Popular scientific literature

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As popular science literature literature holds that scientific subjects should provide understandable and entertaining for many individuals as possible.

Features of popular science literature

Popular scientific literature is not aimed at scientists, but rather at the interested layman. Structure, form, style and mostly also the scientific level are accordingly different from scientific publications . Often children or young people are also the target group. There is no concrete “popular science”. The authors of popular scientific literature are usually texts by scientists or science journalists who are based on information from scientific texts aimed at a specialized audience with complex and therefore difficult to understand content for non-specialist laypeople.

In popular scientific publications, the methods of scientific work and the use of scientific terms are largely avoided. Usually, facts are presented without checking and fully citing sources. Often the publications are written in a journalistic style and less in a scientific style. They are therefore only partially quotable in scientific papers . As a rule, the authors endeavor to simplify the state of research on the respective topic without using the technical terminology customary in the sciences and to convey it in a generally understandable manner, but not to present their own or new results.

On the usual apparatus of scientific work such as For example, footnotes , other forms of comments , detailed bibliographies and (with exceptions) literature references are not used in popular scientific papers, because these features are more required in internal academic communication , but those outside the scientific community tend to react negatively.

Since popular science texts are aimed at a non-specialist (lay) audience, it is important to enable an understanding of various changes; Otherwise, content that is too complex can frighten off the layperson, with the result that the layperson will turn away from popular scientific work. In this way, the wealth of information in a popular scientific work is reduced in comparison to the underlying scientific work - for example, by dispensing with information about the researchers, research groups and sites or keeping it unspecific. Furthermore, there is a reduction in the (measurement) results of experiments - especially if based on original scientific work; the results are only briefly summarized. The information density also decreases from an original scientific work, in which the information is strongly condensed and briefly presented, to a popular scientific one, in that the information that has not been abbreviated is supplemented by other information that supports and illustrates understanding. The syntax and structure of a popular science text can have more variations than that of a scientific text that is written according to a standardized pattern. Weitze and Heckel see four of the following four main features of intelligibility:

  • Simplicity through short words and sentences with a simple structure and concrete examples;
  • simple arrangement and structuring of thoughts, for example by means of paragraphs that clarify contexts of meaning, and the arrangement of information according to its meaning (ie: the most important things at the beginning of a sentence)
  • short and concise spelling through the use of verbs and the avoidance of nouns and unnecessary debauchery;
  • Pictorial language and visual means of representation such as images and graphics should also stimulate.


One of the trailblazers for popularization in the technical field is Johann Beckmann (1739–1811), who developed "General Technology" as early as the 18th century in order to disseminate general technical education that could also be useful in everyday life, including in contributions on the history of inventions (5 volumes, Leipzig 1783–1805). Industrialization in particular contributed to the rise of popular scientific literature in the 19th century.

The book Volksnaturlehre zur Dampen des Superstlaubens by Johann Heinrich Helmuth (first published in 1786) is one of the first books written in the popular science style. It was in great demand due to its diverse and entertaining content and was published in a total of 15 editions by 1853. It was intended to impart basic scientific knowledge in many areas in order to combat the superstitions that thrive on ignorance .

Chambers's Edinburgh Journal ( Edinburgh , 1832–1956) and The Penny Magazine ( London , 1832–1845) were among the first mass-circulation journals that also dealt with the communication of science . The Pfennig magazine (Leipzig, 1833–1855) and the Gartenlaube (Leipzig from 1853), which was founded shortly afterwards, pioneered the genre on the German-speaking market.

Important authors and their popular scientific works

Wilhelm Ostwald : Inventors and Discoverers , Frankfurt am Main 1905  - Internet Archive



Mathematics / computer science


Popular science journals (selection)

Due to the large number of copies, these are also available at an ordinary kiosk and are also included in popular scientific literature :


  • Andreas W. Daum: Science popularization in the 19th century. Civil culture, scientific education and the German public, 1848–1914. Dissertation . 2nd, supplemented edition. Oldenbourg, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-486-56551-6 .
  • Jörg Döring , Sonja Lewandowski, David Oels (eds.): Rowohlts German Encyclopedia. Science in paperback 1955–68 (=  Non Fiktion. Arsenal der other genres 12.2, 2017). Wehrhahn, Hannover 2017, ISBN 978-3-86525-582-2 .

Individual evidence

  1. Berit Sandberg: Scientific work from illustration to quotation . 2nd Edition. Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-486-74186-5 , p. 72 .
  2. a b Jürg Niederhauser: The writing of popular scientific texts as a transfer of scientific texts . In: Dagmar Knorr, Eva-Maria Jakobs (ed.): Writing in the Sciences . 2: Writing in the Sciences. Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften, 1997, ISBN 978-3-631-30969-8 , p. 107-122 .
  3. ^ A b Marc-Denis Weitze, Wolfgang M. Heckl: Science communication - key ideas, actors, case studies . 1st edition. Springer Spectrum, Berlin, Heidelberg 2016, ISBN 978-3-662-47843-1 .
  4. Erhard Taverna: Interpreting. In: Swiss Medical Journal. 93/2012, No. 16, 2012, p. 610 (PDF)
  5. Folk nature theory to dampen superstition. Facsimile edition of the Saxon State Library - State and University Library Dresden. (PDF; 126 MB)
  6. Lisa Rodensky: The Oxford Handbook of the Victorian Novel . In: Oxford Handbooks of Literature . OUP Oxford, Oxford 2013, ISBN 978-0-19-953314-5 , pp. 45 .
  7. Klaus Taschwer : From the cosmos to the wonder world - About popular science magazines then and now . In: Peter Faulstich (Ed.): Public Science: New Perspectives on Mediation in Scientific Further Education . Transcript Verlag , 2015, ISBN 978-3-8394-0455-3 , pp.  74, 75 .