Tips, ideas and inspiration for science communication

Last changed: 23 November 2021

Here you will find tips and ideas about what you can do yourself to increase visibility for you as a researcher. The goal of the project is to create opportunities for increased funding of future research projects, which the tips indirectly aim at.

Communication in different stages of a project

You can communicate your research at various stages of a project. While the most obvious example is by reporting your results in a scientific article, we would like to offer some advice about other opportunities to highlight your work through various channels before, during and after your project. Naturally, you need to consider who you wish to communicate with at each stage, and indeed why, in order to identify the most suitable channels. Feel free to consult colleagues in your subject group or a communications officer.  Plan your communication at an early juncture but be prepared to make changes along the way and grab any opportunities that may arise. 

Identifying good working methods for science communication in projects in close collaboration with subject areas is one item on our agenda for the coming years. If you would like to offer any additional advice, we would be delighted to hear from you and we will publish it on our tips and inspiration page on the Staff Web.

  • Funding approved: Hurrah! The target groups affected by your research may find it interesting to hear that you have received significant funding for a project. Should it be an extensive project, the news may even be of interest to a wider public, in which case it may be appropriate to issue a press release referring to a project page on the website. That said, bear in mind that the interesting angle for most readers will not be the funding in itself, but the exciting research that you intend to conduct and how this relates to widely recognised societal issues. Of course, you should also update your profile page (CV-page) on the SLU website with details of the new project. This is also the time to reformulate any general communication plan you may have submitted with your application to include specific steps to be taken now the project is underway.
  • Recruiting staff to your project. While a job advertisement might be the traditional channel of communication, if the vacancy is a senior position it may be worth contacting the media to explain more about the project and the planned recruitment. Another idea is to use posts on networking platforms such as LinkedIn and specific platforms for researchers. A mailshot using a relevant email address list may also be a good idea. And remember: describe the research environment on offer to the successful candidate in an attractive manner on the website in both English and Swedish. Taken together, this will raise the profile of the project and strengthen the SLU brand, making it easier to recruit to your next project. 
  • Once you begin work, more clearly delineated target groups may be interested to know that the project is underway, perhaps as part of efforts to gain input for the research. If you’re lucky, this may provide new contacts that will prove useful during the project.
  • Once the project is underway. As an individual researcher, feel free to share the progress of your project on an ongoing basis through channels such as your own social media accounts and from time to time through SLU’s channels. Focus on creating posts that engage with your target group and make it interesting to follow you and your project. Photographs and brief video clips showing your work will give a sense of topicality. Tag your posts with relevant words/hashtags and they will spread more widely. The purpose can be to stimulate interest in your field or to show what is happening in the project.
  • Interim results. What might be of interest over the course of the project? Experiments that show preliminary results? It may then be appropriate to communicate your research once again, this time to more limited target groups. Perhaps you could arrange a webinar or participate at an event arranged by someone else? Although it may feel intimidating to discuss your results before they are published, bear in mind that you can go far by simply describing your project and results in more general terms.
  • Scientific articles, the work of students or popular science publications. Once you have published your scientific article, it is time to communicate the results of your project. It is a good idea to prepare popular science communication in advance once your article has been accepted for publication. If the results of your research are of public interest, SLU can issue a press release. If interest is likely to be narrower, you can publish a news article on the SLU website and then notify relevant media outlets and other stakeholders by email for example.
  • Other:
    • One method of reporting results in popular science form is a policy brief, or you could publish in LTV’s Fact Sheet or Reports series.
    • And it goes without saying: Convey your new knowledge and results in courses and study programmes. Students are generally an important target group in themselves, given that it is they who will be applying the knowledge gained from the university’s research once they begin their professional practice. 
    • Grasp opportunities for communication as and when they arise. Participate in the public discourse, write and respond to debate posts and attend physical and digital debate forums of relevance to your research problems.
    • Make sure your research is visible internally, both at the faculty and university-wide, in order to create awareness of your field among your colleagues; if you keep up to date with the state of knowledge in other researchers’ fields, this can create interdisciplinary synergies.
    • Make your research visible to financiers and fellow researchers in other organisations to create contacts and networks for your future research.
    • Make open data from your project accessible and discuss it.

