Written by Maria Montchal, PhDc for Neurocrew
Imagine you’ve written a news article or blog post about your research. Now imagine you catch someone at the library reading that article on their laptop. After reading the first few paragraphs, they begin scrolling rapidly to the bottom of the page and then — they close the tab.
This is the worst nightmare of a science communicator.
I write scripts for a science radio show hosted by Sandra Tsing Loh, called The Loh Down on Science. If my writing fails to connect with my audience, they will literally tune out and change the station.
Here are some strategies I use to make sure this doesn’t happen:
I consider my audience and my goal ahead of time.
My audience doesn’t necessarily have much of a scientific background and my goal is to teach them some memorable science facts they can talk about later at the water cooler.
Using words like mediogeniculate nucleus will almost certainly invite them to tune out. On the other hand, making a connection to something most people have experience with, will make your audience want to learn more.
Since my scripts haven’t aired yet, I’d like to highlight the work of a fellow Loh Down on Science writer, Ted Yoo (1). Rather than explaining every single thing the authors found in the statistical analysis of various genetic sequences, Ted expertly distilled the results down to:
They discovered that there’s an important story to each gene! Choosing an “inefficient” sequence might be the body’s way of producing LESS of that protein! Need more? Choose a more “efficient” one instead!
He then went on to discuss how this finding relates to diseases involving protein imbalances, like cancer and cystic fibrosis. Most people know about cancer and cystic fibrosis. In fact, chances are they know someone who has been affected by the disease. Why does this matter?
The scientific research being shared is now linked to something personal and relatable. Your audience doesn’t need a science degree to follow along.
Questions to ask yourself before you start writing
- What are some common characteristics I can identify about my audience? Are they all of a certain age-range? What’s their educational background?
- How can I share these findings as a story? If you can set up a problem, your audience is more likely to follow along to see how it’s solved.
- What is my goal? After you write a first draft, read through it with your goal in mind. Would it help to start out by highlighting a more relatable aspect of the work? What about revamping the order of your ideas?
When writing for a general audience, I try to focus on connecting with the audience, writing with a specific goal in mind, and eliminating unnecessary details that risk losing my audience altogether.
When I do this well, my audience stays tuned in. And if you take the time to integrate these strategies in your own writing, yours probably will too.
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