GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 133-6
Presentation Time: 3:15 PM


HOUGH, Susan, South Pasadena, CA 91030

The value of science communication is appreciated increasingly by the geoscience community. In a social media age, a proliferation of media outlets both facilitates and complicates #SciComm efforts. A scientist today can potentially reach a broad audience using everything from a 280-character Twitter tweet to a 75,000-word book. As different as these media are, many of the guidelines to get one’s message heard in a noisy world are independent of media type:

1) Know your audience. Science writing for a broad audience is not about what information you want to tell people, it’s about writing words that people who don’t have to read will want to read. On Twitter, people will follow you for a reason; tweeting about other things might grow your following, but it can also fall flat, and detract from your message (unless you are tweeting about cats, which is always okay, in moderation.)

2) Tell a story. Scientists read technical papers and other publications because they are intensely interested in the science. Overwhelmingly, with longer pieces especially, readers don’t want dense technical details, they want a story.

3) The people are part of the story. Any compelling story has a narrative arc. For most non-specialists, a compelling narrative arc is all about the people. This does not mean throwing a lot of names at the reader, but rather focusing on one or a small number of protagonists.

4) Make it timely. The earthquake scientist has the advantage and disadvantage that public interest waxes and wanes with earthquakes in the news. The teachable moment is real.

5) Look for opportunities. One can’t plan one’s publications around the dates of future earthquakes, but earthquake anniversaries also capture public attention, and serve as teachable moments as well.

6) Books are not dead yet. Even as many people get their information from social media, and there can be an expectation that all human knowledge is and should be freely available, science books are still published, and remain an important #SciComm outlet. I discuss briefly how to develop and market a trade book proposal.