COVID-19 threw the world for a loop, shutting down schools, sending people home to work, and plunging us into uncertainty. For some countries, the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel is drawing near — and we have science to thank.

We also have to thank the science communicators who have worked tirelessly to relay important and complex information to journalists, members of the public, and government officials.

During some very scary and very dark days, science communicators have been there, providing guidance on how to keep our families and communities safer.

One silver lining to come out of the COVID-19 disaster is that the hard work of science communicators has been noticed and it may be sparking new enthusiasm in the field, according to a small-scale survey of 1,000 kids in the UK by Medicspot.

About 83% of the children polled expressed an interest in pursuing a career in a STEM field. Medicspot says an increased appearance of medical experts on TV, as well as good science communication (often referred to as SciComm), could be one of the reasons.

If you’re new to SciComm or looking to brush up on your pre-existing skills, you’ve come to the right place.

We asked experts for tips on how to effectively get your message across, and here’s what they had to say.


Sherry Nouraini, Founder/Director, SciComm Journal Club

  • DO: Present the information in the form of a question. People don’t like having gaps in their knowledge, and that cognitive gap nudges them to keep listening to you to find the answer to the question you posed.
  • DO: Be factual. These days, “fact” does not mean the same thing for everyone. Something I call a fact may be characterized a myth by someone else, and the decision largely is dependent on ideology and political affiliation. What is universal, however, is the necessity to provide a credible source for a fact you share, a source that your audience trusts, and who shares their ideology.
  • DO: Approach the conversation as an inquiry when attempting to correct a piece of misinformation about science. Ask questions and listen intently to understand where the misinformation is coming from. The more you can learn about your audience the better you will be at addressing the issue.
  • DON’T: Use language that would directly imply the person is wrong (even if they are) or uninformed (even if they are) because if they become defensive they may not listen to what you have to say. If you know the correct facts about an issue, don’t teach it, but present it as an alternative to consider. For example: “But I read in [cite credible sources] that hydroxychloroquine does not work against COVID” rather than “No, hydroxychloroquine does not work.”

Mariya Vizireanu, Brand Manager, SciComm Journal Club

  • DO: Imagine you’re explaining the concept to a 10-year-old, a bright 4th grader who is curious about the topic. This can help avoid jargon and question how much one would have to already know in order to grasp your explanation (a 10-year-old doesn’t have the background knowledge someone in high school or college may have!) This is the approach I take in my own SciComm work on YouTube.
  • DO: Use comparisons as much as you can! I’ve noticed some of the most successful explanations involve providing examples of easy-to-understand comparisons to explain something truly complex. One example would be talking about mixing M&Ms of different colours to explain viral reassortment. Comparisons immediately bring familiar images to mind and make the explanation easier to grasp AND to remember.

Nevena Hristozova, Podcasts and Media, SciComm Journal Club

  • DO: Start by using only the 1000 most common words in the language you are presenting in when you do your comms. This site has a few languages you can use as a reference. If you can do that, then everyone, irrelevant of their knowledge starting base will understand you because you have the “right tool” down – language. Build up your narrative from there instead of deliberately “dumbing” things down.
  • DO: Build a story – human brains are best at finding patterns and making connections. Give context, build relationships between what you are trying to explain with your audiences’ need to know it. Make that story exceptional – even an exceptionally boring story will be remembered better than an all-round mediocre story. 
  • DON’T: Talk down to people. Even if you have to teach someone something important for them and they clearly have much less knowledge than you, talking down to them will alienate them immediately. Ask questions before you start explaining things – never assume you know how much your conversational partner knows without having ever asked. When you ask your questions, avoid ones that can be answered simply with a “yes/no”. Try with what is your opinion about, or how do you feel regarding, if you are more familiar with the person(s). People love being asked about their opinions and are much less defensive than when asked “do you know xyz.”

Heather Conklin, Community Outreach, SciComm Journal Club

  • DO: Be clear about why your audience should personally care about the issue/topic about which you are communicating. This is particularly important if you are trying to get people to change their behaviour. Make sure you tell people why they should care at the beginning of your presentation, article, webinar, etc. If your audience doesn’t know why the issue matters to them personally early on, there’s not much incentive for them to “tune in” to what you are saying, let alone follow any recommendations that you may make. 
  • DO: Be action-oriented. Ultimately, our goal in science communication is to get people to do something. Even if your goal in communicating is primarily to inform, suggesting steps for concrete actions that your audience can take will help them engage with the information you provide to be able to use it and/or integrate it into their lives.
  • DON’T: Omit information that can help your audience. If using fear-based messaging for persuasion in your science communication efforts, be sure to provide clear, specific information about what your audience can do to avoid the threat.  For example, if you are trying to use fear to persuade people not to use a certain “natural” supplement that may be dangerous to their health, make sure you include information about how people can avoid taking the supplement, such as what to look for when buying supplements in the store or online.  If information about how to avoid the threat isn’t included in your fear-based messaging, your message won’t be persuasive – it will just be scary.  And if it’s plain ‘ol scary, people may not pay attention or process it.
  • DON’T: Aim to communicate with “everyone” or a “general audience.”  This isn’t possible.  Instead, figure out ahead of time who is your intended audience – be specific.  Who are they, what are their needs, and what do they care about?  Targeted communication requires a targeted audience.

Gloriana Ndibalema, Operations Manager, SciComm Journal Club

  • DO: Use visuals rather than text and/or numbers. This can be done through infographics. The pictures will help to explain complex information with just a little text for support. This will also help attract non-scientist audiences to the information, as well as make them want to read or watch the information.
  • DO: Tell the audience why the science you are communicating is important. How does it impact their lives?
  • DON’T: Use scientific jargon/terminologies for non-scientific audiences.
  • DON’T: Make your information abstract.  Make the audience see reality in the information you are presenting and connect how it impacts them or how it exists in their daily lives.


“Finding narrative can be important,” says Bradley Allf, a freelance science writer specializing in the ecology/evolution side of biology, museums, and citizen science.

“It’s cliche but, you want a story not a topic.” 

When it comes to jargon, use it “deliberately,” Bradley says.

“The reader rarely needs to know the exact names of genes and latin names of species. Unless those names are really wonderful (looking at you, sonic hedgehog genes).”


Fenella Saunders, Editor-in-Chief of American Scientist,  offers this extensive resource:, which she created in collaboration with the Kavli Foundation. The site is designed to alert new communicators with common pitfalls, reference online resources, and download an extensive PDF tip sheet.