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Research Impact Challenge

Get Your Research to the Press

Getting your work into mainstream media means wider exposure for your articles and geting your work into the hands of patients, policy makers, and other populations who need it the most.

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Your next challenge is to get the word out about your scholarship to the press. Doing so can help you gain wide exposure for your articles and, in the case of applied research, get your studies into the hands of patients, policy makers, and other populations that need it the most.

Today, we’ll cover how to connect with your university’s press office to get your work to the mainstream media, how and why to build relationships with journalists, and how to prepare for a great media interview. But first – what is a press officer, and what do they do?

What the heck is a university press officer?

University press officers help you communicate your work to the public. They usually do this via press releases, which filter and translate your technical articles into language the public can understand. After all, “the average reader knows what bleach is but won’t connect their experience with your article on sodium hypochlorite if you don’t clearly state that what you’re working with in lay terms” (FigureOne blog).

And press officers often have valuable contacts in the mainstream media, which makes it much easier to get coverage in newspapers, the radio, and Internet publications.

Be aware of “sales rep” press officers. These are press officers that just want to get your story into the news, even if it’s misrepresented or irrelevant to the public. Research communications consultant Dennis Meredith points out that working with “sales rep” press officers will likely just get your work increasingly ignored over time.

Instead, be on the lookout for “journalist” press officers – those who understand the value of nuanced and well-placed coverage of your scholarship. Working with “journalist” press officers can help get your work better, more relevant coverage, according to Meredith.

It’s good to recognize if you’re dealing with a “sales rep” up front – you may want to reign them in a bit, providing some of the filtering and “this is why this matters” parts of your research on your own. If you’ve got a “journalist,” though, you can leave more of the decision on what’s press-release-worthy to them.

You can build relationships with journalists, too

Not everyone will have a press officer available to help them get their research to the press. It’s useful to build one-on-one relationships with journalists for this reason. Ecologist Jacqueline Gill suggests,

“The next time you read a particularly good (or bad) piece, make a note of the byline. Keep a running list of people whose coverage you like, and those you’d rather not talk to…Join Twitter…and start following science writers. Participate in the online conversations, in blogs, article comments, and in social media.”

Gill also says that scientists shouldn’t be afraid to approach journalists directly or, in some cases, “be your own science journalist.” Check out her blog post on the subject for more practical ideas.

What warrants a press release?

Usually only research that would be of interest to lay persons is considered worthy of a press release. Oxford University Press defines “press release-worthy” as:

[a] journal article [that] contain[s] one or more of the following:
  • New research in the field of study
  • Research that sheds a new perspective or alternate perspective on research that received news coverage in the past
  • Research that relates to current news stories and interest
  • Publication coincides with an anniversary or date of interest
  • Research in the public interest, e.g. elderly care abuse or pregnancy screening
And it’s usually only a journal article that warrants a press release. One study found that “71% to 83% of the respondents agreed that ‘scientists should communicate research findings to the general public only after they have been published in a scientific journal."

Some people feel that any article published in a top-tier or big-name journal is worthy of a press release. But no matter where you’ve published, if you’ve written an article that you think could be of interest to the public, contact your press officer to see if they think it’s worth publicizing.

What should be in a press release?

The main job of your press release should be to get the attention of journalists. After all, they’re the critical bridge between you and the public.  Liz Neeley of COMPASS points out,
“Done well, press releases can offer researchers the chance to tell their stories on their own terms and alert interested reporters to a story they won’t want to miss. Done poorly, they are usually ignored – and, at worst, they can even distort the story of the science they attempt to share.”

Luckily, you have a great source of material to work from: the outline of the video abstract you already created for the OU Impact Challenge!

A title: short and relevant

Make it snappy but not eye-rollingly cutesy or so pithy that it doesn’t make sense. One way to accomplish this is to consider what your paper’s title might have been if you had written it for a newspaper rather than an academic journal. Your title also shouldn’t overreach the data, according to Liz Neeley of COMPASS.

Include an embargo, if needed

If your paper isn’t yet published, you may be required to include an embargo date and time at the top of your press release, so journalists know to hold the news until you or your publisher is ready. Check with your journal to learn if they impose embargoes, and if so, what they are.

Then you gotta hook ‘em

Your press release, like your video abstract, should include a hook that quickly summarizes why your research is relevant to their lives. Oxford University Press recommends that your hook include “an identifiable audience, main point of focus for the release, and headline for the article.” Another way to think about your hook is a 1-2 sentence explanation of your research that inspires your audience to continue reading.

Writing a solid body for your press release

  • In Dennis Meredith’s excellent “Anatomy of an effective news release,” he outlines important components of the rest of your press release:
  • An inverted pyramid style that summarizes the key concepts first, with background relegated to later in the release
  • Concise explanations of the scientific concepts
  • Caveats about the research
  • A broader perspective on how the findings fit into the research field
  • Full credit to all the participants
  • Reader-friendly use of technical terms. For example, definitions on first usage and use of only those terms necessary to tell the story
  • Vivid analogies and descriptions of concepts and experiments

Check out Dennis’s full list of recommendations on his website.

