources you used, particularly when you discuss information that is not generally known or opinions that are controversial.

As you build your list of references, include all sources you used to prepare the article. Number any reference that support a claim or statement of fact and, in the article itself, add a parenthetical citation with the corresponding number after the claim or statement. For examples, see the sample article included in this guide.

Always check multiple sources to confirm that what you write is, in fact, correct. Often, there are mistakes on the web and sometimes there may not be any published research or concrete evidence to back up what someone else has said.

As much as possible, try to use sources that are freely available online, including articles from open-access academic journals. If you do use print sources or online sources that require a subscription to access, please submit a PDF copy along with your article for the use of the editing team. 

Suggesting resources to readers

We also use your references to build a list of online resources that readers can use to learn more about the topic. Some references may be included as hyperlinks in the main text, while others may be included in the Learn more! section at the end of the article.

If you cite printed sources or materials that are not freely available online in your list of references, please try to also include similar sources that are freely available online. That way, the editing team can prepare a more well-rounded Learn More! section.

You are also encouraged to suggest resources that you did not necessarily use when writing the article, but which provide students with additional insight or learning opportunities.

Finally, try to provide a range of different types of sources. For example, news articles and websites designed for teens or the general public will provide students with an opportunity to quickly learn more about a topic. Papers published in scientific journals will give them an idea of how your topic relates to ongoing research and how scientists present the results of their work.

Choosing credible references

Good referencing means your article is more likely to be used by teachers in the classroom, since educators feel more confident using articles that list credible references.

Many schools do not consider Wikipedia and other crowdsourced websites an appropriate or reliable source of information. However, the most reliable articles on Wikipedia are extensively footnoted and include a comprehensive list of sources. So if you do use Wikipedia during your initial research on a topic, you can use these references to find sources of information that you can verify and that will be more acceptable to teachers (and useful to students).

In general, try to use sources with the following characteristics:

  • Written by a qualified professional -- scientist, researcher, science journalist, etc.
  • Issued by a reputable publisher -- scientific journal, government agency, respected newspaper or magazine, etc.
  • Dated --  publication date or date updated clearly indicated.
  • Annotated -- even if the source doesn’t include footnotes or a list of references, it should give a clear idea of where the author got their information.

Avoid sources that appear strongly biased or are designed to sell a product, unless you’re using them as examples of one side in a debate or how a technology is marketed.

Reference format

For each source, please provide the following information:

  • Title
  • Year of publication or last update, whichever is more recent (if available). Do not rely on the general copyright date for a website.
  • Name(s) of author(s). For single authors, provide the full name. For up to five authors, provide first initials and full last names. For six or more authors, provide first initial and full last name for first author, followed by “et al.”
  • Name of publication or publisher. In the case of scientific journals, place the title in italics and include the volume number, if applicable.
  • Link to a complete reference or the document itself. If neither the document nor a complete reference is available online, please provide a complete reference in a standard format (ACS, APA, ASM, etc.)

For example (see the sample article included in this guide for more examples):

Back to top

Article checklist

Please ensure that your article meets all of these basic criteria before submitting. When articles are submitted with key elements missing, it creates unnecessary delays in publishing.

❏ The article has a title.

❏ The article has an introduction and a conclusion.

❏ The body of the article is less than 1000 words long (ideally, articles should be 500-700 words long).

❏ You have proofread and reviewed the article for spelling, grammar, logic, and clarity.

❏ The article includes at least two Fast Facts (1-2 sentences each) that are relevant to the article but can also stand on their own.

❏ All technical terms have been explained so that a Grade 8 (Secondary II) student will understand the article.

❏ You made an effort to make the article interesting for a teen audience with concrete examples, real-life experiences, analogies, and references to popular culture.

❏ You relied on multiple sources of information, provided a list of appropriate references, and properly attributed other writers’ words and ideas.

❏ You used parenthetical citations to indicate what information corresponds to which references.

❏ You have read and understood the license agreement for submitting content to Let’s Talk Science. By submitting content to Let’s Talk Science for consideration, you are agreeing to the terms of the licence agreement.