You and your research on social media

Social media are an effective way to disseminate your research, build your brand and reputation as a researcher within a specific field and contribute to knowledge development in surrounding society. Social media are also effective in increasing citations of your scientific publications. Social media are not simply a means of reaching out with what you have to say, they also create engagement in various ways. You can engage people by publishing your research together with a question, by sharing other people’s research, initiating discussion on your subject area or anything else you are passionate about and contributing to other people’s discussions (in posts, forums or groups).

Different channels reach different target groups in different formats (text, photographs, videos, etc.). So, your purpose, target group and type of material plays a role in which platform you choose and, in many cases, as a researcher you will need to use several platforms in your communication. If you have no wish to create your own accounts to disseminate your research, there are many organisations, companies and networks that have accounts on which they are only too happy to share material that suits their purposes and objectives. 

If you do want to open your own accounts, or already have, consider which strategy you should adopt for your social media engagement. You may need one private account for personal use and one for your professional role, so that you can keep these separate and be more distinct in your communication. It is far from unusual to have several accounts on the same platform. You will also need to think about your posts: should you use photographs, how can you include links to the best effect, which tags should you use to attract attention, how should you adapt content to your target group and platform of choice and, finally, ensure that you are authentic and inspire trust. Feel free to conduct business intelligence on the platform(s) you intend to use to learn more about target groups and what type of debates take place there.

Yes, even social media channels can encounter problems, just as happened last week when the major sites suffered six-hour outages. But there are still a number of channels to consider :-):

  • Research Gate and Google Scholar can be used to good advantage when it comes to reaching researchers to find new networks and contacts. 
  • Twitter is a useful forum for brief posts, discussions and keeping up with developments. Use hashtags to reach those you wish to communicate with. It is also easy to follow people and organisations to develop your network. For the best results on Twitter, tweet regularly. 
  • LinkedIn is a professional networking platform where you can create new contacts, networks and collaborations with other researchers but above all with professional colleagues in the private and public sectors. Create contacts, follow interesting people and join groups that discuss your subject. 
  • Facebook remains the largest social media platform for the general public. Many people use the Facebook News Feed as their main news channel. Post and share, join or start relevant groups for more active discussion.
  • Instagram is primarily a platform for sharing photographs with explanatory text. Once appealing largely to younger target groups, Instagram is increasingly popular with all target groups. 
  • YouTube and TikTok are video-sharing platforms. We would love to hear from any researchers that work actively with either of these channels.

Threats and hate speech? Regrettably, threats and harassment have become more common on social media as well. A research project is underway to map the extent of this among researchers and teachers at the university. But what can you do about it? If you receive threats or are subjected to personal attacks or harassment on social media, try to react calmly and do not write anything you would not say to someone’s face if you met them on the town square. Document the incident by taking a screenshot. To remove offensive material posted online, contact the provider of the service that has been misused. This may result in the person who threatened you having their account suspended. You may even have grounds for reporting the matter to the police (in Swedish). SLU has a procedure in place for dealing with undue influence and threats within your profession: contact your immediate manager and discuss possible courses of action with them, learn more in SLU Security’s information on unlawful influence.

 

Sources:

The use of social media and its impact for research :: BioResources (ncsu.edu)

Social media for scientists | Nature Cell Biology

How Researchers Use Social Media to Promote their Research and Network with Industry | TIM Review

How the Scientific Community Reacts to Newly Submitted Preprints: Article Downloads, Twitter Mentions, and Citations (plos.org)

126 Amazing Social Media Statistics and Facts | Brandwatch

Så använder forskare sociala medier | Tidningen Curie

Sociala medier - Svenskarna och internet

Strömma avsnitt 145. LinkedIn uppdaterar – och vi måste tänka nytt av podcasten av Social by default | Lyssna online utan kostnad på SoundCloud

Social media toolbox from the EU’s Quest project

The EU project Quest studies the landscape and the dynamics of science communication on social media, including the infodemic and polarisation, and provides tools to support science communication on social media. The project highlights the qualitative aspects of science communication, which we also presented in our newsletter of 25 May. 

