Mastering Scholarly Communication – Part 1: Communicating with Peers - ACS Axial | ACS Publications
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Mastering Scholarly Communication – Part 1: Communicating with Peers

The ACS Style Guide has always been a classic handbook for scientific publication. But in 2020, it was revised and expanded as the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication. The ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication not only provides students, researchers, educators, and librarians with professional guidance, it also helps researchers at different stages of their careers to respond to the evolving world of publishing.

This ACS Axial series contains excerpts from the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication. Parts of the original text be available for free for a limited time under an ACS Free to Read License. Specific sections will be indicated at the end of each post. 

Most individuals are attracted to disciplines like chemistry by an interest in mathematics and science rather than a passion for, say, writing or art. But early in their studies and careers, they realize that the ability to communicate is essential to becoming a successful scientist or engineer. Even in the most basic chemistry courses, the cognitive processes of learning require the transfer of information via words and images.

Good communication requires a solid understanding of content, audience, and communication medium. It would be difficult, obviously, to describe an experiment, its data, and its implementations without first having comprehensive knowledge about it. An author or lecturer is responsible for the content, its level, and its delivery. The information must be valid, and it must be understandable.

But understanding the content, while necessary, is not sufficient: The author must know to whom they are communicating. In scientific communications, the critical question is, who is the audience? Over the course of a career in science, researchers will need to communicate effectively with three particular audiences: peers, decision-makers, and the public. These audiences differ significantly in their knowledge and in their needs. The content should be comprehensible to the target group (or to anyone with more knowledge of the topic). The author is responsible for understanding (or at least appreciating) the level of the audience.

Communicating Science to Your Peers

The Association of College & Research Libraries defines scholarly communication as “the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use.” Scholarly communication provides information that is backed by evidence and supportable via testing and experimentation. For scientists, communication with your peers is fundamental to a career. The forms of that communication may shift throughout the different stages of a career. Posters are often the first place students communicate their research. Presentations and publications follow. However, all communication methods continue to be important throughout one’s career.

Posters

Posters are a powerful means to connect the presenter to an audience, albeit in an individual or small group setting. Posters are organized into sessions that provide a reasonable amount of time for the participants to view all (or most) of the posters scheduled. The author(s) of the poster are present during the session and available to give a summary or discuss the contents. The session is very fluid; visitors to a poster stop or pass by in a random fashion. A group may form while the presenter is discussing the work, resulting in a different dynamic than a one-on-one discussion. The presenter should expect to answer some questions multiple times, and an effective poster tries to anticipate some of them.

The poster should be designed to be viewed in the absence of the authors. Posters are allocated a specific area—often as much as 4 × 8 feet, sometimes as little as 2 × 4 feet. The content includes text and images. Particular attention must be paid to the organization of the content material so that the viewer can easily sense the broad picture and follow the progression of information from the top-left to the bottom-right.

Posters are often organized into small “chunks” or areas, with navigation among the components either self-evident or aided by the use of numbered parts. The need to make the text font large enough to be readable from a reasonable distance (roughly 4−6 feet) precludes the extensive use of long text. Labels on figures and captions or tables of data also need to be readable given the size of the poster; there are limits to how much information can be reasonably included and to the proportions of text and images.

Discover the Elements of a Successful Poster Design:

Components of an effective poster. Source: inChemistry.

Tools like PowerPoint allow a user to design a poster; include, edit, and move pieces of text and images; and print a final version. Large posters require specialized printers to accommodate the size. Commercial copying centers and even online services make posters accessible to all. (Some vendors can print the poster on cloth fabric, allowing the poster to be folded for easier transport.)

In addition to posters, presentations are an important way to communicate your work to your peers, particularly at scientific conferences.

Learn to Give a Great Poster Presentation:

Poster presentation tips. Source: ACS Axial.

For more information on preparing for presentations, please refer to section 1.1.2  of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.

Published Content

Published content currently takes the form of journals, preprints, books, monographs, and conference proceedings.

Journals

Journals publish the research and scholarship from systematic investigations or studies. Individual journals are likely to have multiple manuscript types (e.g., articles, commentaries, notes, perspectives, and communications), each of which fulfills some aspect of the journal’s mission. The journal’s constituencies define the content and what level of expertise is being targeted. A flagship journal is likely to publish across all areas of chemistry and other sciences. Furthermore, the expectations for quality (in addition to novelty and utility) raise the level of expectation from the editors, reviewers, and readers.

Given the balance among all those requirements, in addition to a higher level of competition, it is not surprising that it is more difficult to get your submission published there. Journals with more specialized content offer similar challenges, although the audience might be more uniform, at least from the context of the subject matter.

However, the potential for effective communication (in addition to appropriate content) determines where an author publishes and where a reader seeks information appropriate to his or her needs. The contents of a journal contribution are prescribed by the journal and its author guidelines.

For more information about preprints, books, monographs, and conference proceedings, please refer to section 2.2.1  of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.

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