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Tips to improve communication in science

revised version July 2009



In general

  • take the time it needs
  • detach your person from your work
  • request feedback
  • sacrifice art for clarity
  • put the information where it is expected
  • have a clear message
  • use different levels of information

1. Posters

2. Orals

3. Papers

For the 7 seconds scientist walking by:
  • have an informative title
  • have one central picture or sketch illustrative of your work
For the 30 seconds scientist slowing down:
  • put the conclusions at the top
  • use few words
  • use simple graphics
  • use large fonts
  • organize the information in a logical way
  • use narrow columns (for speed reading)
For the 2 minutes scientist fully stopping:
  • put your photo on your poster
  • prepare a 30 seconds talk with guidance and highlights
  • include some technical details on methods
  • include most important results
  • include references
  • let the person go
For the "I will read it later" scientist:
  • print small versions of your poster
  • put pre-prints of associated papers
  • prepare a logical outline
  • include suspense
  • have few messages (one is best, three maximum)
  • know your most important message
  • make transitions between all slides
  • use reminders (the outline is a good one)
  • use simple graphics
  • use simple tables
  • use simple backgrounds
  • use animations with parsimony
  • include some information that you do not plan to say aloud
  • be aware that the audience will want to read everything
  • write your talk
  • practice your talk
  • time yourself
  • resist the temptation to speak very fast
  • do not hesitate (practice your talk again)
  • vary the intonations of your voice
  • look at the audience
  • address the entire audience (use different levels of information)
  • speak to the back row
  • explain what you are showing
  • point to the important information
  • be confident
  • do not talk to a noisy audience, wait for attention
  • have a positive attitude towards your talk
  • don't use a pointer all the time
  • when you use a pointer, hold it still
  • put few words on slides (no long sentences)
  • learn your opening sentence by heart
  • learn your closing sentence by heart
  • if you must finish before the end, think, don't rush
  • finish with your most important message
  • avoid adjectives (for example "this is very large")
  • avoid judgemental statements (for example "this is interesting")
  • provide numbers
  • put the information where it is expected
  • if you mean the same thing, use the same word
In every sentence:
  • start with the subject
  • make sure that the "subject" used is the topic of the sentence
  • put the verb right after the subject
  • put the detailed information at the end
  • make short sentences (change a "," into a "." when you can)
In every paragraph:
  • the first sentence announces the content of the paragraph
  • the middle develops the idea
  • the last sentence wraps up and introduces the next paragraph
In an abstract:
  • be concise
  • state methods
  • state results
  • highlight impacts

Prepared by Corinne Le Quéré, with input from Eric Saltzman, Tom Pederson, Gill Malin, and David J.C. MacKay.

Additional tips from a summary made by Anonymous based on L. A. Olsen and T. N. Huckin, Principles of Communication for Science and Technology, 1983. New York: McGraw-Hill.

A technique of ordering information to increase readability of sentences and paragraphs

  1. Put given information before new information
  2. Put topical information in subject position
  3. Put "light" noun phrases before "heavy" noun phrases

Ways of satisfying these criteria

  1. Passive-active alternation
  2. Equative shift
  3. Indirect object shift

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