Activity 3.2 - Communicate the important things first

Course: Science Communication Skills for Water Cooperation and Diplomacy
Book: Activity 3.2 - Communicate the important things first
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Date: Wednesday, 27 January 2021, 6:16 PM

1 - Introduction

Journalists often believe that most people will be hooked by stories that answer the following key questions: 

Who did it or was involved? Who or what was affected?

What happened?

When did it take place?

Where did it take place?

Why did it happen?

How did it happen?

These questions are usually dealt with very quickly, early on in a news story, as a way to hook the audience.  Other important details and background information are given lower priority and appear later. Journalists call this overall news writing structure the inverted pyramid because the most crucial and interesting information comes first, with remaining material organised in order of diminishing importance. It is essential to consider what is most important depending on the context and communication objectives; for example ensuring that content promoting cooperation between researchers is given prominence. 

Tip for preventing the spread of misinformation: 

Information relating to transboundary waters can be manipulated, and the data and science can also be disputed. If you are aware that there are myths or manipulated facts do not mention these first. Studies have shown that if you start with facts based on empirical data first, and you address myths afterwards then you are less likely to spread misinformation. Also make sure that you always close any statement by reaffirming the facts. 

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2 - Activity instructions

Inverted pyramid

Download inverted pyramid: PDF | PNG


  1. Read the abstract from this research paper.
  2. Copy or print this inverted pyramid and organise the information from the abstract into each section. Focus on the 5Ws and H in particular. 
  3. Compare your answers to the worked example on the next page… do you agree?
  4. Examine a piece of your own research with an inverted pyramid.

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3 - Worked example

What? Predicting rainfall

Why? Affects agricultural operations and water resources for the region

Where? Ethiopia

When? May 2018 (publication), or summer rainfall.

Who? Researchers from Tottori University, but affects people’s livelihoods in Ethiopia. 

How? Cross-correlation analysis

Now that you have practised organising research findings using key questions journalists answer, it is time to consider how to make the answer to these questions more engaging.

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