March 2011

Go ahead, brag a little

“The biggest thing I look for in a pitch is how your discovery or research affects everyday people. Don’t just tell me what you did – take that one step further and explain the practical implication of your work. What does it mean for the woman next door? Why should she care? Are there any particular segments of the population it will affect more than others? The better you spell this out for me, in terms I actually understand, the more likely I am to write about you and your work.”
– Alexis Grant, editor at U.S. News & World Report

“My criteria for running a hard science story: a) relevance of research to everyday lives, b) availability of interesting photography (not the low-resolution headshot taken in the basement laboratory for your department website) and c) a topic that lends itself to at least two sigh-inducing science puns I can work into the first and last sentences.”
– David Raffetto, former university alumni magazine editor

“This is about humans.”
– Christopher Joyce, editor/correspondent for NPR’s science desk

“Analogies! People (and most notably, media) definitely appreciate a well-developed explanation for highly complicated research topics. If you can liken it to something common, not only will it help the readers comprehend how it works or why it’s important, but it will go a long way in helping your (public relations) person sell the story.”
– Lindsay Lewis, director of communications for the Cullen College of Engineering at the University of Houston

“Is there a quantifiable outcome that can be tied to the goal of your research, such as saving a child’s life or reducing the incidence of an illness in an entire village? Making research sexy to the public means finding a human-interest angle.

“Take breast cancer research. Everyone can relate to breast cancer on some level. Half of us are women; every man has had a mother. Occasionally breast cancer even occurs in men, which is news in itself. Fifty years ago, breast cancer wasn’t discussed in polite company, but now it could be argued that breast cancer research receives a disproportionate share of publicity, which no doubt plays a part in research funding. Yet other common cancers, such as prostate and lung, don’t necessarily get the attention they deserve. Finding that angle can be a challenge. No one is better equipped to do that than the people involved in the research.”
– Brenda K. Gunter, communications consultant, former communications manager at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and former journalist

Angela Hopp ( is managing editor for special projects at ASBMB.

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