Advice for scientists on how to write applies to politicians wanting to speak

Julian Huppert MP: a politician and a scientist.

Communicating complicated issues to a public that often has only a passing interest and via a media that loves exaggerated scares: scientists and politicians frequently face the same problems when it comes to getting information over to the public.

As a result although scientists often bemoan that politicians do not pay enough attention to science, it is also some of the communications tips for scientists that politicians can usefully learn from.

A great example of this is Rob Dunn’s Advice For Scientists Who Want To Write For The Public:

  1. It is about the people
  2. Your story needs a happening part
  3. It is easy to write a simple story [rather than try a clever one that circumvents all the other advice]
  4. Nouns not adjectives
  5. Sound like you
  6. Be relevant
  7. Tell the readers what they want to know [which isn’t the same as agreeing with all their prejudices or fears]
  8. Even if it is not about people, it is about people
  9. If you write about scientists, make them human
  10. Know your stuff
  11. Tritrophic is not a real word
  12. Share your joy
  13. Your story can turn at the end
  14. Delete

That last one of course appeals to me given what a fan I am of well deployed brevity. As for number 11, just change tritrophic to subsidiarity and scientists to politician:

Your reader does not know the words tritrophic, ecological assemblage, genomics or parthenogenesis. That is not because your reader is dumb. It is because scientists made up those words and never told anyone but other scientists. Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your readers. Readers can be very clever, but it is not their job to know all of the words that you and the twelve people you call colleagues made up.

Even worse when the political jargon is jargon that people think means something different from what politicians think it means. Step forward, social mobility.

The whole post from Rob Dunn is well worth a read whether you’re a politician, a scientist or both.

And if you’re the first or the third, more advice for you on this is in 101 Ways To Win An Election.

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