How to write a Science Bite

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Communicating science to the general public is not easy. Most researchers are “programmed” to be objective, unemotional, write in a highly specialised language only understood by their peers, and describe how the research was done, often taking out what it means for non-experts.

Communicating science to the general public is almost the opposite of writing a research publication. Here we share a few tips on affecting others with your passion for “your” science and turn them into subscribers.

Know your audience

There is an excellent method to taste our abilities to communicate well with an audience: the grandma test. Try to read or explain to your grandmother what you do or what you just wrote. If she does not understand, nobody else will (assuming she does not have a PhD in the same field). 

Knowing your audience is the first most crucial thing. It helps to have a picture (real photo or in your head) of your audience. What can they do with the information? Why is it essential for them? Can they use that information and apply it in real life?  What should they care about this? Give them practical tips. Your Science Bites should become an essential source of vital information your audience will understand, use it for their benefit and will be so excited about gaining that knowledge that they will want to share it with their friends and family. Your Science Bite should not be “nice to know” but “must to know” to make an impact on your audience lives. 

Depressed mushrooms are delicious

An average person spends 3 seconds looking at new content. Make sure those 3 seconds capture the audience’s attention, and they will want to read more. The best titles are short, snappy, bold, funny, intriguing and most importantly, not boring. Try to use a heading that is the least scientifically possible. Never use technical words nobody will understand because this will immediately put people off. Have fun coming with titles, and remember you only have 3 seconds or less!

Wait! What?! 

Once you get that attention, you need to keep that excitement and curiosity. Your first sentence should state something important, summarise your point, or ask the audience a question. There are different ways to keep your audience interested, but describing your research process in detail is often not the case. People want to know what it means for them, and you should write it excitingly and educationally. 

No ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ please!

Use plain English and avoid technical jargon. Most people who will read your Science Bits are non-experts, and you need to make it easy for them to understand.

Do not make assumptions that people will understand some abbreviations or expressions you are familiar with. Do not assume people will want to google scientific words; on the contrary, they will lose interest in your writing. Use simple words and commonly known expressions.

Your Since Bits will be read by people of different backgrounds and from other parts of the world who often are not native English speakers. If you struggle to write for non-experts, try to do a little experiment: write a text message to your friend (a non-expert in your field)  or an Instagram post about your idea. You will see how differently you will write and that exact tone you should use for Science Bites on Science Says. 

Once upon a time

People love stories. We read books, watch movies for the stories, so try to be a storyteller too.  Make sure your story has the beginning, opening and grand finale! Your story needs to be sticky and needs to have a flow. People will remember you and your Science Bites much better if it is associated with a story rather than just dry fact. 

Call to action!

A fantastic way to engage with your audience is to get them involved in your cause. Start with the description of your page and tell people why you chose the topic. You hope people will join you on a journey exploring it. Many people will feel emotional about topics you will be writing about, e.g. climate change, sustainability, cancer research and many other issues. Scientists are very passionate about their subjects (some are obsessed!). Try to motivate your audience and join your mission. Be contagious about the problem you are solving with science, and you will have dedicated supporters. 

Showing emotions is good 

Science communication is human communication. You need to show emotions and do not shy away from expressing feelings about the topics you are writing about. It is OK to say that you are annoyed, happy, excited, sad, etc. Your writing will be more personal, and you will establish stronger relationships with your audience. Always remember who your audience is and show empathy. You are solving those people’s problems with science, and you are dedicating your life to it! Let people love you for it. 

Use emoji and hashtags 

A great way to show emotions are emojis. That right, you hear me right. You can use emojis in your Science Bites! It will lighten up the tone of your Science Bites and most certainly help with adding some emotions. 

Do not mention research papers

Research papers back all publications on Science Says, so you do not need to mention in your Science Bites that “the study says”. Go straight to the point; the link to the evidence is below. Avoid summarising that research paper and go straight to conclusions (and what it means to your audience).

Explain how science is done 

While you do not need to keep mentioning those research papers from time to time, you can include a sentence on how researchers came up with the conclusion. Many people have no idea how science is done, and they need to be told that it takes time and many experiments. Some will find it interesting that 1 million avocados were used to test the texture of that fruit in 4 different countries simultaneously (for example) so better seeds could be developed to benefit the world. People find scientific experiments fascinating, so keep it exciting and even corky. 

Stick to one topic 

It is tricky, but you need to create Science Bites on a specific topic but not so narrow that only very few people will be interested in it. Try to be consistent and stick to the subject. Do not write about medicine in general but stay focused on your area of interest. 

People remember details 

Some examples should support a very general statement. Add detail to give some “colour” to your Science Bite. It will help your Science Bite to be more memorable and more interesting. People will want to share with others that fascinating finding. 

Keep repeating yourself 

This one is a tough one for scientists because research is all about novel ideas. This is not necessarily the case with Science Bites. Your audience is not familiar with previous research on the topic, so you need to introduce them to your world by bringing some older ideas. Some people will not be able to read everything you write and miss some of your posts. It is OK to repeat topics and ideas. Write about the same subjects from time to time, especially if you want people to understand something. Your audience needs time and space to absorb and process the information. You will help them and enforce that message by repetition. 

Pace yourself 

Some topics will take more than one Science Bite. You might want to create series on a particular topic. It also helps your engagement with your audience, and it will help with adding people to your subscriptions because they are looking forward to the next week or months for the next chapter of your series about something. 

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