What could be a news item? – News values

What is news? And why do some news items receive more attention than others? There are many different criteria for evaluating newsworthiness. 

Journalism programmes teach various categories of news values and it is based on these, among other things, that journalists and reporters prepare their articles and reports. Björn Häger, journalist and former chairman of the Publicist Club, discusses in journalism students' course literature Reporter - A basic book in journalism[1] the following principles for how events are valued as news:

  • Significance and importance: Accidents or other events that cause loss of life have high news value. But this also depends on the significance of the news to the community. The more of a media outlet’s readers or viewers who are affected by the news, the higher its news value. As news linked to the climate often has a high news value even if it is not an isolated event. But the significance of a news item is not always what is important to people. If it is significant, however, and the journalist grasps how it is important to their readers, it is more likely to be reported. 
  • Unexpectedness: If something out of the ordinary happens, that’s news. The more unexpected the event, the more newsworthy it is. Light-hearted, exotic and amusing events can also be news. And if it is also highly significant to the community, it is more likely to become news. Even stories that are not a direct event such as unexpected results of research become news.
  • Proximity: Proximity, in time and/or space, is often the most important criterion of news value. An event is not news if it happened five days ago and is of little interest if it does not directly affect the reader. And the local is generally of greater interest to the local press. This also applies to cultural, religious, socioeconomic proximity. So, a state election in the United States is of more interest to us in Sweden than a similar election in Uganda. And Business Weekly is more likely to write about the Nobel Prize in Economics than the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, while Chemistry World will do the opposite. 
  • Conflict: The opposition of people or forces has dramatic effect and is the main ingredient of much of today’s news reporting. Such conflicts may be the result of general antagonism between groups or within a group (internecine political strife, for example) or moral conflicts when someone fails to do what is expected of them. 
  • Elites: Events involving those who already have a high media profile – the royal family, members of parliament, etc. – are more likely to be deemed newsworthy. This criterion can also apply to a researcher or someone who is considered an expert in the field and who has already commented on the subject before. Put yourself on the map by talking within your area of expertise when asked.
  • Unambiguity: Simplicity and comprehensibility have a considerable effect on whether something becomes news. It can be difficult for important news to compete if it is perceived as too complex. Present your news comprehensibly and it will be easier for journalists to write about it, or to interview you about it. If news is about people, it is often easier to understand. The same is true of the unexpected when it relates to something that we are now more familiar with, such as climate change, the effects of which have been presented much less ambiguously in the media over the past decade.
  • Competition: Media outlets love a scoop, especially when it’s front page news. But then it is important that others pick up the story. When thinking about how to present your news, consider how big or unique it is: should you initially offer to one outlet and then circulate a press release, or issue a press release immediately.

A journalist also needs a clear approach to their article/report – they need an angle. To this end, you can always help the journalist by making this clear in your contact with them.

Of course, other things can also affect, such as follow-up on an already told news or that a news has a symbolic value. It can be good to follow the media you want to be seen in to know what is written and who writes about your area of expertise.

Contact media
Have you made a breakthrough that has one or more of the above news values? If so, it might be interesting to tip off the media. You can do so in a number of ways. One is to write a press release. Learn more on the SLU website: Press releases and media contacts | Staff Web (slu.se). Another way is to contact a journalist in person, perhaps someone you already know is writing on the subject. Or you can use newsletters or social media to reach journalists. Another thing to bear in mind is the timing of your news release; if you have made a major breakthrough, you don’t want it to clash with anything else newsworthy in your field.

