One of the most important skills we will work on this semester is effectively communicating complex science to a wide audience. This is pivotal in addressing the challenges we face in a changing climate. As such, it's important to begin our semester together with this goal at the forefront of your mind. Science serves no purpose if it's only understandable to the scientists who study it. Instead, we need a host of professionals in governmental and private sector roles alike who can distill challenging scientific material into factually accurate but more easily digestible information for decision-makers and the public.
Communicating Science Effectively - Where do we start?
Let's think about these three tenets of effective science communication:
- Understanding the issue
- Supporting your position
- Connecting to your audience
As you look at these tenets, you'll see that these translate to lots of types of writing, not just science writing. But it's particularly important for the work we'll do together this semester that we keep these goals in mind as we craft your project submissions and other writing assignments.
Understanding the Issue
To effectively communicate a topic, you need to really understand it. Think of communicating as almost synonymous to teaching. If you're going to be an effective teacher of a subject, you need to understand it quite thoroughly so that you can creatively present multiple ways of understanding that subject to your students (audience) depending on which presentation style resonates most with their learning preferences. Communicating science is no exception. So your first job in this class is to genuinely immerse yourself in the material and develop mastery of the content.
Supporting Your Position
Many students struggle with crafting a strongly supported position on an issue, and this is a skill we will work on throughout the semester. Sometimes I leave feedback on a writing submission that says, "Wow me with data!" And really, your job in supporting your position is two-fold. You need to first research the topic from credible and appropriate sources. Then, you need to integrate that research into your writing. These skills are, frankly, challenging for many people, but the payoff for making progress is huge. By weaving data and evidence into your discussion, you establish credibility for the argument you're making. Think of it as trying to make an air-tight case for the position you're presenting. For example, don't just tell me that climate change is warming the earth significantly. For all I (as the reader) know, that's just you making that up. But if you support that statement with evidence from a scholarly source, you make your statement more specific and credible.
Connecting to Your Audience
Climate change is the sort of issue that affects us all. And as you'll learn throughout the semester, those effects are differently experienced across space and socioeconomic factors. As you craft any written assignment, you need to have the intended audience in mind from the outset to help frame the style, tone, and focus of your writing. The best advice I can offer about connecting with people on climate change is to think about how to connect it to the things they already care about rather than trying to convince them to care about climate change. For the primary writing project in this class, you'll be tasked with preparing a summary of climate change causes, consequences, and solutions for a specific place of some importance to you. Be thinking about the characteristics of that place and the people who live/work there and why climate change might matter to them. For example, if I'm writing about climate change in my hometown of South Williamsport, PA (go Little League!!!), then leading off with polar bears and melting glaciers probably isn't my best bet to connect with my audience and implore them to care.
The Library is Here to Help!
The EMS Library has compiled a wonderful reference site to help you strengthen your science communication skills: Science Communication in Earth and Mineral Sciences. While there's a ton of useful information throughout that site, for this class I call your attention, specifically, to the following sections:
- General Writing Resources
- Discipline-Specific Writing
- Writing a Research Paper - (Saved the best for last here!!!) There is a ton of useful information here on everything from helping you identify appropriate and credible sources, where to find sources like that (it's not just Googling, friends), and how to evaluate that information and - perhaps of most direct interest to you as emerging science writers - how to synthesize that information with your own thoughts in your own words by effectively quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing. Not to be missed! Five out of five stars; will definitely improve your grade.