Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Useful Advice 

This article on science writing has useful advice for PR practitioners. Note particularly the following.

Let the research speak for itself. This is where PR practitioners fall down regularly. They fail to relate in releases how research was conducted, an essential step in determining validity. Failing to give details is a common error in reporting surveys. One should always give sample size, whether the sample was random and error ranges for the population.

Don't use scientific jargon. This is a frequent error in press releases. A practitioner is not sure of what a term means but uses it anyway and obfuscates the text. Learn to use layperson analogies or, the first time a term appears, explain it clearly before going to the next step. Most importantly, if you don't understand a term, press the researcher to explain it until you do.

Visuals need the same treatment as words. This is an area where PR practitioners fail often and when they do, they can misreport results. Simplified visuals must not be simplistic. Bad graphs are common. They have distorted ranges that make a result look more significant than it is.

Don't overstate your case. Here is where PR practitioners err regularly. Part of the problem comes from the researcher who is excited by a result and makes too much of it. "This is a cure for cancer!" Uh, maybe. PR practitioners have to push back when researchers believe their own hype. An understated release is better than an overstated one, as long as one has told the story clearly and concisely.

Science writing is a craft of accuracy and story telling at the same time. When one reports accurately and with understanding, readers come away with an appreciation for what a researcher has done -- both the advance and the limits to the advance. Especially with medical research, there are too many claims that come up empty when examined closely.


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