When the time comes for an interview, you can find a list of dos and don’ts at Meeting with journalists | Staff Web (slu.se).

Evaluate your research and don’t be shy about contacting the media! Take inspiration from an earlier seminar held by VA (Public & Science): Researchers, have the courage to contact the media! [in Swedish] – VA (Public & Science) (v-a.se).

 

[1] Source: Reporter: en grundbok i journalistik [Reporter: A Journalism Handbook] Björn Häger and News values – Wikipedia.

Get the media on board

Some tips on how to get the media interested: tell stories people can relate to, find the right timing, use visuals and understand how the media work from EU Sicence & Innovation https://youtu.be/Frb3E-9IX2c

Aims and target groups make it easy to do the right things

How do I know that I’m doing the right things when I’m asked to discuss my research? Consider the aim of your research communication. If you know what you want to achieve, it will be easier to determine whether you are doing the right things. You can also approach your choice of target group strategically. Who do I want to communicate with?  If you have this clear in your mind, it will be easier determine the strategic worth of participating in a conference, giving an interview, writing an article, and so on. You are likely to have different target groups depending on the project in question. Audience and Purpose | Learn Science at Scitable (nature.com)

Raise your profile with a CV page

If you don’t already have one, we heartily recommend that you get a CV page. The faculty’s most visited CV page, with 821 views during 2020, belongs to Patrik Grahn. Josefin Wangel, Anna-Maria Palsdottir, Märit Jansson and Anders Carlsson also have CV pages among the 10 most visited at SLU, with around 600 views each.

Create your own CV-page

Explain your research in 4 minutes!

Irrespective of whether you are taking part in the 2021 Research Grand Prix (deadline for applications, 1 August!), presenting your research in a lecture or pitching a grant application, the following tips from Anders Sahlman may be of help (look at the Youtube-film as well (in Swedish)). 

6 Steps to a Good Presentation:

  • Who are you talking to? Your target group: fellow researchers, politicians, journalists, financiers, friends, etc. What do they know about your field?
  • What should the audience/listener remember? Your main message: a brief, active message that helps you to focus. Choose bits of your research, don’t cram it all in!
  • Explain the problem: what is your research trying to contribute to solving? What is its societal relevance? Be specific: provide examples of what will happen if we fail to address the problem. Who will be affected?
  • How will my research contribute to the solution?
  • Results: either already achieved or forthcoming.
  • Write a script in a popular science way: use words people will understand, avoid technical terms or, if unavoidable, explain them, and, last but not least – PRACTICE!

Feel free to look at how other people present their research:

Project websites create visibility

A website for your project is an excellent base for communication. Pages with facts, text and images can provide more detailed information about the project and you will have something to refer to when the project is presented in various ways: in mailshots to those attending webinars, in press releases when you describe your results or on posters at a scientific conference. You can also take the opportunity to compile links to publications and articles about your project in the media.

Here is an example from SLU Grogrund, which has project pages for all funded projects: Faba bean for future food and feed | External website (slu.se). This page is visited approximately 1,000 times a year, with 70% of visits coming from external sources, i.e. when a link to the site is published in a press release, presentation, etc.

In the last  AGFO Weeklys newsletter (in Swedish) is links to the SLU Grogrunds rapeseed project. Here, too, the project page automatically contributes to SLU's research reaching out.

Project pages on the Department of Biosystems and Technology website also attract attention, such as Recycled manure solids as bedding – aspects on hygiene, animal health, milk quality, economy and environment | Externwebben (slu.se) with 400 views since the start of 2020. 

So, what should you do?

  1. Start from the information in the project application or PowerPoint presentation of the project.
  2. Feel free to include one or more photographs to illustrate the project.
  3. Provide contact details for the project manager.
  4. Ask your web publisher to publish the page on the department’s website.

