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Explaining science to non-experts

Explaining science to non-experts

There are many benefits to communicating science to non-specialist audiences — be it professionals in different fields or the general public. Explaining the latest scientific and medical discoveries to the wider audiences helps increase awareness of the issues at stakes. More importantly, it helps decision markers, who are not expert in the field, to make informed decisions. Disseminating scientific studies in an accessible manner increases knowledge, support, and trust. Besides, it also influences public policy and shapes patients’ views. Non-specialist audiences can include the general public, political leaders, and members of the wider scientific community. 

Why is science accessibility so important?

Essentially, raising awareness of developments in research helps professionals understand the links between science and their own work. Ultimately, it helps put context into how the latest research will impact people’s own lives. Progress depends on our understanding of new discoveries and how these impact our existing knowledge. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example. With the emergence of each new variant, we gain a better understanding of new challenges as new information arises and modeling improves. Thus, knowledge around vaccine efficacy evolves as the pandemic does, as transparency around the development process contributes to building public trust. By translating the latest research into easily digestible information, we contribute to raising the awareness of professionals and the wider informed public of the latest advances in the fight against the virus.

Explaining to engage

Scientific research is rarely a linear process, and it is important to report significant discoveries as soon as they materialise, even if the study in question has not concluded (as in this information release on leptoquarks). The best way to engage withan audience is to get them to think. Thus, by sharing progress, researchers invite the audience to consider the problems and the potential implications of their discoveries at each stage.

The cognitive approach

By bringing a better comprehension of the latest research, this approach, known as cognitive teaching, seeks to help an audience retain the information. Put simply: the more we understand, the more sense we will make of what we are seeing, and the sturdier the knowledge base on which we can build.

Multimedia materials offer many effective ways to share information using such cognitive teaching methods. The key is not to overload the brain with too much information. An audience needs to be able to process each idea before moving on to the next. An infographic, for example, offers a simple solution for communicating complex ideas in a concise visual way. 

Teaching with analogies 

Another approach involves using analogies. If an audience is struggling to grasp an abstract concept, a familiar example or analogy can clarify concepts. It can also make science more relatable to existing knowledge, and serve as a memory aid for longer-term retention. Analogies can also add creativity and humour to a potentially dry topic. You can see an example in this abstract for a study published in Physics Open.

How to make science accessible

A consistent approach is essential for efficient, accessible science communication. Each research study will present new challenges to our understanding, so we should think carefully about how best to convey that information. 

Identify your audience and their content needs

The first step is to establish what counts as accessible, as this will differ in each scenario. Different audiences will have different relationships to scientific data and content consumption. The information format that suits one piece of content won’t necessarily work for the next one. Identifying the audience will dictate the content we create and the way in which we release it. Audiences range from science and medical professionals to the general public (A scientific study from the University of Zurich, in Switzerland, examined the public’s level of scientific interest and their media consumption thus giving 20 recommendations on increasing public scientific awareness). 

The medium is the message

There is no one medium that speaks to all audiences. In 2022 we have a huge variety of media options at our disposal, including visual, audio and textual platforms; each demands different creative skills and each offers a new way to reach different groups. The right medium can greatly increase impact, and your choice will shape the content in length, style and format. 

If, for example, a company wants to reach subject experts, they might use a longer article for greater detail. If a medical research institute is looking to spread information through a larger target audience, an infographic is a great way to engage users via social networking sites. 

On the other hand, a Q&A with a subject-matter expert can be just as effective. Hearing the information straight from the source can promote trust and confidence, and encourage the audience to ask their own questions. 

Meet your audience where they are

Consider the benefits of different media when disseminating scientific information. Once you know your audience, you can choose the language, format, and channel most likely to reach and engage them, both now and in the long term. Content that balances clarity and simplicity with creativity and accuracy can help advance scientific research and benefit public knowledge. 

Find the right media expert

Creating content that captivates your audience is difficult. Leave it to the medical content experts to boost your engagement and share your story. 

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