Science communication and writing so the general public understands
Updated: May 24
You know you need to write scientific papers, highly structured experimental articles full of scientific words. Articles that sound “intelligent”. Articles that you rarely read fully.
An often-forgotten side of scientific writing is that one in the field of science communication. Science communication is more than writing…it would also include talks, drawings, and any other form of communication you can think of!
Focusing on writing is something most of us don’t do enough. And others do it very well! My idol on this aspect has for a long time been Dr. Esther Ngumbi. She is an assistant professor of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And we share not only our love for insects, but also for beneficial microbes and communicating science. I was very fortunate that she gave a super inspiring masterclass for “I focus and write”.
You can go and watch this masterclass here. And afterwards, you may want to have a look at my story and tips to send your article to the Careers column of Nature. But before that, I wanted to share with you 4 reasons why I think you should invest your precious time in science communication (some of these points are also shared by Esther):
You’ll contribute to making a better world
You must have had several reasons to become a scientist. I am sure making an impact in the world was one of them. As a scientist, you are contributing to the solution to societal challenges. But those that will execute and design those solutions rarely read scientific publications. Many of them are in paid journals. Others are barely understandable for the non-experts. By communicating your science, you are promoting evidence-based decisions. Whatever that motivation was, communicating your science is a way to make that impact that is in your hands. Getting the Nobel prize is not really in your hands…
You’ll educate those funding your research and future generations
Most of the salaries of scientists are paid with public money. Money that comes from taxes of the general public. It is only fair that those people have the possibility to understand what is done with that money. By communicating your science, you are providing the general public, including future generations, with new insights and knowledge!
You’ll make the most out of one scientific article
You know I also love productivity over here…We spend time and energy on having a scientific publication that almost nobody reads (I can help you writing that one in my online course "Mindful Scientific Writing"!). Months, years…and then it’s out, maybe you create a post on Twitter, and then, you cross your fingers. Repurposing that article can provide you with more communication material. And it will make the effort worth it! How to repurpose and into what is worth a full post in itself, so more to come!
It’s good for you
When you start communicating your science, your family, friends, and neighbors finally will understand what you do. This may boost your motivation (and your ego). But also, more scientists know about your research, and you’ll get more citations, which you know, is good for your CV! And you’ll be better at communicating your work at a broader level, which will help you also when writing your grants and projects.
So basically, communicating your scientific work to the general public is a great idea. Such a good idea, that in many places is becoming a requirement to get certain jobs and fellowships. But at first it may sound difficult, especially when you need to write avoiding the jargon you probably use in your scientific writing. If you want some practical tips on how to do it, I have another article about publishing in Nature Careers (including extra resources) and you can watch there the masterclass of Esther Ngumbi. She provides specific tips to write an “op-ed” and even includes an example of “pitching” emails, those that you need to send to the editors. Priceless!
And I hope you feel then motivated to write a piece to communicate your work!