Explaining your science

You don’t need to be a fish out of water, or come across clear as mud. Change how you talk about your research to make it come alive.

The following tips will make it easier to explain your research and connect with audiences outside your area of science.

TIP: Spend some time finding descriptive, everyday words to explain key concepts in your research.

Use clear and simple language – Work out what you want to say, then boil it down into a clearer, more concise version. Keep going until it feels right. Don’t try to ‘dumb down’ your message – respect your audience by not assuming any prior special knowledge of your topic.

Avoid jargon – Using technical terminology when trying to describe your work distances you from your audience and distracts from your message. Think ahead about straightforward options to replace the jargon you rely on, because it can be hard to do this well under pressure.

Instead of saying…
Try saying…
Benthic On the seabed
Plasticity Ability to change
Hypoxic Low on oxygen
Macroscopic Visible
Anthropogenic Man-made
Ascertain Find out

Paint a picture – Create a lasting, vivid image in the minds of your listeners. Tell a story, draw a link or describe an abstract process in concrete terms that people can relate to. “It’s like…” or “it’s as if…” are useful starting points. Giving your audience comparisons and real world examples to latch onto will make your research much more engaging.

Numbers (rarely) speak for themselves – Context is everything. Make sure you spell out the message you’d like your data to convey. Never expect your audience to do the maths in their heads. Compare and contrast, summarise, simplify and explain. Use data sparingly, and only to underscore the most important points you are making

Instead of saying…
Try saying…
The lifetime probability of developing cervical cancer is 0.66%. One in every 150 women will develop cervical cancer during her lifetime
Between 1990 and 2008, 586,600 hectares of new forest land was planted, leading to a net increase of 488,000 hectares. Forested land area increased nearly fivefold over the course of two decades.
Biodiversity is declining at a rate of 6% per year. We’re losing species faster now than at any time in the last century

 

 

CONTENTIOUS ISSUES | WORKING WITH YOUR COMMS TEAM | A SCIENTIST’S PERSPECTIVE

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