Before you dive into creating your first Message Box, it’s good to brush up on a few principles that will help you craft messages that stick.
Think about where they’re coming from
We all absorb information through the lens of our values and cultural identities. Many scientists believe that if they simply share the facts and data, the person they’re talking to will automatically agree with them. After all, the science is clear! But research in the field of communication has shown time and time again that simply sharing more scientific information doesn’t change minds, attitudes, or behaviors‚ which are formed by our communities, identities, and values.
Instead of spewing knowledge, try to understand the person you are talking to, by asking questions to learn more about what matters to them. This helps you to know which aspects of your research are most relevant for them, what you should prioritize as you’re sharing your work, and how best to frame what you’re sharing so that they’re more likely to consider it.
Start with what matters most
People want to know why your work is relevant to them. Sharing that first, and coming back to it again later, will help your audience remember your bottom line. Effective science communication is less about cramming in all the details that you might want to convey, and more about knowing what someone cares about and how to share why your work matters for them.
Distill it down to just a couple points
Cognitive research tells us that the human brain can only absorb three to five pieces of information at a time. It may be tough to fight the urge to share everything you know in a firehose of information! Your goal as you fill out your Message Box is to identify the information that really matters for your audience and share only that. Your audience – whether a journalist, a policymaker, a room of colleagues at a professional meeting, or a class of second-graders – doesn’t have deep knowledge of your subject matter. So prioritize what you share, based on what your audience needs to know.
Watch out for jargon as you practice your messages. Jargon is precise and can be very helpful when writing scientific papers, but to those outside of your discipline, it’s a foreign language. Even if you define key terms at the start, every time you use them your audience will be several steps behind you, trying to translate unfamiliar words, rather than focusing on the message you want to convey. A good way to test for jargon is to practice with someone who is unfamiliar with your field—if they don’t understand what you’re saying, it’s time to revise so that they do!