Film and photograph your research

Field trials, microorganisms, grain, potatoes, playgrounds, green roofs, laboratory experiments; no matter what you are working on, a picture is worth a thousand words. And if the picture moves, that can only be a bonus. This is why the visual component of communication is so important. Over 80% of journalists and writers use images in their articles and almost half use video some time during the month*. They are also keen to include image material in press releases, as this facilitates their work and improves your chances of being seen. 

Photographing and filming your own research therefore increases your opportunities to get noticed more often and in the right places. Photographs and videos can be used on project pages, in press releases, on fact sheets and social media, in scientific journals and many other contexts. So, take the opportunity to use your phone when working on your project. Better to take one too many photographs or videos than not enough – you never know when they might come in useful. Save your material until the day comes to communicate your research. 

Here are a few tips on how to take good quality photographs and videos: 

  • Feel free to include people in your shots, as this brings your material to life and creates authenticity. But remember that you must obtain consent. 
  • Shoot in landscape and portrait so that your material can be used in various contexts. This is especially important if you don’t yet know how the material will be used.  
  • Consider the light. Whether filming or photographing people, plants, landscapes or animals. make sure you have sufficient light and avoid backlighting. Use natural light or use additional lighting both indoors and outdoors. 
  • Avoid shaky material! Use a tripod if possible, especially when filming and when filming longer takes. If you do not have a tripod, try leaning your phone against a post, balancing it on a table or using some other means of support. Another useful trick is to stabilise the phone against your body. 
  • Keep your photographs clean by removing distracting background details such as cables and objects that add nothing and draw attention from the subject. 

During the autumn we will be offering a short course on working with your phone as a tool, both as a video you can watch at your convenience and as a workshop. Keep an eye out!  

Do you already take lots of photographs and videos in your research? Get in touch and tell us about it so you can inspire others! 

Are you aware of the SLU media bank? If you have images that you think may be useful to others at SLU and that you would like to share, you can submit your contributions to the media bank. The Division of Communications writes:  “We would be delighted to receive any pictures of research activities: close ups and extreme close ups of, for example, plants and animals, microscope images, campus images, in fact any images that help to illustrate and bring to life the work of the university.” 

To meet with journalists

It is valuable in many ways for you as a researcher to be seen and heard in the media. It increases awareness of the LTV faculty, SLU and our areas of research, as well as of how we contribute to creating a sustainable future.  However, it is not always easy to meet journalists and to know how one should behave. Bear in mind that, while you can always ask to read and, where applicable, change your quotes, you otherwise have no right to demand changes to the text. That said, most journalists are only too happy to have any factual errors pointed out. It is also good to keep in mind that the following “right” is included in the journalist’s code of professional ethics (in Swedish). Number 8: Accommodate reasonable requests from interviewees to know in advance how and where their statements will be reproduced. 

You can find additional advice on meeting journalists on the staff web - To meet with journalists | Medarbetarwebben (slu.se). Feel free to mark the page as a favourite so that you can quickly find it when contacted by a journalist. 

What to keep in mind when writing about communication in grant applications

The following advice is based on reading a number of Formas applications from past years and picking out features common to successful applications.

