4 Strategies for Effective Science Communication

By Kylie Wolfe

As a science professional, you know that communication goes beyond giving talks at conferences and writing papers and proposals. While those are, without a doubt, critical components of the job, the day-to-day interactions you have with non-scientists are just as vital.

Sharing your scientific knowledge can be educational, helping the public make informed decisions or find a new appreciation for the subject. It’s also important when working with non-scientists who rely on you as a subject matter expert. Even if you’re just trying to explain to your family and friends exactly what you do, talking about science and relaying it effectively is always a useful skill.

Know Your Audience

Science communication is only successful if those listening understand what’s being conveyed.

According to Lori Kie, Communications Manager for the Alan Alda Center for Science Communication, “When you're speaking to a lay audience, whether that's a biologist and you're a chemist or your six-year-old neighbor, they're all coming with the same wide-eyed wonder of ‘What the heck is going on around me?’ and ‘How can I figure out how I fit into it?’”

As the expert, it’s your job to make the conversation relevant to your audience. Whether you’re sitting around the family dinner table or catching up with a few friends, help them understand why your research or why science in general matters in their life.

Tell a Story

For those who don’t regularly study science, it can be a difficult subject to understand. The media often shares stories of new scientific discoveries, yet the average reader might not know why it’s relevant to them.

“It's not that the person who hasn't taken a science class since 11th grade needs you to dumb down your work,” said Kie. “They've been doing other things. They don't have the knowledge base that you have, and it just takes a little bit of awareness and a little bit of effort to help them get there.”

Storytelling can help you make the subject accessible through informal conversation. When you think about your work as a story, it can become something that’s both fun and interesting for you and your audience whether they’re seated in an auditorium or at your dinner table.

Keep It Simple

While you’re likely to understand your work on a molecular level, your audience’s perspective might be much broader. Meet them halfway with analogies, simple language, and minimal jargon.

“There's a time and a place where jargon is absolutely appropriate,” explained Kie, “like when you're talking to your peers in your lab, directly in your field. But as soon as you broaden that audience, even a little bit, there are [people] who have no idea what [you’re] working on. And that's not because they're ignorant or uninformed, it's simply because they have their specialty and [your] two fields don't really interact.”

Let the conversation flow naturally and be prepared to explain your work in a way that’s easy to understand.


According to Alan Alda, founder of the center, “Effective science communication happens when we listen and connect. It happens when we use empathy. Communication is headed for success when we pay more attention to what the other person is understanding rather than focusing solely on what we want to say.”

Learning to read body language will help you take the audience by the hand as you explain your point of view. Ensure they’re following your points and are engaged with your content by listening to their feedback. And know that that may require a little patience and encouragement.

“You can't get your point across unless you're listening to what [your audience is] saying and not just what they're saying, but how they're saying it. Are they backing away slowly? Are they leaning in? Are their arms crossed? You can't talk without listening,” said Kie.

Knowledge Is Power

When science is communicated effectively, the scientific community thrives. Not only does it build support for science outside the walls of the lab and classroom, it promotes understanding, encourages informed decision making, and can allow society to thrive as well.

“Science is so incredibly important, not just for the scientists making the discoveries, but to every single one of us. Whether we love science and we watch science documentaries every day, or whether the last time we looked at science was in an 11th grade textbook, it matters too much to let unawareness rule the day,” said Kie.