As scientists, researchers or those with intellectual inclinations, we’ve all found ourselves faced with information so impenetrable and dense, it can be incredibly difficult to get a handle on. The mark of anyone involved in scientific research is not only being able to fully grasp and assimilate information, but to effectively communicate the salient points in a way that everyone can understand and engage with.
Ultimately, to be successful in the sciences, it’s imperative that your communication – whether it takes the form of a lecture, a research paper or a proposal – is on point. Here we’ll detail some methods scientists and researchers can use to fine-tune their message and present things more effectively.
- Know Your Audience
- Avoid Jargon
- Streamline the Three Key Points
- Use Analogies and Metaphors
- Use Visuals when Necessary
- Don’t Confine Yourself
Know Your Audience
Delivering a presentation to a room of well-versed scientists isn’t the same as a climate change paper written for an audience who may be unfamiliar with the topic at hand. If you fail to adapt to your audience, they’re likely to become unfocused and disengaged. Research and understand your audience, and adapt your communications appropriately.
It’s important to break down the barriers that may exist between yourself and a given audience; if they’re unfamiliar with a topic, tailor your communication in an easily digestible way. This is especially important with topics such as climate change, where peoples’ understanding can lead to positive action on the matter.
Likewise, scientists shouldn’t assume that their audience will understand specific words. What may be commonplace for those in the realm of science could just as easily be totally unfamiliar for others. Consider using the appropriate synonyms when they can be easily substituted; instead of temporal and spatial, use time and space. Failure to discern between everyday language and technical terms is a criticism that’s often levelled at a lot of scientific communication, but can be easily rectified by being more mindful of people’s understanding.
Sifting through an abundance of data, methodologies, processes and results is all part and parcel of scientists’ research. But for the average person, key points and findings should be revealed early on, so that your audience knows what they’re grappling with. Essentially, in ‘getting to the point’ of the research, your approach is more akin to starting at the end.
In doing so, work to streamline your communication into three key points. Since scientists are naturally inclined to feature as much detail as they can in their work, this might seem difficult at first, but strive to make your communication “memorable, meaningful and miniature” as the America Association for Advancement of Science recommends.
In simplifying your communication, look to the use of analogies and metaphors. People tend to gravitate towards ideas and concepts if they can liken it to past experiences or things they do on a daily basis. They help non-experts understand and appreciate things more readily, and ensure that your communication won’t be weighed down by heavy scientific concepts and terminology.
In the sometimes humourless world of science communication, their use can often be frowned upon; a bad metaphor or analogy can distract from the main points you’re trying to convey. But finding a balance between playfulness and understanding in your metaphors or analogies can be the key to engaging your audience appropriately; how you decide to relate to them is only limited by the imagination and innate creativity of your native language.
Similarly, why not make your communication more compelling through the use of story-telling? Many will often be turned off by the quantitative aspects of research, so presenting the information in the manner of a story will help to connect with your audience. If there’s a historical context, then use it to engage the audience. Mention who was involved, their background and the process of science involved – find the story that’s inherent to the research and leverage it into something enriching.
Break up your text, graphs and tables with appropriate images. Visualising the science, where you can, is a great tool for gaining the audience’s attention. Lighten the tone with playful strips that help to reinforce the message; avoid dense blocks of text too, as these are a sure fire way of losing their attention.
Ultimately, scientists should strive to ensure that science doesn’t stay confined to the labs. Although there are elitist cells within the world of academic science, the more that the public knows about certain topics, the better. Don’t restrict yourself to limited thinking, by involving yourself in the things both the public and policymakers use (such as social media, for example), you open yourself up to further avenues that allow people to learn. You can broaden your reach without having to dilute the message that’s at hand.
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