15 Knowing your audience

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Earlier in this book, we learned about different contexts and audiences for scientific writing. Module 3: Outreach focuses on communicating science to the general public.

Sections in this chapter

Outreach and SciComm

Science Communication (SciComm) comes in many shapes and forms, all with the main goal of communicating a scientific concept or discovery to non-experts. You have likely seen SciComm in the form of infographics, articles, radio or podcasts, TikTok videos, and more!  It takes skill to effectively communicate science, and there are many scientists who move into this area as a full-time career. SciComm is a form of science outreach, which aims to extend the boundaries of science to include more people. Outreach efforts can also include broader science campaigns (COVID19 Awareness Campaign), events (Science Rendevous), and programs (Let’s Talk Science).

Science Communicators and Venues

List of science communicators to check out

Venues for science communication

Who is the “general public”?

The term “general public” refers to, well, everyone. Usually, the term is used to describe non-experts and non-scientists, but it’s important to keep in mind that this is not a homogenous group. When creating science communications for the general public, ask yourself more about who is your audience:

  • Where does my audience live?
  • What is their daily experience with the topic?
  • Is my audience children, teenagers, or adults?
  • What is their profession (e.g., are they teachers)?

Once you have a clear picture of your audience, it’s easier to tailor your outreach efforts.[1] You can identify the level of detail, words that your audience may not know (or may have different meanings for), and create something that they will be able to use and learn from. Your work will have a greater impact if your work is designed for one target demographic.

Double meanings

There are words used in science that have different common meanings.[2] Keep these in mind when you are trying to communicate science to non-experts!

Definition in science Use in common language
Theory An idea developed over years of experiments, fact collection, and data synthesis, e.g., evolution by natural selection A hunch
E. Coli A microorganism with many strains, some harmful, others safe and used as model organisms Harmful germs
Conductor A substance that transmits electrical current, heat, or sound Leader of a musical ensemble or train
Element A pure substance that cannot be separated into simpler substances A stovetop, or an aspect of something
Organic Chemistry of compounds with carbon and hydrogen, related to life A type of farming to create food following certain regulations
Chemical A substance (everything is made of) A toxic or unnatural substance
Novel New or unique A book

  1. http://blogs.nature.com/naturejobs/2015/08/21/science-communication-know-your-audience/
  2. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1021/ac041564e


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Principles of Scientific Communication Copyright © 2020 by Amanda Bongers and Donal Macartney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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