Sunday, September 23, 2012

Communication Skills Rated Highly by Employers and Funders

In a study of what employers value most for the 2012 job market, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found communication ability at the top.  The two skills most prized were the:
  • Ability to work in a team structure
  • Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization
Also considered very important were decision-making/problem-solving, obtaining/processing information, and planning/organizing/prioritizing work. All three of these skillsets are necessary for excellent scientific writing.

In the scientific community, the ability to write for the general public is increasingly important because of the impact it has on the public and its support for government funding and legislation on issues such as climate change. Basically, the taxpayers are the employers of most scientists, and their government representatives the funding decision-makers.  

Even articles published in traditional scientific journals are cited beyond the author's specialty.  Considering that works are disseminated instantly to an audience that includes those for whom English is a second language, all scientific writers are under pressure to improve the clarity of their work.

In an article by Adam Smith in the Journal for Young Investigators, Jeff Berger, manager of the communications office at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), said:

--> “You can’t take for granted that just because you know you’re doing good work that your neighbors know, that other labs know, that colleges and universities know, that newspapers know, that the funding agencies know, that customers and suppliers know,” he said. “It’s good for labs if more people know. Science writers serve as a bridge to many audiences beyond scientists and engineers. Get an article in a large-circulation newspaper or magazine and you have the potential of many thousands hearing the message.”

Eileen Patterson, managing editor for 1663 at LANL, said:

-->“The journal Nature published an article complaining about the fact that most scientists were writing so that absolutely nobody could understand them. The biggest problem is sentence structure. Most people think that vocabulary is the problem when you’re communicating science. The biggest problem is not putting things where a person expects to find them.”

A good reference for communicating with the public is Dennis Meredith's book, Explaining Research: How to Reach Key Audiences to Advance Your Work. 


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