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Week 11 - Keeping it Simple, a Lesson in Tweeting

Submitted by dnavon on Wed, 04/19/2017 - 10:06

This week we borrowed a page (or several) from the Thing Explainer, Randall Monroe's book on explaining complex ideas using only the list of 1000 most commonly used English words.  First, we crafted a short (~30 word) summary of what we do using ONLY those words.  Then we worked to tighten them further to only 140 characters (or a single tweet), injecting in some more complex language while simultaneously preserving the simplicity of the statement.  I found it very interesting that several people pushed back on the exercise, feeling it was too silly or puerile to be truly useful.  To me, the goal of science communication is typically to engage with a broad audience - who care much less about the finer details (however beautiful, elegant, or inherently interesting they may be to someone in science).  Your standard layperson wants to understand the big picture and how your research fits into that - and how your science can ultimately help them.  We can commiserate forever about how sad that reality is, but if our goal is to engage someone who isn't academically minded or morally obligated to care about us (i.e. our parents), we typically have to lay out the broader impacts and cut back on the intricacies.  

Next week, in our penultimate class, we'll be hearing from a panel of science communicators about their experiences with dealing with the public.  

I'll remind you again next week, but our final class will start about 10 minutes late so that people (ok, this person anyways) can attend the "Faculty as Engaged Scholars" panel that ends at 1:30.

Homework this week

  • Optional: Post your tweet-like research summaries either on Twitter or Facebook.  Use the hashtag #UMassSciComm2017 and tag me @CaptainDina3 (Twitter) or @Dina Navon (FB)
  • Write a press release.  Check out this website for recent biomedical examples.  In essence, these should be short (500 words or less - this is a strict word limit, folks!) summaries of a recent research article.  You may use your own research if you'd like but I'd prefer you cover someone else's work. Your target audience is mainstream media outlets like the New York Times or the Boston Globe.  The goal is to get your target audience to cover your story!  Please attach both the press release you write and a PDF of the article you are writing about.  These are due by MONDAY night.