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Seven communication tips

Frame your message using the ‘message box’

The message box was developed by the American organisation COMPASS, which helps scientists to better communicate their research to society.

The workbook with instructions on how to complete and use the message box can be downloaded free of charge from the COMPASS website.
In short, the message box works as follows:

  • Decide which target group you are going to fill in the message box for,
  • What subject or theme do you want to communicate to that target group (Issue),
  • Which specific problems within the theme do you want to bring up (Problems),
  • Why should your target group consider this to be important (So What),
  • What solutions do you see for the problems (Solutions),
  • What benefits will there be if your solutions are implemented (Benefits).

Once completed, the message box provides a basis for formulating a consistent message to your target audience.


What is the context of your message and what does it mean for your target audience? Many people, institutions and companies have a tendency to want to broadcast their own message, while it is often more effective to seek interaction with those you want to reach. Not “We do great research. Just so you know.” But “We do fantastic research. We will solve a problem in your life. Come talk to us, or even better: help us do even better research.”

Think not only about your own message, but also about why your target audience should listen to it.


You increase the attention of your audience when you tell a story. For example with an ‘And, But, Therefore‘ structure. Randy Olson is a marine biologist turned filmmaker. In 2015, he wrote the book Houston, We Have a Narrative: Why Science Needs Story. He advocates the use of the dramatic scheme And, But, Therefore, to make a scientific text exciting and easy to read. Of course, it also works for non-scientific texts. In the review of the book on the SciComNL website, you will find examples.

News First

The guiding principle of journalism is to find answers to the questions who, what, where, when, why and how. Combined with the ‘wow’ or ‘goh’ moment. Don’t start texts with an extensive introduction, but formulate to-the-point and answer as many of the 5 W’s as possible and as quickly as possible so the reader can determine whether it is worth reading the rest of the text.

You can even use the five w’s to determine a good content strategy.

Know your goal

Determine your goal, target audience, message and communication tools. These are the four basic ingredients for any communication strategy, it is Communication 101. Without answers to these questions, you cannot begin.


  • Objective: what do you want to achieve?
  • Target audience: who exactly do you want to reach? The word ‘exactly’ already indicates that ‘the general public’ is not a helpful answer to this question.
  • Message: what exactly do you want to tell them and how will they benefit from this message?
  • Communication means: which means (social media, press release, infographic, opinion piece, personal meeting) can you best use?


Jargon or meaningless clichés, it is best not to use them. An example of a cliché is “In our company, service and quality are of paramount importance”. I don’t think there is a company in the world that doesn’t value service and quality. What makes your company distinctive? In addition, every field has its own terms, jargon. Using these terms is not always a bad thing, but consider whether the recipient of your message is familiar with the terms. If not, explain what they mean.

Use visuals

You make a story livelier by making it visual or using metaphors. It is a cliché, but no less true: a picture can say more than a thousand words.

The use of metaphors in science is centuries old. Galileo, Descartes, Boyle and Newton imagined the world as a predictable machine. Darwin and Einstein even considered metaphors essential for developing scientific ideas. The brain can be imagined as a computer. The atom and the electrons circling it can be imagined as our solar system. Electricity is like water: current flows like water, voltage is the pressure on that water and resistance is the thickness of the pipe it flows through.

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