Back to top

Sample article

This is what an article should look like when submitted to the publication editor. Note that there is minimal formatting and the article includes parenthetical citations.

Outbreak: The Ebola virus

Kelly Resmer

Imagine an infection that causes you to bleed from every opening in your body - nose, ears, eyes, and even the pores on your skin! It sounds like something from a horror movie, but it is actually an extreme symptom of the Ebola virus disease, also known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever. Occasionally, Africa experiences an outbreak of Ebola in the human population, when the number of cases is much higher than what would normally be expected in a particular region. One such outbreak began in West Africa in early 2014, and by mid August there had been over 1,800 confirmed cases, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths. (1)

The disease is spread from person to person through contact with infected bodily fluids such as blood, stool, vomit, saliva, urine, and semen. Disease symptoms may not appear until 2 to 21 days after infection, and infected people are not contagious from the time they are first exposed to the virus until they start to show symptoms. This is called the incubation period. Patients become contagious once they start to show symptoms. Initial symptoms are similar to the flu - fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting. Therefore, anyone presenting flu-like symptoms is treated as if they have Ebola. Things can quickly get a lot worse: organs such as the kidneys and liver start to shut down and internal and external bleeding occur. (2) Patients with Ebola are cared for by preventing dehydration, and some eventually recover from the disease.

Sadly there is no cure or vaccine for this disease, although a few people have been treated with an experimental drug called ZMapp with encouraging results. Canadian scientists are among those working on drugs that could treat, prevent or even cure Ebola. On August 12, 2014, the Canadian government announced that it was offering 1,000 doses of VSV-EBOV, an experimental vaccine, to the World Health Organization.(3,4) Scientists are not exactly sure how or where the Ebola virus first appeared in animals and how it spread to humans. Some believe that fruit bats act as a host for the disease, spreading it to other animals that come in contact with saliva or faeces from infected bats. the disease may have initially spread to humans from infected monkeys that are frequently hunted and consumed in rural Africa.(5)

Coming in contact with infected blood, organs or bodily tissues and secretions can spread the disease. There is also evidence that the disease in Africa was also spread to humans through infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, forest antelope and porcupines after coming into contact with infected blood, milk or raw or undercooked meat. Health care workers take precautions such as wearing gloves, long-sleeved gowns and face masks. (5) As of the end of the summer, the 2014 Ebola outbreak has not spread outside of Africa. (6) However, related viruses, such as the much less deadly the Reston virus, have been observed in other parts of the world. People infected with the Reston virus typically do not develop symptoms, meaning that the virus does not actually cause disease in humans. (6)

Ebola outbreaks have been contained with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO), which helps monitor outbreaks, treat patients for dehydration, ensure proper burial of the deceased and, most importantly, educate the public about the disease. (7) Infection control measures put in place during outbreaks include hand washing, thoroughly cooking meat, the use of protective equipment by hospital workers and those handling infected animals. Ebola is a scary disease. However, scientists working hard to find ways to treat, prevent and eventually cure it. In the meantime, the WHO and other public health agencies are keeping outbreaks contained and educating the public about the disease and how it is spread.

Did you know? Ebola virus disease is one of the world’s most deadly infections. It causes death in up to 90% of those infected. (8)

Did you know? The Ebola virus is named after the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The first outbreak of the disease occurred in the nearby village of Yambuku in 1976. (9)

Did you know? Scientists who study dangerous diseases like Ebola work in in Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) labs, which follow very strict security procedures and safety protocols to keep scientists and the public safe. (I)

References:

