Center for Communicating Science Resources

You may find the following resources to be useful: 

This book list may be helpful in writing for people outside of your specialty:

Am I Making Myself Clear? A Scientist's Guide to Talking to the Public (Cornelia Dean)

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamott)

Championing Science: Communicating Your Ideas to Decision Makers (Roger D. Aines, Amy L. Aines)

Chemistry in Primetime and Online: Communicating Chemistry in Informal Environments  (National Research Council) Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2011.

Connection (Randy Olson)

Don't Be Such a Scientist (Randy Olson)

The Elements of Grammar (Margaret Shertzer)

The Elements of Style (William Strunk and E. B. White)

Escape from the Ivory Tower: A Guide to Making Your Science Matter (Nancy Baron)

Houston, We Have a Narrative (Randy Olson)

On Writing Well (William Zinsser)

Science Writer's Essay Handbook (Michelle Nijhuis)

Style: Toward Clarity and Grace (Joseph M. Williams)

The following are useful guides to professional and academic writing:

Writing Science: How to Write Papers that Get Cited and Proposals that Get Funded (Joshua Schimel)

How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper (Robert A. Day and Barbara Gastel)

The Art of Scientific Storytelling (Rafael Luna)

These resources may prove to be useful in helping you prepare presentations and think about how to communicate with various audiences:

Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science (www.centerforcommunicatingscience.org/), Stony Brook University

Am I Making Myself Clear? A Scientist's Guide to Talking to the Public (Cornelia Dean)

Championing Science: Communicating Your Ideas to Decision Makers (Roger D. Aines, Amy L. Aines)

Chemistry in Primetime and Online: Communicating Chemistry in Informal Environments  (National Research Council) Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2011.

Connection (Randy Olson)

Don't Be Such a Scientist (Randy Olson)

Escape from the Ivory Tower: A Guide to Making Your Science Matter (Nancy Baron)

Houston, We Have a Narrative (Randy Olson)

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?(Alan Alda)

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges (Amy Cuddy)

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking (Chris Anderson)

The Art of Scientific Storytelling (Rafael Luna)

The Craft of Scientific Presentations: Critical Steps to Succeed and Critical Errors to Avoid (Michael Alley)

The ACS Style Guide (Janet S. Dodd): information about giving presentations, writing papers, and preparing posters for the American Chemical Society. Check with someone in your own field to find a comparable resource.

 

The sources for the improvisation exercises and underlying approaches used in our workshops and courses include:

Applied Improvisation: Leading, Collaborating, and Creating Beyond the Theatre (Theresa Robbins Dudeck and Caitlin McClure, eds.)

Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art (Stephen Nachmanovitch)

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating (Alan Alda)

Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre (Keith Johnstone)

Improvisation for the Theatre (Viola Spolin)

Yes, And: Lessons from the Second City--How Improvisation Reverses "No, But" Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration (Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton; Harper Business)

Center for Communicating Science undergraduate student intern Luci Finucan spent the summer of 2018 at the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, where she interviewed science educators and created a communication guide from their advice and wisdom. The following are some of the tips she collected. For the entire guide, please contact Luci at fluci@vt.edu. The following are some of the tips she collected:

 

Know your material!

Brush up on fundamentals, too. You can never be too prepared. Have resources ready to offer your audience.

Identify one main, big-picture idea that you want your audience to leave with.

Remember: facts will “hook” your audience, but concepts stick with them.

Figure out what background information is needed to understand your main idea.

If you just jump into the complicated material, you’ve lost your audience before you’ve even begun.

Who is your audience?

Adults often have a piecemeal understanding of basic scientific concepts. Kids have a lot of observations, but not a lot of theory to back it up.

How do you want your audience to change after your presentation? Do you want them to change their way of thinking? How they behave?

The easiest way to do this is to tie things back to their everyday life. Where can your audience see your big idea in their lives? How does your subject affect your audience? Why should they care?

