10 Tips for Communicating Science with Scientists
(List presented by AG at ComSciCon 2013.)
- Know your audience.
- Decide what you are trying to say, before you start preparing any text, slides, video, or interactives.
- Turn your work into a compelling story.
- Less is more, especially in presentations.
- Never overuse jargon or equations.
- “PowerPoint doesn’t kill presentations, bullets do.”
- Handouts are often an interesting option in live presentations.
- Visualization and good graphics are critical for colleagues, not just for “the public.”
- Don’t be afraid to break the mold.
- Give credit where credit is due.
Adobe Acrobat: PDFs can do more than you think…
There are groups of the “avant-garde” in the scholarly communication world today who think of PDF as backward and limiting. For now, though PDF is our “standard” document format—and it is NOT yet used to its fullest potential. So many features built-in to PDF are not commonly used…but I’ll highlight just my favorite here. Did you know that 3D models can be embedded as interactive figures inside PDF documents? Check out our example of this here, or a movie about it in this video post. Meanwhile, I say keep trying to find more nuance in what you can do with PDF, keep your PDFs in a Papers-like App for your Scholarly LIbrary, and hope that Adobe supports easy transitions to whatever does come “beyond-the-PDF.”
Keynote: Presentation Software for the Aesthetically-Inclined
When Keynote first came out in 2003, I was a PowerPoint guru. Being a bit of a Mac person, though, I was willing and excited to try Keynote in its early days…BUT I was disappointed with its extremely lacking feature set in comparison to PowerPoint. Today, though, my allegiances have changed completely! I am a Keynote guru now—I fully admit to spending way too much time on my presentations to make them “just right,” but the options now offered by Keynote to perfectionist/aesthetically-obsessed people like me are irresistible. The iPad version is pretty cool too, but it’s still a bit limited for my ~300MB/presentation style!
Some favorite features: 1) Moving images are handled better in Keynote than any other presentation software I’ve ever seen… you can overlay a movie on a still image & make it transparent! That’s very important to those of us who compare “3D” images as slices with 2D images as backgrounds. You can also control movies frame-by-frame with a slider within a presentation in order to make your point. 2) iWork.com. This is a little-known service of Apple that allows users of the iWork suite of applications to share their work at a web site called iWork.com. Keynote presentations uploaded to iWork.com can be not only shared/commented upon with others, they can also be viewed—with ALL the animations working(!)—in a full-screen browser mode to look exactly like the original presentation. [Here is a sample ..make sure to click the “play” button.] The BAD part is that storage space on iWork.com is currently not expandable, and is very limited. Perhaps this “beta” service will finally expand with the advent of iCloud? 3) Import/Export to PowerPoint is very good, and improving all the time—so you can collaborate with PPT users, cross-platform. 4) Image-editing (e.g. instant alpha for background removal in images; transparency control; masking with shapes) is so good in Keynote that I frequently use it for manipulating images beyond those to appear in presentations. It’s simpler to use than Photoshop and Illustrator, and much cheaper.
Basecamp (is easier for straightforward project management than a Wiki)
Many of us use wikis, or Google(-like) Docs/Sites, to collaborate with each other, and those are great in many cases. BUT, when what you want is to robustly manage the activities of group of people who collaborate both with each other and with other groups of people, in a secure and simple way, Basecamp is hard to beat. The hard part is the cost. This is not a free service: it will cost someone hundreds of dollars per year to use. The trick is to get your institution (or group leader) to decide this is worth it—and then use it.
Notes on features: 1) Basecamp allows for all communication to flow through it, even if responses are only through email—as long as the original message of a thread was started on the project site (thus, people won’t complain as much about having to go to a web site to send a message). 2) Files can be directly uploaded, and/or attached to messages. 3) Excellent calendaring/to-do/reminder systems are built-in and easily integrated with other apps. 4) Collaborative document editing is possible through “Writeboards,” but these are NOT as powerful as a Google Doc, so beware. 5) Permissions can be easily managed across projects, and administrator privileges can be distributed.
ADS Labs: A Glimpse of the “Future” of Research for Astrophysicists
“ADS” is the “Astrophysics Data System,” which since the early 1990s has been the go-to site for access to ALL the literature relevant to astrophysical research (a miracle in itself). In 2010, a new effort of ADS, called “ADS Labs” was begun, to experiment with new technologies as they relate to data-literature integration, semantic search, and more. I (and others involved with ADS Labs) will surely make some demo videos of the cool stuff one can do with ADS Labs as soon as we find the time…so more soon! For now, if you’re an astrophysicist, try out a search of your favorite subject, or author, and then try the “View As… “button near the top, or try using the facets on the left. Comment here on your thoughts, please…
An example of a very "real" scholarly blog (Danny Calegari's)
Danny Calegari’s research blog is a prime example of what the “scholarly communication” future might hold. Here’s his description of it:
Danny Calegari’s research blog. I intend to document my research, describing the work in more speculative terms, and outlining more (perhaps tenuous) connections to other mathematics that I might write in a paper. I also intend to document my reaction to work by other people, and to interesting developments in geometry and in mathematics more generally. I further acknowledge that my approach to this blog might evolve over time.
Adobe Illustrator is a very powerful inherently object-based (rather than pixel-based) image-editing program. Illustrator’s companion, Adobe Photoshop, is better for dealing with pixel-based files where one wants to manipulate the look of an image, rather than computer-generated objects within an image.
Many scientists think Illustrator isn’t for them, and for many, that’s correct. To be “good” at Illustrator takes concerted effort and training, and some innate aesthetic sense as well (and quite a bit of money, usually). However, Illustrator has the critical ability to open and manipulate Adobe PDF files directly. To many scientists, this (at least) should be a critical feature, as manipulating PDF output created by other programs lets users optimize graphics for the clearest presentation. The full version of Adobe Acrobat will also let users open PDF files and edit them, but its graphical capabilities are very, very, limited in comparison with Illustrator.
Email & Browsers (Too generic to matter?!)
It’s not true that one email program or browser is as good as the next, but which to use has really become a matter of personal preference less than functionality. Sure, one email program or browser can do some things better than another, but the subtle differences aren’t worth discussing here, for now. Sorry. [FYI, on any given day, I use a mixture of the Safari, Firefox & Chrome browsers, alongside Mac Mail and GMail on my Mac, and whatever email program comes with my phone—presently my loved/hated Blackberry.]