The Science of Everyday Life

This short, informal essay gives you a chance to satisfy your curiosity about the science of something close at hand, while at the same time practicing writing clear explanations and engaging your audience.


  • Class #3: Proposal Due
  • Class #4: Rough Draft Due, Workshop
  • Class #5: Group Member Responses Due
  • Class #7: Revised Essay Due


Here’s an opportunity to satisfy your curiosity about the science of something close at hand, something we encounter every day but to which most of us are blissfully oblivious. Write a short essay on an aspect of “everyday” science or technology that you would enjoy sharing with readers. Though you will have to do some research, this is not meant to be written as a research essay. You will keep quotes to a minimum and mostly summarize or paraphrase your sources, just as if you were writing for a general interest magazine.

Some possible topics:

  • How my guitar or cello makes music...
  • How my bicycle, DVR, or contact lenses work...
  • Chemistry of making bread, or grilling steak...
  • Why my dog likes to play catch; why my canary sings...
  • Materials engineering or physics of my tennis racket, Razor scooter, skateboard...
  • Why hurricanes or tornadoes occur when & where they do...
  • A scientific principle...

This essay must be accurate and clear, but that’s just the beginning. You aren’t writing a technical manual but, rather, an informal essay. So you must fascinate your reader, keep her or him reading, convince them that your topic matters. Some suggestions:

  • Begin by choosing a topic that genuinely interests you. If you aren’t interested, your reader won’t be, either.
  • Form a question or a series of questions about your topic to make your research efficient and to give your essay a shape. For example, Why does barbecued meat taste so good? What makes it taste different than meat cooked on a stove? or What allows my watch to tell time accurately? What makes it waterproof? Why are there so many puffy white clouds on summer days?
  • Note that you aren’t writing a history of the science or technology involved—you are explaining how something works.
  • As you write your essay, aim to present your information in a way that makes it easy for the reader to follow.
  • To make your subject easier to grasp and to interest readers, you’ll probably want to begin your essay with an anecdote or a problem from personal experience. You may continue to use personal experience in your essay if it helps you relate your ideas to readers. You may also find metaphors or analogies useful in explaining your topic.

Using sources: When you draw on sources for your essay, you must use your own language, not theirs. If you cannot summarize or paraphrase (i.e., significantly change the wording) then use quotation marks and name the source in your text. For example: As the Engineering Handbook notes, tensile strength “is best defined as...” DO NOT, however, use lengthy quotations—they will spoil the tone and rhythm of your essay.

Revising Your Essay

  1. Re-read all the comments you’ve received on your Science of Everyday Life essay, from classmates & instructor, and any notes you made.
  2. Re-read your essay, with the notes in mind.
  3. Consider: To revise means literally (etymologically) to “re-see”—to take stock of your essay’s meaning and its possibilities, and to do what it takes to achieve meaning for yourself, and meaning and pleasure in reading for your audience. So aim to re-see your essay and its potential. Don’t limit yourself to making line edits (copy editing): by itself, that’s not revision.
  4. Think especially about shaping your essay, so that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. And about clarity: that’s key to the success of this kind of essay.

Make sure to hand in your first drafts—the ones with comments—along with your new one. Also respond to these questions and hand in with your draft:

  1. What has changed in this draft? Please point to specific things.
  2. What’s the main focus in this draft?
  3. What do you like best about this essay?


  • 3–4 pp. double-spaced (1000–1250 words)