Start out with background information—on a need-to-know basis only. Nobody likes information dumps, especially when they’re waiting for interesting content.

Introduce the concept first.

Usually, the best order is concept→ definition→ rephrase→ repeat.

Create a narrative.

The easiest way to do this is to emphasize process and method. How was your big idea discovered? Where can we find evidence of it?

For every point you make, have an engagement with the audience.

This could be a demonstration, picture, video, story, analogy, example, question to the audience, or joke. Do something that will stick in their brain.

The concept is more important than nuances.

If you have an audience member who is interested in details, have resources available for them, but don’t get caught up in the details.         

Figure out what your audience already knows.

Ask questions like, “Have you ever heard of….?” If they have, still explain it, but don’t spend a lot of time on it.

People like to think.

Ask questions intentionally and let the audience figure out your point by themselves.

Look for acknowledgement before moving on to your next point.

“Read the room.” Look at body language and facial expressions. If no one is engaged, figure out why, and fix it.

Borrow techniques from your favorite teachers and communicators.

If it stuck with you, chances are it will stick with your audience. Physicality and tone will go a long way.

Sit down, be humble.

Science communication is about the audience, not the presenter. Confidence is great, ego is not.

Be passionate about the content and the audience.

Your audience will match your enthusiasm. If you want them to be excited about your subject, act excited! Your audience will respond best when they feel like you care about their learning experience.

It’s okay for people to have differing opinions. Have a conversation about it, but not during your presentation time.

Define any words a second-grader wouldn’t understand.

Remember concept→ definition→ rephrase→ repeat. This makes sure your audience is keeping up with you.

Be explicit about what you don’t know.

If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t make anything up. Be transparent, and give the audience resources to find out by themselves.

Make an effort to reach everyone.

Make your graphics colorblind-friendly. Arrange for interpreters if there could be hearing-impaired or ESL audience members. Make sure your location is wheelchair-accessible. Keep in mind that science is for everyone.

 

Science communication is a skill, not a talent!

It requires practice, and the best science communicators are constantly evolving and changing. It’s okay to mess up, but it’s not okay to give up.

 

 

Center for Communicating Science director Patty Raun offers the following ideas for effective communication:

·         Listen to and involve your communication partners. Foster their curiosity and be curious about them.

·         Know the people you want to connect to–-and remember there is no “general audience.” There are individuals and groups of people who’ve been as committed to the things they believe to be important as you are to your work. Find something you have in common.

·         The environment, proximity, lighting, and visuals impact our perceptions of what is being communicated and what is possible to communicate.

·         Non-verbal communication matters, and about 93 percent of what is received is non-verbal.

·         Use shared words and language that can be understood. Clarify and simplify your messages.

·         It is most effective to make your communication personal. Share your humanity, joys, frustrations, errors, and struggles–-because emotional connection is more powerful than logic.

·         Tell your story. “A story is the shortest distance between two people.”

·         To bring underrepresented groups into the conversation, be present in communities outside of your field–-not as a “presenter” but as a person.

·         Remember, the majority of people trust you and your expertise, so you don’t have to be defensive.

·         Improving science communication requires practice of specific skills, including listening and being personal, direct, spontaneous, and responsive. 

Virginia Tech Resources

Writing and speaking help is available elsewhere on campus:

The Tech Writing Center is a free writing assistance service for students, faculty, and staff at Virginia Tech. Find details here.

Graduate and undergraduate students at the Virginia Tech CommLab are available to help students with public speaking. For more information, click here.

Departments across Virginia Tech offer a wide variety of graduate courses related to communicating within specific professions, including grant writing, scholarly writing and presenting, and more. Some colleges on campus offer programs tailored to improving communication in various audiences, such as the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' Graduate Teaching Scholars and Graduate Extension Scholars programs, both aimed at helping graduate students "translate the science," says GTS coordinator Donna Westfall-Rudd.

Below you'll find lists of graduate and undergraduate courses offered at Virginia Tech and related to communicating science. If you know of programs and courses that should be listed here, please let us know!

