2011-06-20 11:52:12MADE TO STICK Part 1: Simplicity
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229
A man who chases two rabbits catches none.
  Roman Proverb

The key element of any message is that it can be boiled down to a single, simple message. This doesn't mean dumbing down or reducing your message to simplistic sound bytes - it means finding the core of your message and prioritising. It's essential for every message that you find your core truth - your take-home message.

Generally, your core message should be up-front and centre. If you don't lead with the core truth, you're doing what journalists call "burying the lead" - hiding the key message.

The Clinton 1992 election campaign had a principle which is worth considering when writing blog posts:

"If you say 3 things, you don't say anything"

Ideally, your core idea should be compact but profound, like proverbs (short sentences drawn from long experience). Eg - it's short but there's plenty of meaning and content in those few words. Think of the Golden Rule, "do unto others as you'd have them do unto you" - a short simple sentence but something you could meditate on for the rest of your life.

One technique to cram meaning into few words is to use metaphors and analogies - you then draw upon meaning and substance from existing concepts (as well as make your message more concrete).

So when writing a blog post, think - what's your take-home message, your core truth? You can communicate other information, of course, but prioritize so the core truth has the greatest emphasis and is what the reader takes away from your article. And as we post feedback on each other's posts, encourage each other to clarify that core truth or help the author strengthen it.

2011-06-20 21:06:27
nealjking

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Obviously, this also applies to our Rebuttal-Revision program as well.

2011-06-20 23:20:05Not burying the lead
James Wight

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Joe Romm from Climate Progress is good at this – he has an amazing ability to write headlines that give you the crux of the story, even though the story is often a complex scientific topic. It’s also what we’re forced to do when we write the basic rebuttal summaries – we have to prioritize.

I usually struggle not to bury the lead because I have a lot of things to say.

2011-06-20 23:27:23
nealjking

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I think an important point is that we are not JUST presenting the science of a particular topic. All of these topics relate to a broader perspective: How does this affect our understanding of AWG, or its impact? Does it affect our evaluation? and so on.

This is why I have little interest in having SkS present postings on the latest results for this that or the other: We are not a climate-science research blog. If it doesn't have a CLEAR relationship to our concerns, it doesn't need to be on the site. It will just vitiate our impact.

With respect to stickiness: I think if you can come up with a punchy ending, it's a good sign that the other criteria are met.

2011-06-21 07:31:46What makes a good "soundbite?" from ClimateBites
Tom Smerling

avi@smerling...
216.164.57.97

John's right on.    Simplicity is the key to clarity.

Most scientists are afflicted by 

"The Curse of Knowledge" (we can't remember what it's like not to know something),

"The Curse of Comprehensivity" (we feel guilty when we omit details), and

"The Curse of Jargon" (we feel unprofessional using plain language)

In case its helpful to others, here's a variation on the Heath Brothers' SUCESSe formula.     It's the "Severn C's" criteria we use at  ClimateBites.org to decide to add a climate sounbite (metaphor, quote, one-liner, etc.) to our collection.  

A great "bite" will be:

  • clear
  • correct     (absolutely!)
  • core          (your main point)
  • concise   (extremely!)
  • compelling (appeals to the heart or gut, not just the mind)
  • catchy     (= sticky)
  • comic      (not essential, but for "extra credit")

Most of us aren't great at crafting "sticky messages."    But almost all of us "know one when we hear one."

2011-06-21 09:51:21And of course SkS has our own pool of soundbytes
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229

Tom thanks for the contribution.

Having concrete examples is helpful - mustn't forget that we have our own extensive database of climate soundbytes - our one-liner rebuttals:

http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php

I think there's always room for improvement with the one-liners - it's not easy to capture the core message of a complicated scientific concept in a way that is clear, correct, concise and all those other c's. I particularly like the "Made to Stick" point that the best one-liners are also profound - that there is lots of meaning crammed in there to be unpacked.

Is there a word starting with c that denotes 'profound'? :-)

2011-06-21 11:00:43
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey
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Consummate or Copacetic?

2011-06-21 19:39:17
Rob Painting
Rob
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118.93.8.148

"This is why I have little interest in having SkS present postings on the latest results for this that or the other: We are not a climate-science research blog. If it doesn't have a CLEAR relationship to our concerns, it doesn't need to be on the site. It will just vitiate our impact."