  • Demonstrate clear societal relevance: why is the project important? What underlying circumstances make this particular project necessary? What will happen if this project is not implemented?
    • Example: Ideally, you should relate this to regional, national and international visions, strategies and goals such as Agenda 2030, national food strategy, designed living environment, etc. Demonstrate that your field/object of study has societal significance using various types of statistics.
  • With regard to societal relevance, who do you need to communicate with to live up to this? Which groups do you want to reach? 
    • Example: Take your stakeholder analysis as a point of departure. You will need to communicate with some of these stakeholders in various ways: this is your target group. For example, this may be consumers, end users, interest groups, policymakers, consultants, students or researchers. Be clear and specific! Is your project about school playgrounds? Demonstrate that you will be able to reach relevant policymakers (e.g. municipal school administrations and the Swedish Association of School Principals and Directors of Education).
  • Once you know who you want to reach, you can explain how you intend to reach them on an overall level.
    • Example: Do you want farmers to change how they farm their land? Then you need to show how you intend to reach them through publication in relevant media, raising your research at a conference aimed at advisors to farmers or participation at conferences or seminars that they attend, such as the Borgeby Fältdagar. 
  • Every project is unique: base your case on your own project and try to be specific about why, how and with whom you communicate. Demonstrate that you understand where to find your target group and how to reach them. Ideally, you should provide evidence (see Tips). Identify any networks you are part of or wish to approach, or other projects in which you participate and how these can interact with the project for which you are seeking a grant in order to achieve a higher objective.
    • Example: Are you participating in another project, perhaps an EU project, centre of excellence, etc. that may be symbiotic. Feel free to bring this up to demonstrate your project’s relevance from a broader perspective.
    • Tips – a few evidential sources within communication.
      • Media trends from the SOM Institute (6. Svenska Trender (1986-2019).pdf (gu.se) - from page 51)
      • Swedes and the internet – an annual survey of the internet habits of Swedish people.
      • Statistics and facts from Nordicom.

And last, but by no means least: write a communication plan that is feasible and budget for communication.

Those of you applying for grants for new research projects can now obtain advice and assistance from the Grants Office. As the majority of research funders require some form of plan for how you intend to communicate the progress and results of your research, the Grants Office has prepared a support package that can be used in full or in part for all new applications, regardless of the funding body. Are you planning a major grant application? Feel free to consult communication specialists before you submit your application. If you are preparing a major project, we at Science communication @LTV can offer advice and support.

Good luck with your applications!

Societal relevance and communication in Formas Open call 2021

Formas has made changes to how it assesses societal relevance and communication. From this year, societal relevance and communication will be jointly assessed. In your application, you should describe how your project interacts with other stakeholders and in what context your research is significant for those you think will benefit from it, i.e., those you wish to communicate with.

Formas has published the guidelines Support to address the grounds of assessment for societal relevance and communication.

Here you find the presentation from the workshop on science communication i the Formas Open call held at the faculty on 25 March. 

Have you already written the section of your application dealing with communication? If so, you will be happy to read it and comment on that section. Send your application including summary to camilla.zakrisson.juhlin@slu.se and, time allowing, we will be happy to assist you.  

Formas call with date 8 April 2021 we need your applications at the  latest on 31 March to be able to assist you. 

Affiliation in your publications

Remember to include the correct affiliation in your publications. This is important to ensure that your publications can be found and linked to SLU and your department in databases and bibliometric analyses such as evaluations and funding allocations.

Learn more about how SLU affiliation should be stated. How you enter SLU affiliation when publishing | External website

Change template for your PPT presentation

Give a professional impression – how to easily transfer the slides from your old presentation to the latest SLU template

Do you use the latest PowerPoint template in your presentation? No? Now you can easily move your old presentation to the new SLU template. Look at the user guide, bulletpoint 8 Användarguide: ppt-mall presentationer (slu.se) (Swedish text only, for English audio, download the document). Are you about to create a new presentation in PowerPoint? You will find templates directly in the Powerpoint app/program on your computer. Read more Presentationsmall (ppt) | Medarbetarwebben (slu.se)
 
Why should we have a common SLU template?
The purpose of a common template is that we show a clear sender of the message to increase the awareness and attractiveness of us as a university. With the increasing competition, the brand plays an increasingly important role in attracting collaborations and research funding.

Boiling down science for the public without oversimplifying

Communicating science to the public can be a balancing act, especially for academics who are used to speak about their science to peers that share a considerable amount of background knowledge. Many scientists believe that they need to ‘dumb down’ their research in order to make their audience understand it and fear that it will make their idea inaccurate. Stina Börchers  discuss in her science communication blog at the Magazine Curie some tips on what to think about when preparing your scientific topic for a talk, blog, or social media post that is meant for the public.


Contact

Ida Andersson, Faculty Administrative Officer
LTV Faculty Office, SLU
ida.andersson@slu.se, 040-41 55 47