Graduate Courses:

STAT 5024 - Effective Communication in Statistical Consulting

Communication skills necessary to be effective interdisciplinary statistical collaborators. Explaining and presenting statistical concepts to a non-statistical audience, helping scientists answer their research questions, and managing an effective statistical collaboration meeting.

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

CHE 5014 (CHEM 5014) - Communication Skills and Methods of Presentation

Methods and style to make effective technical and nontechnical presentations including blackboard presentations, overhead presentations, slide presentations, and research posters. Video presentations with critiques.

Credit Hour(s): 1

 

MSE 5014 (CHE 5014) (CHEM 5014) - Presentation Skills

Methods and style to make effective technical and nontechnical presentations including blackboard presentations, overhead presentations, slide presentations, and research posters. Video presentations with critiques.

Credit Hour(s): 1

 

COMM 5554 - Health Communication Campaigns

Theory, practice, and effects of health communication campaigns on human behavior, society, and public policy. Graduate standing required

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

COMM 5564 - Persuasion and Social Influence

Examines fundamental theory and research on persuasion and social influence. Emphasis on a broad-based perspective, encompassing the full scope of persuasion as it is found in everyday life. This course examines persuasion in a variety of contexts and settings, including advertising, small groups, and face-to-face encounters.

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

ENGL 5464 - Introduction to Medical Humanities

Introduction to the medical humanities. Literary inquiry as narrative medicine, medicine and literature, literary bioethics, medical rhetoric, and cultural studies of medicine.

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

ENGL 5624 - Intercultural Communication

Examination of theoretical and practical issues pertaining to writing and designing for intercultural and/or international audiences. Graduate standing required.

Credit Hour(s): 3

ENGL 5674 - Rhetoric of Science and Technology

Analysis of the historical and philosophical development of the field of rhetoric of science and technology through benchmark publications; examination of scientific texts and technologies as objects of rhetorical criticism. Graduate standing required.

Credit Hour(s): 3

ENGL 6344 - Rhetoric in Digital Environments

Study of the uses of digital media in research, information development and sharing, and advocacy regarding public issues. Graduate standing required.

Credit Hour(s): 3

ALS 5094 - Effective Grant Writing for the Biomedical and Behavioral Sciences

The grant writing process and developing student skills for successful grant writing to support research enterprises. Students will prepare a mock research grant proposal for obtaining funds from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, or the US Department of Agriculture and participate in panel review of grant proposals of peers.

Credit Hour(s): 1

 

BIOL 5154 - Exercises in Grantsmanship

All aspects of obtaining grant funding in the sciences. Grant writing, ethics, development of proposals for national funding agencies, the peer review system, and participation in a mock grant panel meeting. Pre-requisite: Graduate Standing required.

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

BMVS 5094 (CHEM 5094) - Grant Writing and Ethics

A framework for writing clear, concise grant proposals in a team-oriented, multicisciplinary approach from concept development through submission to a funding agency. Potential ethical dilemmas that may arise in academic, industrial, or federal research settings will be discussed. PRE: Undergraduate courses in one of the following: organic chemistry (CHEM 2565/2566), cell and molecular biology (BIOL 2104), Concepts of Biochemistry (BCHM 2024), or equivalent. (3H, 3C) Graduate standing required. II

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

FST 5094 - Grant Writing and Ethics

A framework for writing clear, concise grant proposals in a team-oriented, multidisciplinary approach from concept development through submission to a funding agency. Potential ethical dilemmas that may arise in academic, industrial, or federal research settings will be discussed. PRE: Undergraduate courses in one of the following: organic chemistry (CHEM 2565/2566), cell & molecular biology (BIOL 2104), Concepts of Biochemistry (BCHM 2024), or equivalent. (3H, 3C). Graduate standing required. II

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

HD 5654 - Grant Development and Administration in Human Development

Overview of the methods and procedures for developing competitive grant proposals. Students learn basic grant writing skills that include identifying and seeking funding sources, preparing a fundable grant proposal, building a budget, and managing a funded project. Portfolio project: Development of actual grant proposal for an organization or special project. II.

