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Scientific writing tips for Outreach Programmes

Academics are sometimes afforded the opportunity to take part in outreach programmes – a hugely fulfilling and educational experience for everyone involved. Usually, the target audience are schoolchildren and young adults, with the aim of inspiring and entertaining them. It can be challenging to create engaging content for an outreach programme, so here are a few tips to get you on your way.

Keep it simple

It bears repeating for content of any kind: know your audience. More often than not, outreach activities are organised for younger audiences, so make sure that your message is simple enough to challenge participants to think, but not so challenging that they may not have the background to understand what is happening. 

You can do this by speaking to the event organisers to find out what they will have covered in school by this point, and then developing your content at that level. The most satisfying way for somebody to learn is for them to apply knowledge to understand something new. Try to provide this by tailoring your outreach programme specifically to the group you will be with on the day. 

Engage your audience(s)

Outreach activities are designed to be entertaining as well as educational, so make sure you package your message into an engaging format. For example, think about what sort of content your audience are used to consuming, and try to incorporate elements of this into your activity. 

Children, in particular, love to interact with tactile objects, so incorporating your message into a more tactile activity will often get it across more effectively. Perhaps think about gamifying it to reach slightly older children, who tend to have a more competitive streak. 

Also, don’t forget about their parents, grandparents or guardians, who may be accompanying them if you are putting together a public event. Make the most out of your captive audience by preparing something for them to engage with too, such as flyers with more detailed information or a separate activity. 

Give context

The most important facet of an outreach programme is to give participants something to think about after they’ve completed it. The best way to do this is to set the scene and give examples of why the science you are communicating could be important to them. 

For example, a very commonly used outreach activity is to extract DNA from foods. It’s an easily achievable, low-cost, completely non-hazardous experiment for children to engage with – and it can be contextualised in many ways. The principle behind the technique could be used to identify criminals using crime scene samples, or to trace ancestry and heritage. Hooks like these really get people interested and engaged with what you are trying to impart and share.


Read previous (second) in series: Pitching and writing scientific articles for mainstream media


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