These are just two of the headlines generated from research which was presented at the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) Meeting 2012(#seb2012), Salzburg. This year’s SEB press intern, Catie Lichten, generated a number of press stories identified from abstracts submitted in advance of the meeting, some of which ended up on BBC Nature as well as a multitude of other international media.
In my previous blog, “If you don’t talk about it, you haven’t done it”, I wrote about the importance of communicating your research to the public and the variety of ways in which you can achieve this. The media represents a really powerful global outlet for communicating research through TV, radio, news websites, newspapers and magazines. If you want to improve your research impact in terms of its global reach, you need to know how to make it marketable to the press – you need to “find the hook”.
Most universities employ a press officer who can help you to write a press story, however many do not have a science background so you may still need to take a hand in helping to write it. Key rules in writing an effective press release are as follows:
Consider the 5Ws: Who, what, when, where, why (and how).
Who is your audience?: What level of knowledge should you assume? Don’t use acronyms.
Opening paragraph:Introduce the scientists and the problem they are trying to solve.
Body of the text:What did you do, how did you do it, what did you find, what is your interpretation of the results?
Do’s: Explain EVERYTHING – don’t expect your audience to read between the lines.
Don’ts: Don’t give too much background or talk about control experiments, don’t write in the passive tense.
Be straight-talking: Don’t say “Three dimensional discontinuous arboreal environment” when you mean “wood”.
Include interesting facts: Surprises, Eureka moments, hardest/funniest things.
A picture paints a thousand words: Interesting video clips, images and other visuals can sell an ordinary story.
Timing: The press is usually interested in a research story which is about to be published in a journal or presented at a conference. Many journals offer a press service to journal authors so check with them before contacting your own university press office.
Embargo: You can submit your press release at any time if you impose an ‘embargo’ which prevents anyone publishing the information ahead of a specified time (e.g. you can embargo your press release to coincide with the date of publication or a conference presentation) to ensure maximum impact.
SEB subscribes to Eurekalert (US based) which is a dedicated science news site for journalists. The European news site, Alphagalileo, offers a similar service. Members of SEB, delegates of its meetings and authors of its journals can take advantage of its press service by contacting the SEB Education office (firstname.lastname@example.org).