How to Interview Scientists (8 Tips to Bring Science to Your Masses)

People respect science. I don’t care that Justin Beiber is more popular than the Higgs boson–when it comes down to life in the here-and-now, especially when it comes to health, it will be rare that you find a person (especially an Internet user) who won’t appreciate you taking the time to get them some info straight from the source—and who won’t then repay their gratitude by sharing what you’ve put together with all their online family and friends.

But we’re not all Neil deGrasse Tyson, right? So how do you get from the cold lab to customer living rooms?

I saw a post today by Dr. David Katz, addressing this issue of public health information basically being misued.  The concept of “don’t eat too much fat” was filtered through the lens of business and human interpretation, and morphed into a general acceptance of snacks with more carbs, salt and sugar, and little if any reduction in American consumption of fat–not the results the researchers had hoped for, I’m sure.

That didn’t happen because scientists didn’t do their work or because people are stupid. It happened because the communication line between legitimate research and the real day-to-day of public health is basically one big game of telephone. You’d think the Internet would make things better, but it’s likely made them worse–what with ad revenue and linkbait and all the things that suck you into reading articles about something “you won’t believe” happens next.

You have an opportunity in that space. 

About 4 years ago, I decided to interview a microbiologist friend who worked for the CDC about gym hygiene. My niche health community is dominated by 20-something athletic guys…a population not generally known for their cleanliness or community-mindedness. We have an issue with skin infections, and some very dangerous ones at that. I’d personally ended up in the ER, hooked up to an IV with a nasty klebsiella infection in my face (doctors were concerned it was MRSA at the time) and after that, decided that there needed to be a bigger conversation around the concept.

The interview was great and went viral, getting me 10K visits the first day alone (MASSIVE for my community). The cool part is that to this day, I hear from people that the interview changed their habits around skin care.

What struck me most though, was that the scientist I’d interviewed thanked me for a platform, because the work she and her collegues did didn’t always make it to the people who needed it most. (I honestly had to give a lot of the credit to her though, because she’s an approachable and entertaining writer.)

While a a dry and clinical interview might fall flat, here are some tips to make sure people get the most benefit out of the information you’re presenting:

  • Make sure your topic is important: Or maybe it’s better to say, make sure it touches on something that impacts your customers’ lives. If I’d interviewed someone on the chemistry of sweat, it might have been interesting, but it wouldn’t change much in my readers’ habits. Skin infections mean a loss of time training for athletes in my community, so it’s a problem anyone is happy to see addressed.
  • Choose a topic that’s actionable: Basically, solve a real, and immediate problem. I’m sure your readers care about world peace, and yes, there’s always something we can do to make the world less violent, but let’s be real…there probably isn’t a lot they can do to make immediate impact. People like (and share) information that empowers them to act.
  • Talk to a communicator: I believe that most scientists will be happy to speak with you, especially if it means more visibility for their work–but still, it helps to talk to someone that’s already out there, at least on a social media platform, or even just a university blog, talking to people. You’ll get 2 great things out of them…1) Engaged answers and 2) A voice that takes less tweaking to make it blog-ready.
  • Make sure it’s somewhat original: I just don’t believe most business blogs benefit from tips on blood pressure or weight loss (I have yet to see one of these posts with any comments). Get in touch with your customers’ lives, and do something that hasn’t been done before (or at least not often, or well.)
  • Talk to your community first: Ask them questions about what they want to know. You’ll likely hear the same topics over and over, and that’s a good sign. If a large group of people don’t know something, be the one to answer the question for them. Before I even contacted the scientist in that microbiology article, I asked people on forums and in person, what some of their questions were. The feedback I got was amazing, and I ended up having to narrow down questions, as opposed to making them up myself. Bonus: I already knew people wanted to know the answers AND had a pool of users who were ready to share my content before it was even complete.
  • Prepare for more questions: If you’ve hit a nerve (in a good way), you’ll get more questions. Consider having other ways to get information your readers are curious about. This may be followup interviews, or interviews with researchers in other fields, or specializations in the same field.
  • Be a gracious interviewer: People who work in the sciences are curious and are likely to give you more info than you expected. Be polite, thank them for their time, ask how they’d like to be credited and send them the link once the post is up so they can read it for themselves. Abide by any changes they request or wishes they have.
  • EDIT: You’ll likely get WAY more info than you need. Break up the posts to keep things digestible for an Internet-based audience, just don’t leave out essential information.

So find a scientist or two today…the ones with the funny, even slightly popular blogs. No, they’re not all Neil DeGrasse Tyson, but your field is bound to have many that have a lot of valuable information to offer your readers and followers.

by Megan Williams

P.S. If you found that useful, I’d like to ask you to sign up for my bulletin on content and content strategy in healthcare. It doesn’t go out too often and it has information you’ll actually want to use.


We respect your email privacy

Email Marketing by AWeber

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply