Developed in consultation with scientists, science reporters, editors and sub-editors, these guidelines are intended for use by newsrooms and general reporters as a checklist to help ensure the accurate reporting of science and health stories.
State the source of the story –e.g. interview, conference, journalarticle, a survey from a charity or trade body, etc. – ideally with enough information for readers to look it up or a web link.
Type of study
Specify the size and nature of the study – e.g. who/what were the subjects, how long did it last, what was tested or was it an observation? If there’s space, mention the major limitations.
Cause and effect
When reporting a link between two things, indicate whether or not there is evidence that one causes the other.
Give a sense of the stage of the research – e.g. cells in a laboratory or trials in humans – and a realistic time-frame for any new treatment or technology.
On health risks, include the absolute risk whenever it is available in the press release or the research paper – i.e. if ’cupcakes double cancer risk’ state the outright risk of that cancer, with and without cupcakes.
Try to frame a new finding in the context of other evidence – especially on a story with public health implications, e.g. does it reinforce or conflict with previous studies? If it attracts serious scientific concerns, they should not be ignored.
Be wary of scientists and press releases over-claiming for studies – if there is space, quote both the researchers themselves and external sources with appropriate expertise.
Distinguish between findings and interpretation or extrapolation – don’t suggest health advice if none has been offered.
Remember patients – don’t call something a ‘cure’ that is not a cure.
Headlines should not mislead the reader about a story’s contents and quotation marks should not be used to dress up overstatement.
Adapted from the UK Science Media Centre