5 writing tips to get your research the attention it deserves
You know your science is ground-breaking, but how can you convince the rest of the world?
By Agnieszka Freda Posted on 31 March 2016
Your research has been published, and you know that it will change the world. You expect that the press, TV, radio and internet will pick up the wave and it will be like a tsunami – the new discovery that changes how we understand science, health, life.
And then the news is out and … after a few articles and tweets, only a distant echo responds.
So what has happened to that ground-breaking discovery?!
Well, it has gone unnoticed by the public, just like thousands of other fascinating scientific revelations. Why? Most likely it has been communicated in a way that is indigestible and confusing to a normal person.
We love our science so much, we want to share it in the tiniest detail – and this is where we fail even before starting. Because we are the scientists, and they — well, they are them.
But hold on: what if them represents 99 percent of the population?
Want your discovery to be appreciated and understood? Stick to my 5 rules:
1. Start with a “why?” Did you know that an average attention span has gone down to 8 seconds? This is how much time you have to engage with your reader online. If you don’t pique someone’s interest in that short span, you will lose them. So maybe leaving the “payback” ‘til the very end is not the best idea as few will stick around to read it. I would say do as the best in film industry do: at least give a hint, get people curious so they stick around to see the grand finale.
2. Stick to one concept. You have to get a grip on your need to tell everyone everything. If your story is good, you can always make a sequel. Cramming in too many technically complicated concepts only confuses the reader, and a confused reader simply leaves. I am fully aware that to your research, all the details are crucial; however you need to accept that to your reader, they are probably not. Decide what your key concept is and stick to it. Draw it on a Post-it and attach it to your screen. Throughout the process, keep glancing at it and make sure you have not drifted into the next chapter of a very long series.
3. Good metaphor is your best friend. There is no better way of making someone understand your point than using a concept they are already familiar with. If you have never done it, the first time might be a bit bumpy, but once you see it working, you won’t be able to stop yourself: a human body with an allergic reaction like a country invaded by an enemy, DNA as a library, cancer as a thief. And the metaphor does not have to be bulletproof from every angle of your research; it simply has to reflect the main concept. You can try it out on a friend or a family member: when you get that “oh, I see” expression, you know you’ve got it.
4. Mind your language. I’m sorry but you have to cut the scientific jargon to minimum or completely get rid of it. Forget abbreviations. No more oligosaccharides, sugar will have to do. And do not even try to describe triglycerides — stick to fat. I’m not saying that the public won’t understand the term. But if someone has to dig deep to remember a term they do not use on daily basis, they will need more concentration to follow your story. Next to your metaphor, I would stick another Post-it with the objective of WHY you are trying to write about your science. Is your objective really to pack as much information as possible into a short text? Or rather to get someone engaged, stick around to read it all and take the message home? I recommend trying out The Up-Goer Five Text Editor to see how good you are in explaining concepts with simple vocabulary. Only 1,000 most common words allowed. And a good image or a diagram is worth more than a thousand words.
5. Keep it short. Let’s assume you have followed all the steps: you gave a good reason why people should read your text, focused your topic, found a perfect metaphor for your concept, made it as simple as you can. Now what? Well, check the word count. If you are within a range of 1,000 words, that is a good indication. If you are in the range of 3,000, go back to the start and get rid of at least half. Double check if you are keeping the course you chose at the beginning: your main concept. Are you going into too much detail? If there is a paragraph that you are not sure about – simply get rid of it.
I love science, and since you are here, I hope we share this passion. The gap between research and society is growing bigger by the minute. Mass media can contribute to the problem if their interest is only a good story, or a scary story to get the most clicks. Whose job is it then to get things right if not ours? Try it, and once you are hooked, there is no way back. You will want to keep on writing.
Elsevier Connect Contributor
Agnieszka Freda (@descienced) combines her background in science with a passion for science writing. She is a Life Science Solutions Sales Manager at Elsevier, a writer for Elsevier’s Pharma R&D Today blog, and the creator of the popular De-science the Science, about “translating scientific into human.” She has an MSc degree in biotechnology from Lodz University of Technology in Poland and a lifelong interest in science – and the communication of science. In her own words:
Biotechnologist myself, I have had a pleasure to work with amazing brains in diagnostics, molecular biology, chemistry and pharma R&D. I love science and I think that in the age of big data and constant information influx, the beauty of it is being lost somewhere between complicated terminology and complexity of the subject itself.
A while back, I was dreaming of working in science communication and building that bridge between the science and the rest of the world. Currently I am fulfilling that dream working at Elsevier and running my blog De-science the Science.
If that does not convince you, I also have a black belt in traditional Karate Shotokan.
By David Levine | Posted on 18 Mar 2016
10 science and health journalists give scientists their best adviceBy Iris Kisjes, Stephane Berghmans and Elizabeth Crossick | Posted on 15 Feb 2016
Elsevier supports new science communication and collaboration network developed by Atomium to inform science-based policy makingBy Gary Howarth | Posted on 21 Jan 2016
Here’s how you can engage with students and teachers without leaving them speechless (literally)By Marilynn Larkin | Posted on 05 Jan 2016
How to be clear, concise and compelling when talking about science and medicineBy Lucy Goodchild van Hilten | Posted on 22 May 2015
Science is exciting, so why do we write about it in such a dull way?