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.
Communicating Science to Decision-Makers
Many scientists, at some point in their careers, need to explain their research or communicate their insights to an audience of policymakers, professionals, and business leaders. Two considerations dominate communication considerations with this group. First, they may not share your level of expertise in your field, so the language you use must be geared to a more general level of knowledge and should be free of professional jargon or shorthand. Second, decision-makers tend to be busy people accustomed to hearing results and recommendations first; discussion of evidence and process comes second.
A proposal is a description of prospective research or scholarship designed to secure funding or permission to carry out the work. The funding or permission entity provides details about the expected content, format, and length of such a document. Proposals require a detailed objective, a thorough literature search of related work, a detailed description of the methods and activities, a timeline, and an accounting of how the human or financial resources will be used.
Like many other scientific documents, a proposal needs to contain creative ideas but also a reasonable, achievable plan to accomplish the project. The text must describe how the research questions will be addressed and do so with arguments that are logical and consistent. The reviewers (or administrators) must understand what will be done, how that will be accomplished, and whether the proposer has the resources to do the work (or can acquire them). The challenge is to couple creative ideas with the prose (and images) that justify the permission or resources that will be granted. Appropriate rhetoric and attention to details are necessary. The reviewers may have a high opinion of the idea, but the proposal is successful only if the details and description are appropriate.
Most authors of proposals are challenged or even have difficulty complying with word or page limits. Those who solicit the proposals must consider their review process and the time and personnel required to review the proposals. Setting an upper limit provides all applicants with an identical opportunity and protects those who would solicit the proposals from unreasonable proposals.
Watch this video on how to write a funding proposal:
A technical report conveys information in a formal but easily accessible form. The format is often very prescriptive, with sections defined in a template that assures that all components are covered, that individual sections can be easily discovered, and that components are consistent from one report to a similar one used in the same organization. Like an article, a technical report is scholarly and contains an introduction and background supported by references and a bibliography. Although the focus is often on the results or outcomes (that are either formative or summative), other information may be required. Reports are often produced as an assessment or evaluation of ongoing projects and in support of obtaining continue funding from a grant or organization. Some of these reports are made available to the public, but others are only available to a smaller group.
For more information on communicating science to decision-makers, please refer to section 1.1.3 of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.
Communicating Science to the Public
As in communicating with decision-makers, communications geared to a public audience place a premium on brevity, clarity, and careful attention to explaining concepts in terms that can be understood by a nonscientist.
The exact nature of an interview or invitation to speak to the public depends on the occasion and circumstances. Public speaking involves presenting information to the general public or to a group whose knowledge of the content might be limited. The speaker should be aware of whether the audience consists of novices or specialists.
Interviews can be tricky. In some cases, interviewees may receive a list of prepared questions beforehand, but that is not always the case. Interviews are interactive, and the person conducting one will expect to ask for clarifications or additional information. The interviewee should prepare by anticipating questions and reviewing the covered content. In an interview, it is important to make key points concisely and directly. The more discursive the interviewee, the less likely the final result is to reflect their points clearly.
Communicating via Social Media
The proliferation of information on the Internet provides access to “factual” content but also the opinions or commentaries of authors on virtually any subject. Communications on social media are largely related to networking, marketing yourself, and finding a job. With the explosion of social media in the past decade, it cannot be ignored; at the same time, communications on these sites must be handled carefully.
The social network for professionals, LinkedIn can help scientists connect with their peers and develop their own communities both through the umbrella LinkedIn site and through LinkedIn groups for particular scientific disciplines such as Life Sciences Network. In addition to developing a profile for the site, LinkedIn allows users to post professional information about themselves (i.e., a portfolio), including links to articles and presentations. LinkedIn is often used by employers or recruiters looking for appropriate candidates for positions. The tools allow a LinkedIn user to view a history of who has accessed their profiles and to set notifications related to various site activities.
Communicating via Video
Videos promote learning and understanding but also make access immediate and asynchronous. They can be used to archive a presentation or provide an author with the ability to summarize the highlights from an article or book chapter. Inexpensive or free commercial software is available to add images to a timeline, annotate it, and then provide the audio portion using voice-over tools. Of course, a video can be captured in real-time and also made available subsequently.
Websites for the delivery of video are free and accessible and come with tools for playback. Indeed, many formats are automatically supported in web browsers. One limitation of video is the size of the files, particularly when the authors wish to maintain very high quality. The best-known video providers are YouTube and Vimeo. Users can post their material free of charge and have it accessible via private or public channels. For the former, only potential audience members that have an access code can view the videos. In this model, the two vendors monetize their operations by showing advertisements. Journals and publishers also provide access to movies and videos, typically via supplemental information. These typically have size limitations and require specific formats.