As APA president in 1969, renowned cognitive psychologist George A. Miller, PhD, called on the field to “give psychology away” for the public benefit. Today,
there is no better way to do that than by talking to the media,
whether it’s about your research, publications, awards or work
with your community.
We asked media experts for their advice on how to get your
story out. Here’s their advice:
Contact your press office. Some university press offices
regularly reach out to psychology departments for news, but if
yours doesn’t, reach out to them. They may help publicize your
work with a press release or arrange interviews with reporters.
D.I. Y. Tell your own story on Facebook, Twitter and blogs.
Many publishers are inviting accepted authors to submit
video abstracts of five minutes or fewer that explain their
hypothesis and results and why the study is important, so
consider making one for You Tube. Using social media is a
good way to publicize your work — whether it’s research,
community work or an award — and provides excellent
practice in boiling down your hypothesis and conclusion into
plain, compelling language. Plus, research from Xuan Liang,
a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison,
shows that Twitter mentions can raise a researcher’s scientific
impact, as measured by number of publications and citations
(Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 2014). Tip:
When you tweet, cc journalists and publications who might
Deliver a sound bite. Be able to summarize your work
in a few straightforward sentences that explain why people
should care about it. “This requires thinking through, ‘What
significance does this research have?’ ‘What does the public need
to know about this?’” says Rhea K. Farberman, APA’s executive
director for public and member communications.
Consider the audience. Is the piece for a consumer
audience or for fellow scientists? These audiences want vastly
different types of information. “In science journals, the
significance of the study doesn’t come until the end,” says
Farberman. “For the public, you have to talk about the finding
at the top and tell them why they should take five minutes to
Drop the jargon. Using too much scientific terminology is a
main reason researchers and others fail to communicate clearly,
experts say. To spot overly technical language, explain your work
to a friend or family member, suggests Paul Raeburn, a former
science editor at the Associated Press. If they don’t understand
it, find out where you lost them.
Keep it real. Reporters and editors love a gripping headline
— like “Cure for cancer close” — but help ensure accuracy by
mentioning the limitations of your research, Raeburn says. “A
scientist talking to a journalist can explain some of the caveats
or unknowns in a study.” Similarly, if you don’t know the
answer to a question, admit it, and if you make a mistake mid-
interview, correct yourself.
Have an analogy. Before your interview, think about — but
don’t force — a short well-phrased anecdote or analogy that
makes your message more entertaining and understandable,
says Denise Graveline, a media consultant based in Washington,
D.C. For example, the American Association for the
Advancement of Science (AAAS) delivered a report on climate
change in 2014, summing up the evidence as, “Physicians,
cardiovascular scientists, public health experts and others all
agree smoking causes cancer. A similar consensus now exists
among climate scientists … that maintains climate change is
happening, and human activity is the cause.”
Know when to stop. There’s a three-point formula
for answering a media question, Graveline says: Pause to
consider your answer, answer only the question you’ve been
asked and stop. It’s the last step that often trips up scientists.
“Human nature abhors a vacuum, so people often rush in to
make assumptions about what is wanted and end up saying
something they’re not qualified to speak about,” she says.
Offer graphics. Infographics and illustrations help readers
interpret your data, says Jeanne Braha, the public engagement
manager at AAAS, but keep these simple and colorful. Often,
Yale’s communications office will post a graphic on social media
with a few lines explaining research, says Karen Peart, deputy
press secretary and team leader for science and medicine at Yale
University, a tactic that can result in tens of thousands of views.
Seek professional help. Your university’s public
information offices may be able to help you craft your message.
Yale, for example, does interview run-throughs with its
scientists, Peart says. Media-savvy colleagues can be helpful,
and professional organizations often have media advisors who
can help, Braha says. n
• American Association for the Advancement of
Science website: Working with Reporters www.aaas.org/
• Better media interviews: 15 Tips and resources: www.
• How to Work With the Media: Interview Preparation
for the Psychologist www.apa.org/pubs/authors/media/
• Neil deGrasse Tyson: Anatomy of a soundbite:
• Olson, R. (2009). Don’t be such a scientist: Talking
substance in an age of style. Washington, DC: Island Press.