There are some key principles that hold true for almost all types of research/science communication. Keep this A-Z list in mind (or use it as a checklist) when you design and plan a communication project.
Accessibility is key to making sure your audience can both find and understand the content you provide.
Focus on benefits (why the research is important) when communicating.
Communication that involves the general public is complex and depends on the specific social and cultural context. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Research communication should not be a one-way flow of information. Find ways to create dialogue between researchers, public groups and policy makers.
People connect more easily with the human and emotional side of science than with hard facts. Telling a story about real people and communities has far more impact than presenting a stack of procedures and statistics.
Don’t try to communicate too much in one go. It is better to focus on only one or two ideas that are most likely to resonate with your intended audience.
Good graphics, ranging from basic infographics to complex, interactive data visualisations, is a hot trend in research communication.
Never oversell or exaggerate the findings or outcomes of a research project.
Evidence is important, but information alone is not likely to change the minds or influence the behaviour of your audience.
Journalists’ primary role is to serve their audiences (also their editors and publishers), and not to serve the interests of research organisations.
The power of knowledge places great responsibility on the shoulders of research communicators to be responsible and ethical when communicating.
Language is the medium of communication and can become a barrier when it is too technical and inaccessible.
Research communicators should embrace new media platforms and stay on top of new media trends in order to be optimally effective.
The human brain is wired to listen to, remember and re-tell a good story. A good story connects with its audience on an emotional level.
Savvy research communicators turn news events and topical issues into opportunities to engage public audiences.
Research communication is about ‘public good’ and should strive to improve people’s lives and livelihoods.
Research is all about asking (and answering) questions. Shrewd communicators know how to tap into this natural curiosity that we are all born with.
Effective research communication answers the “so what?” question, making it clear why people should care about the research.
In communication, style is as important as content. The language must be jargon-free, the messages must be relevant and easy to grasp, the visuals must grab attention and the stories must be compelling.
The more sensitive and potentially controversial the topic, the greater the need for open and transparent communication.
Uncertainty is an inherent part of research and researchers should be encouraged to be honest about what they don’t (yet) know.
People’s personal values and world views will influence how they see science and how they respond to research communication.
The many wonders of science and how it has helped us to understand the natural world and the universe, is a powerful tool to nurture passion and enthusiasm for research.
Some scientists, for example astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson, have that X-factor that makes them science celebrities.
Young people are key audiences for research communicators.
Getting in the “zone” is a mental state where you are fully immersed in an activity, focused and feeling energised, fully involved and enjoying what you do. Let’s achieve this for research communication.
Recommended reading (and viewing)
Explore a fresh ‘design approach’ to research communication, written by Jen Briselli. Video clips of top science communication experts are embedded in the post. Several more key concepts in science communication, including framing, rhetoric and cultural cognition are explained.
Points to think about
Which topics would feature in your own version of this “A-Z of research communication”?