A great deal of work goes into creating effective communication strategies – even before you get to Designing messages.

You’ve also got one week left to tell us what you think about our newsletter, and the chance to win 12 bottles of wine or an ABC Shop voucher for your thoughts.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam

Jenni MetcalfeSarah Cole (newsletter editor), Jane Ilsley and guest contributor Toss Gascoigne



Practicing what we would never preach

By Jenni Metcalfe

“If only scientists would listen to what we – as expert science communicators – know about how to communicate properly, then we’d all be a lot better off.” This is the sentiment of several articles I’ve read recently by eminent science communicators.

These articles warn of the dangers of scientists using a deficit-model approach to communicating their science, especially if it’s controversial: “One-way communication – where you assume you have all the knowledge, and people are empty vessels to be filled with evidence-based facts – well, it just doesn’t work,” warn these articles. “If scientists applied ‘communication 101’ then all would be well.”

There’s also a call – and an increasing number of publications – by science communication researchers for scientists to pay more attention to the ‘science of science communication’.

But it strikes me that beating scientists over the head is exactly what we are telling them not to do with their audiences. We’re guilty of using the deficit model ourselves.

If we want scientists to engage with people, going beyond the deficit model, then shouldn’t we as science communicators be using the same techniques of dialogue and participation?

What about this as an approach?

  • Have an open discussion with scientists about what works (or doesn’t work) about their communication approaches.
  • Understand the culture they work within, and its values.
  • Recognise that they have practical knowledge and experiences of science communication that we can learn from.
  • Listen to their perceptions, concerns and needs.
  • Work together to create and test new ways of communicating their science.

LB. Junior Ranger School Visit to Banyan Elementary, Stella Summer's class.
Image: Wikimedia



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The right content and tone for your audience

By Toss Gascoigne

Designing messages is not only about their content, but also about the way they are worded for your audience.

The first step is to listen to the audience to work out what they think they need to know, and how they want to know it.

If you don’t understand your audience, the points you want to make won’t even get to ‘first base’. What is your aim? To inform, persuade, or get people to act?

The second step is to pre-test the draft messages, to get feedback and reactions.

Wording and tone
Remember, audiences like short, direct, factual and simple.

For example: food labelling systems fail because it’s small print, too technical and the maths is challenging. What people want is a traffic-light system: green for ‘eat’, orange for ‘eat sparingly as a treat’, and red for ‘eat only if obesity appeals’.

You might also consider wrapping a message in a story. People remember stories, but forget facts.

And tone counts. Get the tone wrong and the audience rolls its eyes – think of advising teenage kids on drugs or the dangers of parties: “Oh, Muuuummmm!”

Woman rolling her eyes
Image: Twitchy



Making messages for people, not organisations

By Sarah Cole

Writing your messages can sometimes feel like the ‘meat’ of communication planning: “Ah, we’re finally getting to what we want to tell people!” It’s a fun process.

Sometimes we can get tangled up in how to write messages. The problem’s in that exact sentence: write messages.

Often when we write, we tend to say what we mean in a very different way, bringing in more formal language.

Here are my tips to create messages that people can connect with and understand (not messages aimed at ‘organisations’).

  1. Pretend you have someone sitting in front of you that represents the group you want to communicate with.
  2. Out loud, talk to that person, saying conversationally what you’d like them to know.
  3. Keep it short. Let’s say, 30 seconds to slowly and simply say each message. Even less is better: a pared-down sentence you can expand on later.
  4. Don’t be afraid of using ‘we, me, you, and us’ language.

Wonan at desk thinking about writing in notebook
Image: Pexels



Link of the month

Instead of giving answers, we should manage people’s expectations when talking about uncertainty, say expert communicators. Uncertainty is everywhere in life, and climate science is no different. They have 11 more tips for communicating uncertainty, summarised here.