Science Communication: The Eight Ideas I Keep Coming Back To

Photo credit: alkruse24. Retrieved via Flickr and shared under a Creative Commons license. Click for more information.
Photo credit: alkruse24. Retrieved via Flickr and shared under a Creative Commons license. Click for more information.

I get asked to give a lot of talks on science communication. These talks cover a lot of ground: metrics, writing, social media, working with reporters, you name it. But I recently realized that, while the details vary significantly depending on the subject, I end up stressing the same key ideas.

Ultimately, I think the basics of practical science communication boil down to eight ideas that can be expressed in 10 words.

Four of those ideas (and five of the words) are communication fundamentals: Audience; Goals; Metrics; and Evaluate/Adjust. I’ve written about this before, under the heading of Communication 101.

The remaining ideas are about how you develop content, and I’ll tackle those separately.

Hook: You need to grab your audience’s attention (without being intellectually dishonest). If you don’t give someone a compelling reason to keep reading/watching/listening, then they’ll stop. They have other things to do.

Context: Science is an iterative process and findings/knowledge don’t exist in a vacuum. Ergo, you must place those findings (or that knowledge) in context. Without context it’s difficult for your audience to understand and appreciate the work.

Shared Language: Write for intelligent non-experts. This makes interdisciplinary work possible. More on that here and here.

Ethics: Be honest, open, and transparent; consider the impact of your work (and how you’re framing a subject) on others. Want an example? Check out this article by a woman whose child has Zika. It’s basically an open letter to reporters who write about Zika’s potential link to microcephaly, asking them to remember that patients with microcephaly and their families may be reading those stories. (Is this technically “ethics”? Maybe not. But it’s about behaving like a decent human being, so I’m lumping it in there.)

Are there other themes that crop up? You bet, but I don’t pound these points home as often (though maybe I should). Critical thinking is one – it’s essential to implementing any of these things. Creativity, too. And, while I’m at it, I’ll add this: don’t be afraid to fail. It’s important to experiment and try new things, as long as you’re honest with yourself when they’re not working (which is one place metrics can help).

So, now that I’ve thrown this out there, what do you think?

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5 thoughts on “Science Communication: The Eight Ideas I Keep Coming Back To

  1. Good point, David. All of these things *do* apply to communication efforts broadly, though some of them (e.g., shared language) may be worth stressing in a science communication context. But really I framed these as key ideas for practical science communication because, well, this blog is dedicated to practical science communication.

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  2. Great post. Agree with David, these are critical to any comms. But I would add ‘images’ especially for science comm. There is plenty of research showing that visuals can help communicate complex concepts. Plus ambiguous/wrong images can easily misrepresent a key science story or perpetuate myths – e.g. overuse of images of honey bees on stories about pollinator conservation can simply enhance the myth that honey bees are the ‘best’ pollinator (although evidence shows they’re not).

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  3. Pingback: How to Ace an Interview with a Science Journalist [Part 2] | Diana Crow

  4. Pingback: #SciComm resource round-up | Beyond the Written Word:

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