Take all the time you can:
Undertaking scientific journalism can be a difficult task – whether it be distilling a mountainous amount of research into a comprehensible piece of work for non-experts or simply wrestling with scientific terms and processes in order to develop an understanding of the study at hand. Hastily launching yourself into an article without observing due diligence risks the production of an error-ridden article, ripe for contradiction and rebuttal. It is vital that time and care be exercised when collating information and then, crucially, in the subsequent transposition of the data into the article. Producing quality articles and reports is the objective, therefore, rushing a story for the simple reason of beating a competitor to the punch is highly ill-advised.
Assure reasonable balance in the use of evidence:
Acknowledging contradicting evidence and research is critical in order to avoid the pitfalls of presenting a biased article. You should weigh the merits of the science behind both sides of an issue before delving into the writing phase. This does not mean you need to give air to misinformation or junk science, but you should invest time comparing your research to the dominant scientific consensus and then make a considered judgement on how/if you will present the information.
Interrogate the credibility and quality of science:
Given the disparity that exists in the quality of scientific research across different fields, it is imperative when sourcing scientific studies for use in your article that you factor in the credibility and quality of the work in question. Renowned scientists develop notoriety in their field through the mastery of processes, methodologies and the presentation of sound conclusions. It is advisable to avoid the use of studies that haven’t been peer-reviewed so as to avoid the potential inclusion of specious scientific studies.
It is equally as important to ascertain that the facts used in your article correspond with the data presented in the studies which you have consulted. Develop relationships with scientists, who you can call upon to help you verify and fact-check information.
Don’t overstate the outcome of the research:
While producing widely-viewed, well-received articles is an objective for all journalists, this should not come at the cost of the reader. All efforts should be made to mitigate the temptation to overstate or overexaggerate findings from a study in order to sell a story. Ensure you understand what terms like “statistical significance” actually mean. Overstating conclusions or outcomes from a scientific study in your work risks misleading the public on what could be a serious topic, polarising an emerging/existing debate on a public health issue etc.
Don’t mislead with statistics:
Numerical figures are often the most accessible, eye-grabbing and quickest way for people reading articles to grasp a sense of just how grave, or on the contrary, meagre a reported issue may be. It is necessary that caution is taken when introducing percentages so as not to inflate the significance of the figure in the context of the story. Accurately report risk by explaining it in relative rather than total terms and be cautious of p-hacking.
Confer with experts in the field:
In the event that you are yet to earn a PhD in Molecular Biology, it is highly advisable that you confer with experts in the field about their findings, studies that you have consulted, and in a wider sense, the state of play in the relative field. Renowned experts are capable of providing useful insights and commentary on research papers, to which you may otherwise never have been exposed. Therefore, seeking expert advice on a particular paper will ultimately serve to strengthen your foundations and understanding of a particular issue, which allow you to rigorously, and more importantly, critically engage with the issue.
Share original research:
While you may provide a comprehensive picture for the reader about a reported issue, it is advisable that you divulge a link to the full study, in order for interested individuals to gain further insight into the reported topic.
Clarity is key:
For the most part, it is to be expected that members of the public are not as informed about the intricacies of different sciences. It is your job to communicate pressing issues of public interest as clearly as possible. It therefore advisable that you do not excessively indulge in the use of scientific terminology and concepts in your piece.
Add life to the article:
It is imperative that you captivate the reader by providing an accessible, thought-provoking piece without compromising your article. Accordingly, it is incumbent upon you to communicate the key message of the research, in such a way, that simultaneously allows the reader to enjoy the experience of engaging with the article.