Science communication—where to begin? There are so many challenges and so many nuances to keep in mind that sometimes it’s hard to know how to even start. Science can often be inaccessible or unrelatable for the general public. But, as science communicators it’s our business to distill the essence of scientific research and advances, and the associated themes, to make it accessible to a broad audience. Here are some strategies to try next time you’re tasked with reporting out scientific advances.
Tell the story
From the outset of each and every complex science story there is a simple core; you just have to tease it out. Once you’ve talked to the researcher or PI, put your notes aside, and write your first draft. Focus on what you took away from your interview or your research—the very basics—and tell that story, in plain language. Once you’ve got the narrative down, then go back to your notes and choose which parts of the more complex science you want to delve into, and how to best frame it. What examples best illustrate the work? Can you tie it to something in the news, or a trend? Make it relevant.
Keep it simple
It seems obvious… but it can be very easy to slip into jargon and technical terms when writing about science. Let’s say you interview a researcher doing work on the Drosophila melanogaster who’s examining how molecular variation maps to phenotypic variation for quantitative traits—yep, even reading that one sentence is going to turn off most readers. Instead try something like, “Nearly 75 per cent of genes that cause disease in humans are also found in the fruit fly—Dr. Stephanovich’s research is examining whether gene xx mutations have an impact on how humans digest protein xx.” Simpler, more relatable, and interesting.
Maintain your sense of wonder
There are many people who simply tune out at the mention of science. Those long-ago biology classes where dissecting frogs made their lab partner swoon loom large in many people’s memories. But science, at its essence, is the foundation of life, and it’s all around us. Everything—the microbes on your skin and the cherry tree on your walk to work—that’s science in action. As humans delve ever-deeper into the mysteries of the human genome, the deepest ocean trench or even an obscure microfungus, the advances we’re making are astonishing. So try to harness the “wow” when you’re writing about it, and make those linkages for your audience. Those iPhones we love so dearly? Thank science. The probiotics in your cereal? Science again!
Think big picture
Not every discovery is going to cure cancer—and we do our readers a disservice when we position all research as ground-breaking and world changing. Most research isn’t ‘sexy’ but it is valuable. Make sure you explain the context in which the research is being conducted so your reader understands where it fits in the bigger picture. “What’s in it for me?” is often at the back of our minds when we read about research, so answer that question. Dr. Stephanovich’s research into the fruit fly genome isn’t going to cure Irritable Bowel Syndrome… but it is solving one piece of the puzzle. Help your reader understand where that piece fits in the big picture, and the broader goal it’s contributing to. They’ll take away some knowledge and see the value in research.
Science communications (or any communications for that matter) can be a tricky and complex area to navigate alone. And that’s where we come in.
PR Associates is an award-winning senior communications firm specializing in public relations, communications and strategy – making the complex simple and relatable. Our team has a wide range of global experience allowing us to deliver the best solutions to our clients.
Whether it’s a few questions or you need us to develop a first-class strategy, we’re here to deliver results. Connect with PR Associates’ President, Megan Helmer, today and let us help you find a solution.