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May SPSPotlight: Communicating Your Research: What To Expect and Tips for Talking to the Media

Communicating Your Research: What To Expect and Tips for Talking to the Media

By Rebecca Friesdorf, 2014-2015 GSC Member-at-Large

After your paper is accepted for publication, what might come next? An organization such as APA or SPSP may decide that your findings are important and interesting, and that they would like to do a press release about your article.  Alternatively, your university’s media office may want to make a press release. Another possibility is that once your article is published, members of the media may contact you directly, without any press release.  Congratulations, this is good news! You now have the opportunity to make the public more aware of your research.

An organization like SPSP or your school will work with you to prepare a release to be sent to news agencies.  At this stage the media is in-house, so if the organization is reputable, they will have competent media professionals who can help you shape an accurate story to post on the organization’s website.  You will likely be interviewed for 15-45 minutes by a writer with some experience turning research articles into general media pieces. During the interview, the consultant will want you to give a general overview of the most important points of the paper and then ask you a number of questions that are important, interesting, or controversial about the paper. The consultant is looking to gain a better understanding of the article, and to get quotes for the press release. Although it is less likely for the research to be misrepresented at this stage, you may still find that the writer doesn’t quite seem to understand the main findings or its implications. If the writer doesn’t seem to be getting it quite right, don’t give up.  Try to explain important nuances in different ways that the writer might understand. Even if it takes a long time, it is worth it to try to make sure the findings are understood correctly by the writer.

The writer will share the article they write based on your paper and interview with you before it is posted on the organization’s website. This stage is critical. If, when reviewing the article, you feel that the article is distorting the findings of the paper, its implications, or any other details of the research, this is your chance to request to have those parts of the article changed.  You may want to suggest changes, or even re-write portions of the article. If you feel uncertain about anything, you may also want to consult with your co-authors at this stage. You may also be interested to know that you can tweak your quotes just a little bit, for example, if the wording is awkward.

Once the press release is finalized, it will be sent to news agencies. The agencies may decide to reprint the press release as it is, or write their own piece about it. In the latter case, they might want to talk to you on the phone and ask you a bunch of questions about the study, its implications, etc. It's typically these kinds of interviews where people may be misquoted and the research gets misrepresented. For these kinds of interviews in particular, it is worth preparing yourself. A few tips:

  1. Prepare some simple and unambiguous answers that are not susceptible to potential distortions. Think of good examples that cannot be misrepresented.

  2. Avoid technicalities and try to take the perspective of a lay audience that doesn't have any clue about psychology when preparing your answers.

  3. Try to be as short and succinct as possible.

  4. Some universities also have media offices that help people to prepare themselves for interviews. If your school has such an office, you might contact them for their help when you prepare for potential interviews.

Whether in a phone interview, or on-the-air (e.g. radio, podcast) interview, you may find that the interviewer starts to ask questions not addressed by your research.  In these situations, it is often best to avoid speculating and find a way to bring the conversation back to the findings of your research. This may be particularly important if the answers to the questions are not readily answerable with other past research you know of. Although news writers typically do not share drafts of their article, you can always request that they send you the quotes they plan to use, so that you can review them before the article is published.


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