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

ALS 5334 - Professional Communication Agriculture & Life Sciences

Principles of, and skill development in, academic communication to enhance professional preparation in the agricultural and life sciences. Pre: Graduate standing.

Credit Hour(s): 1

 

ALCE 5304G - Community Education and Development

Comprehensive examination of community education and development. Community/sustainable community development, strategies for mobilizing social change in/with communities. Explore participatory, popular, and community-based education from rural and urban settings. Globalization, sustainability, and social movement discourses with emphasis on agricultural, health, and food system examples. Pre: Graduate standing.

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

FIW 5464G - Advanced Human Dimensions of Fisheries and Wildlife

Values, attitudes and opinions of people towards fish and wildlife. Social, economic, legal and political aspects of fisheries and wildlife management. Roles of professionals and the public in fish and wildlife policy processes. Contemporary fish and wildlife policy issues. Graduate Standing required.

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

FST 5164 - Health Product Risk Communication & Incident Handling

Survey of different international regulations and incident reporting systems including those of North America, Europe and Asia. Case studies of solutions to post-market problems as related to risk management. Discussion of a "culture" of risk communication for a hypothetical company. How to provide risk-based solutions to senior management.

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

HNFE 5684 (PHS 5214) - Program Development in Health Education

Theory, trends, and design of community health education programs implemented in communities, health agencies, hospitals, and industry. Pre: Graduate standing.

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

MACR 5024 - Writing Skills in Macromolecular Science and Engineering

This course focuses on methods and critiques for preparing technical abstracts, conference proceedings, technical industrial reports, refereed journal manuscripts and resumes.

Credit Hour(s): 1

 

PAPA 5614 - Introduction to Science and Technology Policy

Strategies for science and technology policy; science education; scientific and technical information for societal uses; government and public policy; resource allocation; economy and global exchanges of science and technology; approaches to policy evaluation.

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

PAPA 6664 - Advanced Topics in Science and Technology Policy

Variable topics in science and technology policy. Includes advanced study of science, technology, and economy; science, technology, and power; strategies for research and development policy --public and private sector; transfer of technology; technological forecasting; government regulation and responses; science policy assumptions and challenges, specialist knowledge and expertise; state and academic knowledge production; issues of race, class, gender, and national identity in policy work. May be repeated with a different topic for a maximum of 6 credits.

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

STS 5614 - Introduction to Science and Technology Policy

Strategies for science and technology policy; science education; scientific and technical information for societal uses; government and public policy; resource allocation; economy and global exchanges of science and technology; approaches to policy evaluation.

Credit Hour(s): 3

 

UAP 5584 (GIA 5584) (PSCI 5584) - Environmental Politics and Policy

Course provides a broad introduction to the key ideas, actors and institutions related to environmental politics and policy in the United States, with some coverage of global issues. It is intended to provide students with basic interdisciplinary knowledge and an intellectual framework for understanding and thinking critically about environmental politics and policy.

Credit Hour(s): 3

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Undergraduate Courses:

ALCE 3624: Communicating Agriculture & Life Sciences in Writing

·         Prerequisites: None

·         Development of communication skills necessary to deal with the general public and audiences in the food, agriculture, and natural resources fields. Emphasis on writing and on creation of a portfolio including multiple types of written communication.

 

ALCE 3634: Communicating Agriculture & Life Sciences in Speaking

·         Prerequisites: None

·         Development of strategies and techniques for effective oral communication in the professions related to food, agriculture, and natural resources. Emphasis on oral, visual, and interpersonal communication, as well as group leadership and meeting management.

 

AT 0144: Communication Skills

·         Prerequisites: None

·         Written and oral communication skills, including business and technical writing, public speaking, and interpersonal communication. Instruction and practice in the application of communication skills for business and agriculture. Emphasis on effective use of word processing and email software; AT majors only.

