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)

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 for 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)

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:

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. For a complete list, click the download below (and please let us know if you know of courses we should add to the list!). 

*
Relevant Courses.pdf

External Resources

There's lots of help available beyond Virginia Tech:

National Public Radio science correspondent Joe Palca and assistant producer Madeline Sofia are working to connect young scientists and people passionate about science communication. Maddie explains the project:

We have a worldwide community of over 150 people that we're calling "Friends of Joe's Big Idea" (FOJBIs). The purpose of the community is to connect like-minded people and share experiences about what does and doesn’t work in the growing field of science communication. These young communicators bring science to diverse audiences through writings, science-related social events, blogs, podcasts, and other assorted media. 

Primarily we serve to:

1.     Connect young communicators via email, facebook, and a geographical map that allows you to see where the other FOJBIs are and what they are doing. This map also includes places that host science events (such as Science on Tap) and how to contact the representative

2.     Share pieces of good science communication we see via Joe’s Big Idea Facebook Page

3.     Help young communicators get started in the field. In the future, we will have online “office hours” where FOJBIs can come to Joe for advice and help with new projects

4.     Share information about career opportunities we come by

5.     Promote the original content of our FOJBIs. This is a great place to reach a larger audience outside of your own personal network

 

You can read more about Maddie and her "Friends of Joe's Big Idea" project here.

You can find more information about Joe's Big Idea here.

You can contact Madeline Sofia if you'd like to learn more about becoming a FOJBI: MSofia@npr.org

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