Activity 6.1 - On the front foot

Course: 2018 Science Communication Skills for Water Cooperation and Diplomacy
Book: Activity 6.1 - On the front foot
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Friday, 27 May 2022, 2:41 PM

1 - Introduction

As a researcher you may want to ensure that a journalist reporting on your work will:

  • Represent it accurately
  • Avoid exaggerating the claims made by your research
  • Be true to the findings of your work
  • Contextualise the work correctly
  • Communicate key aspects and findings of the work

These are valid concerns shared by many researchers; but there is quite a lot you can do to ensure your work is reported accurately. In science reporting journalists often rely on press releases; indeed some studies - particularly in health research - have shown that the vast majority of issues such as misrepresentation can be sourced to the press release, rather than editorial intentions by media outlets. With this in mind, it is essential to identify the properties of a high quality press release. These principles can also be applied to other formats; whether it’s a blog, social media post, or short media statement. 

2 - A paper and its press release

Here is the press release for this research paper. Read the abstract and the press release.

  1. What are two things the press release does well? What are two things you would improve?

3 - Suggested answers




It highlights the importance of this kind of research.

The research paper has specific, potentially important, findings that are worthy of mentioning in the press release

It contextualises and highlights some of the challenges of the field.

The press release makes suggestions for how the researchers’ work might result in a fairer situation for the region, but could be more specific

It highlights the impact that water science can have, reminding readers how many people rely on the Nile.

The press release has a lot of technical details that could be explained more clearly

4 - Your own analysis

Below is a checklist for some features to look out for when preparing a media statement, including a press release:

  1. Find a press release in your field and use the checklist to ‘score’ it and see how many of these features it contains.
  2. On the next page provide a link to the press release you chose and give a brief overview of how you evaluated. 
  3. Look at a press release that a colleague on this course has scored and shared. Do you agree with their assessment? Give them brief feedback. 



Tick (✔)

Keep it precise

Avoid long, convoluted detail. Remember the five Ws and H and the inverted pyramid. Stick to that structure.


What’s the ‘take home’ message?

Make sure this is the main thing you mention, and that you do so early on . We recommend two supporting points and no more.


Appropriate for a non-specialist

Is it appropriate for a non-specialist audience? Get feedback from someone outside of your field.


Direct journalists to other sources

Journalists are unlikely to base their story purely on what you’ve written or said. Suggest key actors they may want to talk to, or other resources they might want to check out, such as research papers. Don’t include this in the press release or statement, but simply as suggestions to help them improve the story.


Avoid exaggeration

Don’t say something is a breakthrough, cure or ‘magic bullet’ if it isn’t. It’s not just journalists who can be prone to exaggeration.


Make it interesting

You can still engage audiences by making sure you explain why people should care. Remember some of the news values from the previous section. For example, why is it a surprising find? Or what is the problem you are resolving?


Provide context and be honest

Is it the first study ever of its kind or does it build on previous work? At what stage of development is this field or technique? Did other studies find the same thing or does yours contradict them?


Tailor it to the outlet

If you are reaching out to a specific journalist or outlet, try to tailor your statement or press release to the outlet in question.


Provide extra material

Give journalists useful resources such as images, job titles and the contact details for other researchers. The more material they can use, the easier it will be to bring the story to life.


Where is it all going?

It helps if you can explain how the piece of work advances our knowledge in the field and, of course, why it matters to the public.


Hook them

When sending a press release to a journalist, you need an eye-catching email subject and first sentence. Imagine you have ten seconds to capture their attention. Look at newspapers, what features do headlines have that make them grab you?


Download table as a pdf