Defining Your Audience (Or How To Plan The Worst Birthday Ever)

#SciCommMay 23, 20180

Skeptical beardy stock-photo man at a lame party.

Credit: WAYHOME studio / Shutterstock

This is part of the new regular column on science communication. To suggest a topic, email [email protected] 

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re in middle school. The spring formal is approaching and if you don’t have a date, you will literally die ohmygod. Your goal is “find someone to go to the dance with me”. You can’t just walk into the cafeteria and scream “SOMEONE GO TO THE DANCE WITH ME”. (I mean, you can, but…) You need to be tactical. You need to have a specific audience in mind.

A poorly defined audience (or one that is overly broad) is the root cause of the vast majority of issues I run into when I’m working with someone on their science outreach. From “I don’t know where to start” to “I can’t get anyone to listen/subscribe/come to my talk/donate,” my first question is always going to be “who is your audience?”. My next question is going to be “okay, now can you narrow that down”?.

The temptation is always going to be to have the broadest audience possible. If you aren’t appealing to EVERYONE you might miss out on potential opportunities! You could turn away a potential audience! You could miss out on the chance to be the most beloved science communicator that ever communicated!

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I love Jargon: my three biggest peeves about how we think about science communication. #SciComm

#SciCommApril 27, 20180

I have a fundamentally tactical approach to science communication, which occasionally puts me at odds with more conventional practices. Some of the most common pieces of advice in scicomm tend to be the least effective for accurately and precisely communicating your message to a target audience.

Release the Kraken.

1. The J-Word.

Jargon. Jargon. Jargon. We’re all supposed to eradicate jargon from our outreach. Jargon should be avoided. We need to rehab our use of jargon. Hone your science writing by only using the ten hundred most common words (because ‘thousand’ isn’t among the top 1000 word). Sure, these are good exercises for thinking about how you communicate science, but as actual communication advice, it’s big animal that makes white drink back end drop.

Jargon is beautiful. Jargon is powerful. Not only are jargon words often more precise than their generic equivalent, but jargon acts as a form of shorthand. It tells your intended audience “hey, friend, this article/film/tweet/podcast is for you”. Outreach in all forms is always targeted towards a specific audience. Using jargon well helps define that audience and helps that audience connect to your piece. Smart use of jargon can make a good piece of outreach into a tactical piece of outreach.

Which is not to say that you shouldn’t think about jargon use at all. Understanding how different words are used in different contexts and how technical language can alienate non-specialist audiences is essential to producing high-quality outreach. But the general advice that we should all just avoid jargon the least effective approach possible.

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Cuttings (short and sweet): 

Spoils (long reads and deep dives):

Please add your own cuttings and spoils in the comments!

If you appreciate my shark research and conservation outreach, please consider supporting me on Patreon! Any amount is appreciated, and supporters get exclusive rewards!

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