Best Practices in Science Communication

Effective science communication must clearly and succinctly describe the context of scientific work, its importance, and how the results differ from opinion, conjecture, or anecdotal evidence. Below we provide general tips and resources applicable to many situations, followed by guidance for some of the most common outreach opportunities.

General Tips

  • Know your audience, and focus and organize your information for that particular audience.
  • Focus on the big picture. What larger problem is your work a part of? What major ideas or issues does your work address? How will your work help global understanding of some issue?
  • Avoid jargon. If you must use a technical term, make sure to explain it, but simplify the language.
  • Try to use metaphors or analogies to everyday experiences that people can relate to.
  • Underscore the importance of public support for exploratory research and scientific information, and the role of this information in providing the context for effective policy making.

Examples of Effective and Not So Effective Science Communication

Resources on Communication

To help you focus, organize and present information about your work:

Principles on both scientist-to-scientist and scientist-to-public communication:

On the use of improvisation training to help in teaching science:

Short Talks to Non-Scientists (Elevator Talks)

These talks can be with family or friends interested in what you do and why you do it, or those in another field entirely who may not have any science background. An elevator talk should be no more than 2 minutes long, preferably shorter.

How to Craft an Elevator Talk 

  1. Introduce your topic by focusing on the big picture. Instead of describing your exact research question, take several steps back and identify how your research relates to something that a broader audience may care about.
  2. After introducing the topic, describe how your research will impact that main question. Mention your goals and how you will accomplish them. Using analogies can be helpful.
  3. Be mindful of the language you use. Eliminate jargon and details that are not important or relevant.
  4. Convey enthusiasm about your research. Let your audience know you are excited about your research question. Your excitement may excite them!
  5. End by explaining why your research is important and significant, relating it back to the main question.

Resources for Crafting an Elevator Talk 

Longer, Informal Conversations with Non-Scientists

For a more extended conversation, the same basic framework applies as with the other forms of communication: avoid jargon, be focused, be concise, speak of the relevance, and tell a story.

Resources

Longer, Formal Talks with Non-Scientists

These talks can be anything from “Science on Tap” types of presentations to the public, to larger student presentations and TED-type talks. It is important to speak with enthusiasm and passion, to help you connect with your audience. Also try to inject a little humor and fun into the talk.

Consider these questions/tips:

  1. Who is your audience? Are you talking to parents of children with a particular disease, board members of a non-profit organization, people interested in technology?
  2. What is the lens or frame through which your talk will be viewed? Examples of frames include financial (e.g., the literal cost of doing research, the human costs of not doing research, ), political, educational (e.g., what is the path to becoming a scientist), technological, etc. This frame can help shape your talk and provide a theme for your audience.
  3. Keep the text on your slides to a minimum. Pictures, diagrams, and charts will help expand on what you are saying.
  4. Allow time for lots of questions. This means having less content in your talk, but will allow for a more engaging experience for the audience.

Resources

Articles outlining effective approaches to engaging with the public and effective communication:

  • Falchetti E, Caravita S, and Sperduti A. What Do Laypersons Want to Know from Scientists? An Analysis of a Dialogue Between Scientists and Laypersons on the Website Scienza Public Understanding of Science. 2007. 16(4): p. 489-509.
  • McCallie E, et al. Many Experts, Many Audiences: Public Engagement with Science and Informal Science Education. 2009. Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education: Washington, DC.
  • Nisbet M and Scheufele PA. What’s Next for Science Communication? Promising Directions and Lingering Distractions. American Journal of Botany. 2009. 96(10): p. 1767-1788.
  • Nisbet M and Markowitz E. Understanding Public Opinion in Debates Over Biomedical Research: Looking Beyond Political Partisanship to Focus on Beliefs about Science and Society. PloS ONE. 2014. 9(2).
  • Saunter DA, et al. Cross-cultural Recognition of Basic Emotions through Nonverbal Emotional Vocalizations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 2010. 107(6): p. 2408-241.