Beyond the Journal: The science of communication

Mind your language! Crafting research press releases

10 Oct 2018
When is a breakthrough not a breakthrough? We delve into the dos and don’ts of press releases.

By Ruth Francis

The opening paragraph of any good press release, blog or news article should hook the reader, make them want to read on. There are myriad ways to do this successfully, but it is also easy to turn readers off. 

Press releases are sent to journalists with the aim of piquing interest and encouraging them to look into a story. Your release should guide them to the full research and to speak to the scientists involved. Reporters are sent hundreds of press releases every day and want to know very quickly what your release is about, so getting to the point is crucial. Cluttering your first paragraph with unnecessary adjectives gets in the way. One word in particular is often used and rarely accurate. 

Most research is not a breakthrough, but an incremental step forward in a certain field. It may have relevance outside its field, or have been particularly challenging to achieve, but describing it as a breakthrough creates distrust among journalists who have heard the word too many times before. 

Overselling or hyping research by describing it as a breakthrough or its synonym ‘ground breaking’ not only loses the reader’s confidence in that story, it could have consequences beyond the one press release. Journalists often become wary of press releases from an institution known for hype, making it harder to get their attention with future news. 

Something may have been a breakthrough in the lab. But rather than labelling it as such, tell the reader WHY. Explain the challenge and how rewarding it was to get the result. It is far more persuasive to let the science sing on its own merits. 

In his book “Explaining Research,” Dennis Meredith says: “A kiss of death for the credibility of a research news release is the use of subjective hype words such as "breakthrough", "pioneering", "leading expert", or "major discovery". To convey a discovery's importance, simply let the facts speak for themselves.” 

P.S. Having science writers and editors who can craft intriguing and trustworthy releases is essential for any research university or institution. Don’t forget that Asia Research News has professionals who can help you. That’s right! We write, edit and distribute releases, and track the results.

Seriously, please contact us. It hurts our souls when we see the word ‘breakthrough’ in press releases. 

Ruth Francis is a communications expert with more than 17 years of experience working in academia and publishing, including Springer Nature, BioMed Central, Cancer Research UK and King's College London.