#SfN14 Workshop: Communicating Science to the Public

I arrived at the conference center this morning thinking that I would see a few posters, go to the Smithsonian, and have a late lunch before more posters. But thanks to Jordan Gaines Lewis, (follow her on Twitter at @GainesOnBrains), my fellow #SfN14 meeting blogger, I discovered this really awesome seminar on writing science for non-expert audience and for non-science publications.

I may do a longer post in the future, but I thought I’d just list some of the good points I was able to catch (I came in late to the workshop). Some of these are also drawn from Jordan’s live-tweeting, so you can see her Twitter for a fuller account.

Your audience doesn’t want the topic broken down bit by bit the way it is in academic publications. They will likely want the bottom line first.

Scientists often get into science writing to “defend their science”, according to AAAS research. But science writing should not be a lecture, it should be about dialogue and engaging public.

The way you design your websites is critical, because the first thing people do when they want to learn about something is to Google it.

You don’t have to write your own press releases, your university has a press office that can help you write it.

Using “jargon” is not necessarily a no-no. Jargon can be a useful way to summarize long descriptions. For example, the word “truck” describes many components and the way they function together, but we always talk about it as a “truck”. You do have to be careful how you use it though. Only use it if readers will benefit from it.

Be careful that you don’t use jargon that will have a different meaning to readers. For example, the word “mediate” has an extremely specific in neuroscience that has nothing to do with resolving disputes.

Joining or starting groups like Neuwrite can have a profound influence on your ability to write well for publications like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, or newspapers, which reach larger audiences and are not science publications.

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