Quick Tips on Effectively Communicating Science

by Lisa Barrett

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As scientists, we strive to communicate our research findings not only because our funding sources encourage us to, but because our results are meaningless if they are not conferred to the public, policy makers, and future generations for them to consider and act on. Last week I was fortunate to attend a talk by Dr. Madeline Sofia, an NPR producer on Joe’s Big Idea, in which she outlined important dos and don’ts for scientists who want to become better communicators.

For example, Madeline pointed out that scientists are often doing communication wrong! While we are taught to talk about our research much like how we write about it–from background to methods to results and conclusions–the public often prefers to receive information in the opposite “direction”: from bottom-line to why does it matter to supporting details.

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Other useful tips:

  1. Start with the main point: Don’t bog down the audience in methodological details.
  2. Define jargon before giving the term: The audience may get stuck on the jargon word you just used instead of listening to its definition, but if you start with its definition, the jargon word will make more sense.
  3. Listen to and know your audience: Tailor your explanations to your audience and their values, and give metaphors they can relate to. Similarly, instead of merely reciting the facts, try understanding how the audience may feel about an issue, and find a common ground.
  4. Practice, practice, practice: Talk to someone in the elevator or a relative who knows nothing about your work. Give a lesson to younger students– they will usually let you know if something is not clear to them!

 

References

Sofia, Madeline. “Mind the Gap: Becoming Better Science Communicators.” El Speaker Series, 29 March 2018, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY.

 

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