Sunday, August 5, 2012

Turn rocket science into the Rocket Man: Scientific and presentation writing. Part 1.

Finding the right words and connecting with the audience are two problems scientific communicators face.  One way the overcome this problem is to turn scientific writing into presentation writing. 

One of the smartest things I have read in the last weeks about presentation was
Great presentations rely on great writing.
                        — John Rode, Slide Rocket
Great writing implies clear thinking, thoughtful structure, and respect for the audience, among many other things. No wonder great writing is hard work, really hard work. Professors and young researchers know this. In fact they strive to achieve excellence in scientific writing. And here is where the problem starts: Scientific writing is not the same as presentation writing.

Last week Gavin MacMahon offered a free webinar on the 6 different types of presenters there are
  • The storyteller and the coach
  • The counselor and the teacher
  • The inventor and the coordinator,
their strengths and weakness and how to use slideware to leverage the weakness.  Gavin says that 75% of the presenter-population falls into the inventor and the coordinator categories. The problem these type of presenters face, Gavin continues to argue, is that they have trouble finding the words, and therefore their visuals end up being teleprompters. The counselor and the teacher also have problems and find it hard to connect with the audience putting content before people.

Hmmm... Presenters reading from their slides about their research. Yeah, you see a lot of that at scientific talks.

This brings me back to my point. Scientific writing is in many ways the opposite of presentation writing. For starters, the use of the passive voice is applied on purpose to detached the experiment from the researcher. Try to rephrase  the main object of your research in 2 or 3 sentences. Have ever read the titles on  research journals? 

Presentation writings relies on storytelling, scientific writing on argumentation and explanation.  And like film making, scientific writing has different genres. Finding common territory between scientific fields is tough. But there might be an important one: quantitative measurements. Make your quantitative results tell a story, make your conclusion the lessons learned from that story.  Click here for a concrete example.

How good is your writing? How do you present your data? How do you empower your audience with your research? What kind of presenter are you? Find out by taking Gavin's presenter diagnose.

While you think about it —and perhaps leave a comment— watch how rocket science is turned into a larger-than-sci-fi-thriller.

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