01 mei 5 tips to improve your science communication
5 TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR SCIENCE COMMUNICATION
Written by: Lonneke Opsteegh
Science communication is, watch out, not the same as scientific communication. According to Wikipedia, science communication is:
“the practice of informing, educating, sharing wonderment, and raising awareness of science-related topics”
True science communications can benefit society in many ways. As it increases individual scientific literacy and public understanding of science, it can influence daily decisions people make, but also political, ethical or societal outcomes.
Before we give you our 5 tips to improve your science communication, we would like to give you a bit more insight in what it entails.
Why is science communication different from other communication?
The difficulty with science communication is the difference in level of expertise between the sender (you as a scientist) and the receiver. In general, the information shared is complex and requires plenty of details. You have probably been working for years on a project before you can share any results. It would be naïve to think you can summarize an entire scientific study in one or two paragraphs. Getting to the core of the information and only sharing the key message can be heart-breaking. After all, you are trained to be thorough and exhaustive in your scientific writing.
Two types of science communication can be defined:
- Science outreach: sharing your stories with non-expert audiences
- Science inreach: stories shared between researchers with similar or different fields of expertise.
In this article, we will focus on outreach.
Why is science communication so important?
Without outreach, without getting people involved in your research results, there is no impact. Your studies, no matter how well executed, will end up as dusty reports on a shelf. But that’s probably not why you started your career in science. The goal of science is to influence decision makers, who will translate scientific findings to improved policies or actions. And hopefully, that will change our daily lives for the better.
If science communication goes wrong, for instance because journalists stumbled upon an interesting scientific article, but misinterpreted results or conclusions, effects might be disastrous. As a scientist, you have the chance to do it right. You are the expert of your research content, now is the time to become the expert in telling your story to a broader audience!
5 Tips to improve your science communication
So far, you know quite a bit about science communication, but how can you improve yours? We listed 5 tips for you that will improve your science communication massively!
- Most important of all: know your audience! You probably realize that your message needs to be changed if you’re talking to a classroom full of kids instead of scientists, but what about the difference between pharmacologists and general practicioners? They have different interests and should undertake different actions based on your research results. Ask yourself questions like: what do they really need to remember, or do, after my presentation? What is their biggest worry that I might be able to solve? How much detail does my audience really need?
- Tailor your message to the communication medium you intend to use. We can broadly distinguish three types of media:
- Traditional media, like newspapers, magazines, television and radio. You will reach a large, but often diverse, audience at once. As you have no influence on your audience when they consume your information, it must be very clear and offer the audience detail when they want it. Think about your ‘layers of information’: first, give the broad overview that helps the audience determine whether they are interested in the topic. On a second layer you can give slightly more information, what are subtopics that are relevant? And when we go one layer deeper you can give more detailed information.
- Live, or face-to-face events, such as public lectures, debates, science cafés and festivals. The science communication at these events needs to be entertaining or high impact. You need a story to tell… At live or face-to-face events, you have more influence on how the audience consumes your story. Interactions help you make sure the audience gets the right information and understand it correctly.
- There is a growing number of online interaction possibilities. Think about social media, blogs, websites, podcasts, wikis, etcetera. These ask for a clear strategy. Writing just one blog about your outstanding results on some obscure website will probably not go viral. Online communication asks for determination, structure, and a strong message. Benefits are potentially reaching a large audience, interacting with your audience, and an increase in your citations, and with that, a career boost.
- Make your story visual. People love pictures/ visual information. We all remember visual information easier than written or spoken information. So, make sure your presentation is full of attractive visuals, appealing graphs, and clarifying illustrations. Maybe even design an infographic?
- Tell your story to someone who could be in your target audience and ask to repeat your key message. Did they understand you correctly? And remember the most important elements? If not, your story needs some more work done.
- If you go back to the original definition of science communication of Wikipedia, the third element is ‘sharing wonderment’. Researchers are just like real people, we have feelings, emotions, opinions. We are all trained to keep them to ourselves, as they are seldom welcome in scientific publications. But to reach your audience, you must build a -personal- connection. Share the struggles you went through during your studies, use humour, tell the world how exciting your findings are and why, be a real person… Make sure people know what elements in your story are the facts & figures, and what parts are personal stories, than you’re safe.
So, are you ready to become sciences’ next Carl Sagan,
Neil Degrasse Tyson or maybe Hans Rosling?
Make sure your research doesn’t end up somewhere in a dusty corner of the internet, plan your impact and make it happen!