I disagree with this, ultimately what we write about has to lead back to the science. That very few attempt to explain the science in an accessible way is lamentable but dems da facts. We would be basically expecting people to accept what we write, and if they don't they'll have to do their own digging. Not ideal, and runs contrary to your other comment in another thread about young people wanting access to information now!!!! Someone has to act as a bridge, and JC started down this path a few years back. Personally I find it frustrating trying to track down certain information, and I'm well practised at it. It must be a nightmare for the average Joe and Jane.

Sure it raises the issue of trying to be a one-stop shop, which is why I was whining about getting more people on board on another thread. When one considers the number of people who 'sort of' appreciate the perils ahead, the turn out is pretty bloody pathetic. It seems when faced with a common enemy in this modern age - the fad is to create your own army (new blog), rather than co-ordinating a pooling existing resources. Little wonder the pyschopathic billionaires are getting away with murder (and I mean that literally). True, it would have been one heck of a task without all the liars (who wants to go without?), but the gradient is ever steeper, and the pile of excrement we are pushing up it, that much larger. 

"I think an important point is that we are not JUST presenting the science of a particular topic. All of these topics relate to a broader perspective: How does this affect our understanding of AWG, or its impact? Does it affect our evaluation? and so on."

With you there. Why is it not possible to meld the two concepts together? A more matter-of-fact coverage of the science, and then a more catchy/sticky/emotionally appealing post putting the results of various posts into context. We could weave the results of various studies into a story spelling out the implications for humanity.

Personally I'd like to see more emotively loaded images on here, but I don't know how well that would go down. I mean photos like aerial shots of massive areas of dead trees from Amazonian drought (haven't found any yet) that type of thing. We currently steer well clear of that, but given this is a PR war and a matter of survival, is that wise?

2011-06-21 21:21:08Emotion
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229
I'm not exactly sure how we'd use emotion in SkS posts but I haven't got to that chapter yet. Hopefully I'll have a clearer picture by the time I start a thread on that particular point.

I would love to see SkS do more posts on new papers. For starters, it's positive education which is a welcome break from all our rebutting. You'd be surprised that even deniers welcome the opportunity to expand their knowledge (so long as the science doesn't threaten their beliefs). So on this point alone, it can break down barriers.

A post about a single paper allows you to write a concise post that doesn't cover too much, offer a bite sized parcel of education.

And for authors, it's good practice - it's not that hard taking a single paper and boiling it down to a blog post. It gives you the opportunity to flex your writing muscles, develop your skills, experiment with the 6 sticky techniques.

2011-06-22 03:23:50And don't forget "who's the communicator"
Tom Smerling

avi@smerling...
216.164.57.97

In addition to better messaging, we so desperatly need more diverse communicators.

Conservatives and Tea Partiers in particular need to hear about climate science from somebody they can trust and identify with -- i.e. somebody they view as sharing their values, but are not anti-science. 

David Roberts has a great posting on this at Grist:

http://www.grist.org/climate-change/2011-06-16-a-few-brave-conservatives-speak-up-for-climate-sanity

Often the best way is to reach out to conservatives through a secondary "shared identity" -- e.g. as an evangelical Christian (Katharine Hayhoe) or as hunters/fishermen (Wildlife Federation).

So much more is needed.    I can't think of anything more important and urgent.

2011-06-22 09:33:21
nealjking

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84.151.55.191

Rob P.:

What I am uninterested in is the type of posting that I have occasionally seen that updates some obscure point in climate science, but appears to have no visible impact on the climate-change issue - or at least not one that the poster explains. I think that sort of thing is of interest primarily to specialists.

If there is some technical advance that DOES have an impact on our issues, that tie-in should be made plain. Otherwise, we are just boring our readers.

2011-06-22 09:36:08Who's the communicator?
John Cook

john@skepticalscience...
121.222.9.229

Tom, we will discuss that with point 4 - credibility.

2011-06-22 11:18:18
Rob Painting
Rob
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118.93.14.251

Righto Nealstradamus, we were clearly at cross-purposes.