As scientists, we love our research and want to share our findings far and wide. As ecologists and conservation biologists, we especially hope that our findings affect policy, management, or everyday stewardship. And funding agencies remind us that we must ensure our research has broader impacts that benefit society, beyond just publishing scientific papers. But how do we effectively communicate our research? Here, we share some tips about how researchers can communicate research to the media, and reach audiences beyond peer-reviewed journal readers. We use examples from a recent paper of ours published with co-authors.
Make your research exciting—identify your hook. In our recent paper, Phenological mismatch with trees reduces wildflower carbon budgets, published in Ecology Letters, we emphasized that we are building on the observations of Henry David Thoreau; Thoreau was the “hook” that we use to attract much of the interest in our research.
Make the message easy to understand—tell a story. We wrote a press release that told a story about our research and highlighted key points in non-technical language and without jargon. Even though Boston University generally does not issue press releases about scientific papers, our summary helped reporters quickly understand our work, its significance, and potential angles that could interest readers or listeners.
Provide informative, high-quality photos. We take many photos to illustrate our research and the key results. Sometimes these photos are carefully staged to illustrate the research process or results. Reporters are more likely to write a story if excellent photos are available.
Reach out to the media and be responsive. We emailed our press release and eye-catching photos to contacts in the media. One of them liked the story and wrote an article about our work for the Boston Globe. He was writing the article on tight deadline, so we promptly answered his numerous questions.
One thing can lead to another. The Boston Globe writer pitched the story to National Public Radio, and he will interview us for a radio program in April.
Publish on-line. To generate publicity within the Boston University community, we wrote an article for BU Research, using the press release as a starting point. This article further widened the audience who will hear about the research, with relatively little additional effort on our part.
Leverage institutional networks. The co-authors of our paper reached out to their universities and media contacts, sharing our press release. The paper received coverage in institutional publications and websites of Boston University, University of Maine, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Send out pdfs. We emailed a pdf of our paper to 100 colleagues in our field, along with a very short email summarizing the key points of the article, again pulling from the same basic story in the press release and blog and Twitter posts.
Each paper and project are different, but hopefully this post has given you some ideas of things to try.
The Op Ed Project
Cahill Jr, J. F., Lyons, D., & Karst, J. (2011). Finding the “pitch” in ecological writing. The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 92(2), 196-205.
Merkle, B. G. (2018). Tips for Communicating Your Science with the Press: Approaching Journalists. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 99(4), 1-4.