Since late high school when I found out what science communication was, I wanted to do it. I have a sneaky feeling I was already doing it, always being the loud smart-mouth in the classroom re-explaining what the teacher didn’t make clear or interesting enough. Now I’m the one at parties who corners the scientist, makes them tell me all about their research into synthetic organic chemistry, and then races around the rest of the room bragging on their behalf.
I’ve been studying and practicing science communication for the last six years. Here’s what you would have learned if you did the same thing (you can thank me for saving you 6 years later!). Some of these tips are fairly general, as a good communicator is a good science communicator.
Before you jump into the communication part, make sure your first step is good old fashioned research; it’s worth stretching your legs for. Read as much as you can on the topic at hand, and follow the black hole of links as far as you need to. If you’re interviewing an expert, ask a lot of questions – if you have done the initial research, you probably won’t need to worry about asking a ‘stupid’ question, but even if you do, trust me they won’t mind. Everyone loves being asked about themselves and their work, and scientists in particular love having an audience that takes the time to really listen. A lot of what you learn will never make it into your final piece, but that investment in research time will be paid back in spades when you are writing or presenting. For example, if you are asked follow-up questions – either by your editor or your audience – you’ll be all set to give more information and justify your decisions.
There are lots of different ways to tell stories – news articles, radio features, television stories, even twitter posts. Create specifically for your chosen medium. For verbal pieces use contractions, keep your sentences short, and be casual so that the audience can relate. For longer written pieces you can play with metaphor and structure as your reader will be paying more attention. And always keep in mind how long your piece needs to be to hold your audience’s attention. Continue reading