Science or Scones, Communications Must Be Clear

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I tweeted this piece from Marshall Shepherd yesterday: 9 Tips for Communicating Science to People Who Are Not Scientists. I shared it because Shepherd covers some fundamentals for good communications, no matter what the topic.


Who are you writing for? This is an important question whether you’re selling science or a scone. Your audience determines whether your message was well delivered, not you. Always think about the audience when you set out to write or develop a presentation. Who are they? Why are they reading or listening to you? What do you hope they take away from your work?


Language is based on audience as well. Shepherd says, “While most scientists associate “probability density function” with “pdf” I bet the first thing that many in the public think about is a file format or attachment.” What you say is important and how you say it just as important.

If you must write with abbreviations or acronyms, it’s important to introduce the phrase or concept before using its abbreviation- that’s respectful. You don’t want to lose your audience by using an unexplained abbreviation, forcing them to pedal backwards through your work to find its meaning.  When I worked in HIV communications there were so many acronyms I developed a whole glossary of terms I could link to, but it didn’t replace explaining the term in full.

Better yet, don’t use them if it’s not required to make your point. If you don’t really need to technical language to get your point across to the audience, don’t use it, says Marshall. Keep your message as clear as can be.


Building a community for science literacy, health literacy, or scones is a matter of work, not just words. It is reaching out, discovering what people know as baseline so you may communicate something that has meaning for them. Marshall suggests scientists need to get out of the elite zone and to connect more widely with audiences. What is your zone? What communities or markets do you hope to reach? These questions can help shape your communications.

Keep it simple and straightforward

Good communication is clear. It connects writer and reader. What do you need to do to make your work connect more powerfully?


Image: mantasmagorical, MorgueFile


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