Contact information

Journalists are going to want quotes and possibly even longform interviews, so be sure to include the lead author’s contact information or that of an agreed-upon media representative from the research team.

Awesome images and other media

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) points out that “people like looking at cool stuff.” If you’ve got images, video, figures, or other graphics from your study that’d make your press release visually appealing, include them!


How to prepare yourself for talking to the media

Assuming you’ve nailed your press release, journalists are now knocking on your door, wanting to interview you about your research. Here’s how you can make sure you have a successful interview.

Identify your main objective

What is the single most important message you want those who read or hear your interview to come away with? AAAS recommends that you “prepare a single communication objective and two or three secondary points you want to make,” and we would agree. Keeping a single message in mind can keep you from veering off-topic or getting lost in the details of your article when talking with a journalist.

Flesh out your talking points

You’ll need to also have talking points ready, so you don’t repeat yourself when attempting to communicate your take-home message. The FigureOne blog explains:

“It’s important to have a set of talking points prepared ahead of time so you can clearly spell out the important details of your work without too much fumbling. The fastest way to get misquoted is to be unclear when you describe what you did and why it matters.”

The American Geophysical Union has a helpful worksheet that you can use to formulate your talking points; complete it and keep it handy when conducting your interview.

Practice, practice, practice

The more you practice, the better you’ll get at artfully explaining your talking points. Have a friend or colleague help you rehearse, if necessary. And keep Ed Yong’s advice about giving comments to journalists in mind when rehearsing.

Say yes to the press!

Now that you’re well practiced, it’s time to start talking to journalists about your work.

Be sure to respond quickly to press inquiries. Journalists are often on deadlines that require you to respond within hours, not days or weeks. Rearrange your schedule if necessary so you can check your email and phone messages more often than normal, and make time to respond to inquiries you receive.

The Scripps Research Institute points out that you don’t have to respond immediately to all inquiries, however:

“When you receive a media request, feel free to ask the reporter for background: What is the focus of the piece? Who else are you speaking with? What is the format (e.g. live or taped)? If an interview request catches you by surprise, arrange to call the reporter ​back so you have time to gather your thoughts and do a Google search on the reporter, outlet and other background.”

Trust your gut when deciding to respond to journalists based on their reputation and the publication for which they’re interviewing you.

Now get out there and start talking! Give your interviews, monitor the media for the final results, and give yourself a pat on the back for doing the complicated and sometimes intimidating work of speaking with the press!

After you’ve finished interviewing, you can offer to fact-check articles and be generally available for follow-up questions. But don’t expect the right to review the articles before they go to press; that’s just not how journalism generally works.

The very real fear of misrepresentation

Many scientists are wary of talking to journalists for fear that they’ll be misquoted or their research will be misrepresented through errors or omissions in news articles. Science argues that researchers have more control over this issue than they may realize:

“The quality of an article does … not only depend on the skills of the journalist but also on the source,” Scherzler continues. “One should, therefore, do everything in one’s power to ensure that the journalist understands what one is trying to communicate and that he has received all the information required for a good article.”

You won’t be able to prevent all errors, but by being a well prepared and rehearsed interview subject and working with a press officer who’s an expert in media affairs, you can nip some of these issues in the bud.

Also, keep in mind there’s a difference between lack of precision and outright misrepresentation. Often scientists need to get comfortable with the former when speaking to a broader audience – the public tends not to be specialists, and the important thing is that they get the main story, not the nitty-gritty details.

Oversimplification of your research can be frustrating, too. Scientists “can’t overstate the uncertainties on the one hand, nor neglect to mention dangerous or unpleasant possibilities on the other,” points out biologist Steve Schneider. “Our job is to provide the context,” he says. Therefore, having prepared, correct metaphors and examples that help illustrate a concept for journalists and the public can help them with their job.


Do some research to find out who your institution’s or department’s press officer is. Consider reaching out to introduce yourself to them, and possibly offering to provide quotes or expertise in your research area, should they ever need it. That way, when you have an article that’s ideal for sharing with the public, you’ll already have a friendly relationship with your press officer, which can make things go much more smoothly.

It’s also a good idea to practice communicating your research to the public. Use the AGU communications worksheet to write talking points for an older study of yours, so you can get a feel for the practice.

Another great resource that’s worth reading before engaging with the press is Escape from the Ivory Tower by Nancy Baron.

And if you’ve got an article that will be published soon and is ideal for sharing with the public, get in touch with your press officer now to get your research out into the media ASAP! 

This guide is based on the "30-Day Impact Challenge" by Stacy Konkiel and used here under a CC BY 4.0 International License and the OU Impact Challenge which is also licensed CC BY 4.0.  Many thanks to those authors for creating and sharing these materials.