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How to improve science communication? Consider these 12 guiding principles

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How to improve science communication? Consider these 12 guiding principles

There is no shortage of guidelines, toolkits and other ‘how-to’ resources on science communication, proposed by both practitioners and researchers. While these are based on implicit understandings of what good science communication is, there is still a lack of a coherent framework for quality.

To develop such a framework, the QUEST project held six workshops in five European countries, each bringing together a range of science communication stakeholders – researchers, journalists, science communication professionals, and members of the public. Collectively, the participants mapped what they consider quality in science communication, and we distilled the result into 12 quality indicators.

The 12 core principles seen in the following slideshow guide you in assessing and designing your science communication activities, whether the objective is related to informing, educating or engaging the audience and whether the communication takes place in journalistic media, social media, museums or elsewhere. 

Scroll down to download the booklet “12 Quality Indicators for Science Communication: Guide for Science Communicators”.

The framework combines indicators into three pillars:

Trustworthiness and scientific rigour

The elements of quality in this pillar all revolve around the concept of trust. Science communication depends on trust, both in terms of trusting the source and the medium of communication. We found that the quality of communication is determined by its efforts to create and support trust not only by providing reliable information but also by enlightening the mechanisms behind knowledge creation and dissemination. This helps the audience make informed decisions about the trustworthiness of information and its sources.

Presentation and style

The elements in this pillar all aim at increasing the quality of interactions, by focussing on how the scientific content is presented and how the audience is engaged with it. The quality of communication is determined by its success in making itself visible, appealing and understood in the challenging landscape of “attention economy” while sustaining a meaningful interaction with the public. The particular challenge lies in balancing the efforts to increase the attractiveness of science communication for the public without compromising the other core values of science communication, such as being trustworthy, objective and transparent.

Connection with the society

The elements in this pillar relate to how communication serves its audience’s needs and, more broadly, the societal mission of science communication. The quality of communication is determined by the ability of science communication to act as the responsible intermediary between science and society, and it’s capacity to contribute to positive changes in both.

The QUEST indicators can be applied to assess the quality of science communication. When doing so, the following principles should be kept in mind:

Format, topic, context and objective matter

The diversity within the science communication field requires a flexible approach when applying the indicators. The use of indicators needs to take into account the specifics of the format, the topic and the context of communication.

For example, one needs to consider the technical properties of a medium: engaging an audience in a dialogue on TV is more complicated than doing the same on social media, but legacy media has a format advantage over social media when it comes to some other indicators such as presenting different voices to improve balance and transparency. Moreover, communication approaches and requirements differ depending on whether we are discussing a virus in the midst of the pandemic, debating on the use of AI in healthcare or explaining the principles of thermodynamics.

As a result, the weight given to each indicator in overall evaluation of quality might differ depending on the topic, medium and communication objective. In some situations, the indicator of factuality has a slightly higher relevance. In others we might need to pay a bit more attention to balance, relatability or clarity.

All indicators are important

The measure of quality should not just be the score of positively evaluated indicators. Rather, we understand quality as a property reflecting the integrity of the framework, that is, the level to which all listed elements are present in communication.

Thus, there is no hierarchy of the indicators, and a lack of one quality element cannot be compensated by a strong performance in another. This principle was one of the main results of the co-design workshops with the science communication stakeholders. The participating stakeholders were asked not only to list elements of quality but also place them on a map, reflecting the relationships between the elements.

Mapping of quality indicators: an example of workshop results from one of our co-design sessions.Mapping of quality indicators: an example of workshop results from one of our co-design sessions.Almost all resulting maps displayed clusters of elements that resembled the three-pillar concept. The accompanying comments emphasized that all these elements work together to produce quality in communication. Hence, the whole framework should be taken into account when evaluating the quality of science communication.

To read more about the indicators, download the booklet: 12 Quality Indicators for Science Communication: Guide for Science Communicators.

This article was originally published by QUEST - QUality and Effectiveness in Science and Technology communication, one of WAN-IFRA's projects funded by the EU's Horizon 2020 programme. Interested to learn more? Head over to the project website.


WAN-IFRA External Contributor


2020-06-22 16:47

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