Communicating science—some ideas for newbies

I was asked by the international society of magnetic resonance in medicine to talk about twitter and blogging for science communication. Take home: Excite people with a story that is relevant to their experience, remove jargon (so much for including the jargony society name) and give the conclusion first! Here are some tips to get you started.

We are entering a new phase of science. In this new world, we are expected to make a more concerted effort to reach out and communicate with both scientists AND non-scientists. Why do this? How to do this?

Photo some @ismrm twits at #ismrm17     @jeffreyfdunn @Alex_leemans @badjiatef @silascribbles

I know blog is too short to answer all these questions but I hope to include enough to get you started. We scientists have isolated ourselves so much that the public don’t understand most of what we do. Many actually don’t trust scientists to be unbiased. You want to reach out but are a bit uncomfortable doing that. Many scientists don’t want to speak in public. The internet is designed for you. Twitter and blogging make it pretty simple.

Aim to excite, not to preach. Although we are tempted to explain why alternate facts are bad, leading by example will have more impact. If people get interested they will naturally learn. Keep blogs short, focused and backwards. By this I mean put the conclusions first and build the information as you go. Make it so one can read the first few lines and know what you are going to say.

Blogs can be useful to describe papers in layperson terms. You can use them to teach a subject. Research papers which are blogged about actually tend to have more citations. You might blog on a disease if you are working on that disease and target the public interest groups and patients. You might blog on how imaging works.

It is important to define your audience (demographic, etc). The style of writing and the subject should be consistent if you want to attract a particular group. Perhaps start with an anecdote about something that may relate specifically to your audience. Think of the elevator speech. Make a statement that will attract the person or group you are targeting. Try to understand your audience, whether a single person or a group. Who are you talking to? You would start a conversation differently if you are meeting your family, your research colleagues, a layperson who is sitting on a grant committee, a senior university administrator, etc etc. Have different opening lines or ideas for each audience regardless of whether you are sending a tweet or writing a blog.

How to blog can be a bit overwhelming. Ask another blogger. Blog software allows for creating categories so your blog might have different subjects with links to each subject.

It will take a bit of research to create your first blog. You need a site. You can go full on and buy your own domain. I use “godaddy” to purchase my domain and have an online host. I use wordpress to design the site. Universities often have software that allows you to create and host a website on the university server for free. Lots of websites also have free blogging options—do a search on blog software sites. Using the university is great if you are focusing on your own work. If you decide to blog about personal or other science topics, you might want your own site so there are no control or IP issues.

Read blogs. Get ideas. It is a wonderful and glorious online community of people writing because they are excited and want to reach out to people like you.

Check these out:

Magnetic Resonance in Medicine Highlights

just an editorial note: the MRM link above works of you click ismrm but not if you click the share symbol on the right. I don’t know why JFD


So, TWITTER. Short. Snappy, and with a lot of potential. Here are a few tips:

If you don’t want to tweet yet—fine. It is the best online newspaper around. Use the search icon to search for keywords. Start following people, universities, interest groups, newspapers, journals, magnetic resonance etc. How about the organizers and some members of the scicomm panel: @mrm_highlights @jeffreyfdunn @stikov @erikaraven @fmrib_karla @mrimark @Dee_Kay_Jay

When using twitter to communicate science, it is OK to tweet a lunch photo and some travel pics now and then, this makes the person seem human. Make sure you are polite. Bad tweets can haunt you forever. Consider the audience (again). If you post a photo of a scientist, put something interesting in to say why someone might want to know about this person.

Put something in your bio that relates to the image you want to project in your twitter account. Put in a photo. You may not want one of yourself but put in something-an image, hardware, cartoon, you doing something that you like to do. The bio is short but without it you won’t get many followers. Why would someone follow you if they don’t know what you are going to tweet about?

-include a photo in your tweets when you can. People love images, pictures, etc.

-include weblinks. If you publish a new paper you could tweet the link to the paper or pubmed citation. Tweet your lab website. These links make twitter very powerful in terms of conveying news. The tweet then becomes just a title pointing to the longer article you want to communicate

-include hashtags. #MRI #ISMRM17 related to the topic. Think about what someone might search for. Most hastags in twitter are too long and not too searchable.

-include @etc. By including someones twitter handle, the tweet will show up in their software as a mention. They will see it and have a higher probability of retweeting or reading it.

In conclusion, more info:

Thoughts on using social media as a scientist:

Thoughts on using twitter as a scientist:

AND, a peer reviewed article saying blogs will increase your publication readership! Enjoy cyberspace.

  1. Hoang, J. K., J. McCall, A. F. Dixon, R. T. Fitzgerald and F. Gaillard “Using Social Media to Share Your Radiology Research: How Effective Is a Blog Post?” J Am Coll Radiol 12(7): 760-5.

PURPOSE: The aim of this study was to compare the volume of individuals who viewed online versions of research articles in 2 peer-reviewed radiology journals and a radiology blog promoted by social media. METHODS: The authors performed a retrospective study comparing online analytic logs of research articles in the American Journal of Neuroradiology (AJNR) and the American Journal of Roentgenology (AJR) and a blog posting on from April 2013 to September 2014. All 3 articles addressed the topic of reporting incidental thyroid nodules detected on CT and MRI. The total page views for the research articles and the blog article were compared, and trends in page views were observed. Factors potentially affecting trends were an AJNR podcast and promotion of the blog article on the social media platforms Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to followers of in February 2014 and August 2014. RESULTS: The total numbers of page views during the study period were 2,421 for the AJNR article and 3,064 for the AJR article. The blog received 32,675 page views, which was 13.6 and 10.7 times greater than AJNR and AJR page views, respectively, and 6.0 times greater than both journal articles combined. Months with activity above average for the blog and the AJNR article coincided with promotion by on social media. CONCLUSIONS: Dissemination of scientific material on a radiology blog promoted on social media can substantially augment the reach of more traditional publication venues. Although peer-reviewed publication remains the most widely accepted measure of academic productivity, researchers in radiology should not ignore opportunities for increasing the impact of research findings via social media.