 

COMM 2024: Media Writing

·         Prerequisites: COMM 1014 or ENGL 1106 or ENGL 1204H

·         Writing and information gathering skills including news, features, press releases, and advertising copy for broadcast, print and public relations media. Sophomore Standing Required.

 

COMM 2044: Principles of Public Relations

·         Prerequisites: None

·         Principles of public relations practice; public relations in organizations; responsibilities of the public relations practitioner; legal and ethical considerations; role of public relations in society; history of the field and key people who influenced its development; choosing appropriate communication channels/media.

 

COMM 2134: Intro to Health Communication

·         Prerequisites: None

·         Introduction to health communication with a focus on current issues and perspectives, including patient-provider communication, cultural conceptions of health and illness, media portrayals of health, communication in health organizations, health communication theories, information technologies in health communication, ethical considerations, and health promotion campaigns.

 

COMM 3064: Persuasion

·         Prerequisite: COMM 1014

·         Theoretical foundations of persuasion; techniques of persuasion; contemporary persuasive practice and campaigns; persuasive media strategies. Junior standing required.

 

COMM 3144: Writing and Editing for PR

·         Prerequisite: COMM 2024

·         Advanced writing and editing used to structure and present information in the practice of public relations. Includes message development, message design for delivery through various media, copyediting skills and tools, and strategies for dissemination.

 

COMM 3154: Multimedia Reporting

·         Prerequisites: COMM 2024 and COMM 2034

·         Multimedia news gathering, news writing, audio/visual storytelling, and news judgment for the print and online media. Consideration of professional strategies and standards for reporters, including legal and ethical issues.

 

COMM 4064: Social Media Analytics

·         Prerequisite: COMM 2124

·         Introduction to analytic techniques for social media platforms. Quantitative and qualitative analytic techniques. Design, implementation, and analysis of experimental and observational studies of how people use and engage with social media platforms and how platforms themselves can be used to drive engagement with content. History and trending topics in social media use. Ethical issues involving social media and big data.

 

DASC 2664: Professional Discourse and Career Development

·         Prerequisites: None

·         Emphasis on writing and speaking skills for livestock industry or post-baccalaureate education. Self-marketing, job acquisition, press relations, and conduct of meetings and labor management techniques.

 

DASC 4664: Translating Dairy Science

·         Prerequisites: DASC 2664

·         Analysis and interpretation of peer-reviewed literature in dairy science. Focus on dairy industry issues discussed in social media. Critical reasoning, information synthesis, and oral and written discourse. Paper presentations and discussion. Senior Standing.

 

ENGL 3104: Professional Writing

·         Prerequisites: ENGL 1106 or ENGL 1204H or COMM 1016

·         This course introduces students to the theory and practice of professional writing and its functions in workplace settings. In this rhetorically-based course, students gain experience with a variety of writing situations, composing documents that solve problems or help readers make decisions. Students learn current conventions and broadly applicable procedures for analyzing the audiences, purposes, and situations of professional writing, and learn strategies for adapting these conventions and procedures to meet the unique demands of each new situation and task.

 

ENGL 3734: Community Writing

·         Prerequisite: ENGL 2744

·         Introduction to the theory and practice of managing service- learning writing projects in schools, community centers, retirement communities, and public libraries. Survey of best practices in creative writing pedagogy and in creating sustainable community partnerships.

 

ENGL 4804: Grant Proposals and Reports

·         Prerequisites: ENGL 1106 or ENGL 1204H or COMM 1016

·         This course prepares students to write effective proposals, reports, and informational articles. Students learn to define and write problem statements, program objectives, plans of action, evaluation plans, budget presentations, and summaries. In addition, they sharpen their teamwork, editing, writing, audience awareness, and design skills as they engage in collaborative projects with campus and/or non-profit organizations in the community. Prerequisite or consent of the instructor is required.