  1. 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa - Outbreak Distribution Map (2014)
    US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/resources/distribution-map-guinea-outbreak.html
  2. Ebola virus - pathogen safety data sheet - infectious substances (2014)
    Public Health Agency of Canada
    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/lab-bio/res/psds-ftss/ebolaeng.php
  3. Ebola: Experimental drugs and vaccines (2014)
    BBC News Health
    http://www.bbc.com/news/health-28663217
  4. Canadians leading anti-Ebola research (2014)
    Jaya Rastogi, Canadian Medical Association Journal
    http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2014/07/28/cmaj.109-4869
  5. Ebola virus ecology - Virus ecology graphic (2014)
    US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention
    http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/resources/virus-ecology.html
  6. Ebola virus disease (2014)
    World Health Organization
    http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/
  7. Ebola virus disease: background and summary (2014)
    World Health Organization
    http://www.who.int/csr/don/2014_04_ebola/en/
  8. Ebola response roadmap (2014)
    World Health Organization
    http://www.who.int/csr/resources/publications/ebola/response-roadmap/en/
  9. Biosafety level 4 laboratory tour (2007)
    US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
    http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/biodefenserelated/biodefense/publicmedia/labtour/Pages/default.aspx  
  10. Ebola 101: The Facts Behind A Frightening Virus (2014)
    Linda Poon, National Public Radio
    http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/07/10/330133944/ebola-101-the-facts-behind-a-frightening-virus
  11. Frequently asked question on the Ebola virus disease (2014)
    World Health Organization
    http://www.who.int/csr/disease/ebola/faq-ebola/en/

Back to top

Legal aspects of content contribution

Summary

Let’s Talk Science appreciates and respects you contribution as a volunteer. Any original material you submit to Let’s Talk Science remains yours, but we do reserve the right to modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform or display, reproduce and distribute that material in connection with Let’s Talk Science. We will always make reasonable efforts to resolve any disputes regarding content you submit to Let’s Talk Science. Please be sure you are comfortable with the following legal description for use of volunteer content by Let’s Talk Science. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this or any other aspects of content use, please contact Sara Steers at ssteers@letstalkscience.ca.

Content License Agreement

The content license agreement is a contract between the author (you) and Let’s Talk Science, and describes the obligations and conditions of both the author and Let’s Talk Science with relation to publishing your content on CurioCity. Please read this document before submitting any written work to Let’s Talk Science.

Content Licence Agreement for CurioCity

Whereas the Contributor provided certain material (which may include, without limitation, photographs, images, audio, video, written material or computer software) (the “Material”) to Let’s Talk Science for use in Let’s Talk Science programs and services in return for certain consideration from Let’s Talk Science, and this document is to confirm Let’s Talk Science’s ability to use the Material;

In consideration of the premises, where the Contributor has voluntarily provided the material at no cost , the mutual covenants contained herein and other good and valuable consideration (the receipt and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged), the parties agree as follows:

  1. The recitals are true and correct.
  2. The Contributor retains ownership of the Material. The Contributor hereby grants to Let’s Talk Science a non-exclusive irrevocable license to use, modify, delete from, add to, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce, and distribute the Material, but only in connection with Let’s Talk Science and its promotion.
  3. The Contributor hereby waives all moral rights he/she may have in the Material.
  4. The Contributor confirms that he/she: (a) is the author of the Material; (b) has not included in the Material any open source or third party created material or anything that would infringe the intellectual property or other rights of any other party; (c) has obtained a release from any individuals appearing in any photographs included in the Material allowing the use granted herein; (d) has the right to grant this license; and (e) is not entitled to any compensation of any kind for Let’s Talk Science’s use of the Material except as recited above.
  5. This agreement is binding and enures to the benefit of the parties, their successors and assigns.
  6. The parties agree to sign other instruments, and to do and perform all other acts which may be necessary and desirable in order to give full effect to this agreement.
  7. This agreement will be interpreted in accordance with and governed by the laws of the Province of Ontario, Canada, excluding conflicts of laws provisions.

Back to top

Changes to previously published articles

CurioCity is meant to be a current source of scientific information for teens. After some time, and depending on the content of your article, it may have to be updated or removed. This does not mean we don't appreciate your work! During our periodic content reviews, your article may be tagged for revision if it is found to be no longer relevant or if it contains out-of-date information, broken links, or other issues.

In cases where fixes are required, small changes, such as updating links, will be made by volunteers or the editing team. Where major changes are required, you will be contacted at the last email address we have on file by our editing team (so keep that portal account updated!), and you will be offered the opportunity to revise the article. If you do not respond within one week, or decline, we may make necessary updates to the article.

In cases where an article is removed from CurioCity, we will also attempt to contact you and provided with a brief explanation of why the article is being retired.