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Six Rules for Communicating Biotechnology

Communication is a two-way process. Not only do you present information about biotechnology, you need feedback from the audience to ensure that the message is understood. At the October breakfast meeting, Dr. George Surgeoner, President of Ontario Agri-Food Technology, discussed the elements needed to effectively communicate new developments in biotechnology. In addition, Sarah Staples and Terri Pavelic of Biotechnology Focus magazine provided some valuable tips on how to get a journalist’s attention and get your story into the news.

  1. Know your audience!
  2. Is the article for a technical journal, a daily newspaper, or a magazine? Is your target audience the general public, business professionals, or technologists and scientists? This will influence how much technical information you provide. You must also consider the primary concerns of your audience: consumer benefits, risks (immediate and future), or ethical and religious issues.

  3. Be honest about the risks.
  4. Describe the risks of the biotechnology, and be honest about the level of risk. You need to build a trust with the reader, who will potentially use your technology.

  5. Deal with the negatives directly.
  6. Include the negatives and be forthright. This proves that you have nothing to hide and again builds trust with your audience.

  7. Give the audience a choice.
  8. Explain the alternatives and describe their advantages and disadvantages, such as higher costs, smaller yields, more disease, etc.

  9. Describe the benefits.
  10. If people are taking a risk, they need to know how they will benefit from the new biotechnology. What’s in it for them?

  11. Take your opponents seriously.

Listen to what your opponents are saying. Then provide the appropriate explanations.


Dagmar Gross, M.Sc., is president of MedSci Communications & Consulting Co., which specializes in technical writing and meeting planning services for the medical, scientific, and health communities. Ms. Gross may be contacted at: 2 Bloor St. West, Suite #100-385, Toronto, ON, M4W 3E2, Tel: 416-968-9414, Fax: 416-968-9417, E-mail: [email protected]


Tips for Writing a Press Release

  1. Ensure your item is informative, timely and relevant.
  2. Tell a story, with heroes, villains and plot twists.
  3. Use short, punchy sentences and simple language. Avoid cliches and technical jargon.
  4. Provide clear explanations for non-scientists. But also include ample technical background.
  5. Provide a hard copy as well as access to a media-friendly web site.
  6. List more than one contact, e.g. a business contact and a scientist.
  7. Be aware of deadlines.

"Copyright © 1999 BioScan, Toronto Biotechnology Initiative. Reprinted by permission."