 

HNFE 3224: Communicating with Food

·         Prerequisites: HNFE 2014 or HNFE 2014H, HNFE 3024 or HNFE 2224

·         Development of oral and written communication skills to communicate food and nutrition information to diverse populations.

 

HUM 3204: Multicultural Communication

·         Prerequisites: None

·         Exploration of communication in and among various cultural groups through an examination of communicative practices, registers, discourse, and performance. Emphasis on understanding cultural differences and similarities in the different styles and stances in communication and their meanings to participants.

 

STS 1504: Intro to Science, Tech, and Society

·         Prerequisites: None

·         Examination of the interrelationship among science, technology, and society. Study of how science, technology, and medicine are defined and analyzed by the humanities and social sciences. Examination of topics, theories, and methods of the field of Science and Technology Studies. Depiction of the dynamics of scientific and technological controversies including the roles knowledge, expertise, risk, rhetoric and public understanding play in policy making.

STAT 4024: Communication in Statistical Collaborations

·         Prerequisites: STAT 5014

·         Corequisites: STAT 5124STAT 5204

·         Communication skills necessary to be effective interdisciplinary statistical collaborators. Explaining and presenting statistical concepts to a non-statistical audience, helping scientists answer their research questions, and managing an effective statistical collaboration meeting.

 

New in 2019, the Advanced Research Skills program provides students with online modules that teach research skills, including writing successful proposals and sharing one's research through poster presentations and ePortfolios.

External Resources

There's lots of help available beyond Virginia Tech:

NPR producer Madeline Sofia provided this message for our website:

"If you’re interested in science communication, check out the NPR Scicommers network. It’s run by Joe Palca, an award winning science correspondent at NPR.  There are already 950+ SciComm groupies in our community from all across the United States. The program helps scientists build skills and connect with one another; it also provides both peer and professional mentorship. We help scientists get published outside academia in online blogs (i.e., Scientific American, Vox, NPR), offer career advice, hold 1-hour video mentor chats hosted by SciComm professionals, focus on the issues of STEM inclusion and diversity, and help you stay connected with other SciCommers. Email msofia@npr.org if you’re interested."

The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University trains scientists and health professionals to communicate more effectively with the public, public officials, the media, and others outside their disciplines. For more about exciting work at the AACCS, click here.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have created a tool to help people develop and assess public communication materials. The CDC Clear Communication Index is available here.

To help translate science into "plain language," the Centers for Disease Control have made available a guide titled Everyday Words for Public Health Communication, which is available here.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science provides a "communication toolkit," available here.

The National Science Foundation has resources for communicating with the general public here.

The National Science Foundation explains its multimedia features to showcase research in this 2015 press release

In 2010 the Plain Writing Act was signed into law. At plainwriting.gov, an official website of the U.S. government, you can find guidelines for understanding your audience, writing clearly and concisely, organizing your information, keeping your writing conversational, and more. 

In 2017, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) launched a new service called SciLine. SciLine connects scientists to journalists and other communicators and provides accessible summaries of  newsworthy scientific advances. 

In 2012, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) hosted a colloquium titled "The Science of Science Communication." A second colloquium on the same topic was held the following year. In 2017, the NAS published "Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda." 

The Science and Entertainment Exchange, a project launched by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), matches scientists with film and television directors and producers to provide information and guidance during screenwriting and production.

This is the Center's logo

"Don’t think you need to teach the public a lot of science facts. Instead, show what science is, what it means, why we need it. Find a way to have a presence. Choose what to comment on, how to be involved, and what actions and issues to engage in. Be a source of wisdom."  – Carl Safina

"View your reader as a companionable friend -- someone with a warm sense of humor and a love of simple directness. Write like you're actually talking to that friend, but talking with enough leisure to frame your thoughts concisely and interestingly."

-- John R. Trimble, Writing with Style

"Display of superior knowledge is as great a vulgarity as display of superior wealth—greater indeed, inasmuch as knowledge should tend more definitely than wealth towards discretion and good manners."  -- Henry Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage