Getting your message out there

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Communication skills are essential for researchers. Image: thestar.com

Science communication has come a long way since the days of Ivory Tower syndrome. Now researchers have been forced from the lab, blinking uncertainly in the spotlight of online forums, media platforms (social or otherwise) and, in some cases, the blogosphere.

This can only be for the greater good but only if some rules are obeyed. Or, at the very least, understood enough to manipulate them. This is the hardest part of science communication, where we researchers must realise that our findings aren’t inherently interesting to the broader public. This is where we have to put effort into making other people care.

Here are some points to consider for getting your message across:

  1. Remember WIIFM

‘What’s in it for me?’ is the first subconscious thought of any audience. Why should they care? If they don’t care, they will very quickly tune out and your message will be lost. Think about the implications of your results in the broader sense. Maybe there are financial impacts or health effects for example. Focus on this angle and the message is more likely to get through.

  1. What’s the point of interest?

Researchers love data but most people love stories. To make your message stick, find the story in your data. It could be a human interest story about people your research seeks to help. It could have a link, however obscure, to a celebrity or popular TV show. Or, ideally, it has some sort of conflict. Baddies fighting goodies and the goodies win in the end. These sorts of stories are far more interesting and more likely to stick than an all too happy good news story.

  1. Short but strong

In a world of Twitter, key messages need to be as succinct as possible. Every word counts and some words are more powerful than others. Really consider word use to give every word the chance to ram your message home. Don’t use long words when short ones will say the same thing in fewer syllables. Long words only serve to exhaust the audience before they get to your key message. Here are some great examples of how to use better words.

All this effort in making results interesting to people who don’t like data can be exhausting. But considering that it’s usually taxpayers who both fund the research and benefit from it, greater understanding of research outcomes is ultimately better for everyone.

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