Five Ways to Publish Accurate Press Releases

news scrabble Coverage of science news can be inaccurate, biased and sensational. So how can you, as a scientist, ensure that your research receives press attention but is reported in an accurate manner?

Although many scientists blame journalists for sensational coverage, research published in BMJ this week shows that press releases issued by universities play a key role in exaggerated coverage.

“Our research shows that most exaggeration in health-related science news is already present in the press releases issued by universities,” says Chris Chambers and fellow researchers in a Guardian article about the findings.

Riots, press releases and science news

The research began in 2011 after Chambers and colleagues published a press release about their research into the brain chemical GABA and its link to impulsivity in adult men. As riots raged in England, their science was spun into sensational and bizarre headlines including, “Brain chemical lack spurs rioting, say scientists.”

Of course, the scientists initially blamed journalists for poor reporting but they later wondered if some aspects of inaccurate news coverage have roots in academia.

Over the coming year, Chambers and colleagues gathered all of the press releases about health research that 20 of the UK’s leading universities published in 2011. Next they identified the 668 news stories that were developed from these 462 press releases, and compared the releases and news coverage against the original peer reviewed papers.

news papers in row

  • When press releases exaggerate the facts, up to 86% of subsequent news stories contain similar exaggeration
  • When press releases do not exaggerate, only 10 to 18% of news articles exaggerate the science.

Or in other words, if press releases are accurate then up to 90% of associated news coverage will be – if not entirely accurate – free from exaggeration. Writing in The Guardian, Chambers says, “[This] creates an opportunity to foster more accurate journalism.”

How to write accurate press releases

Of course, university press offices work with scientists to develop press releases. But there are several simple steps that you can take to proactively ensure that press releases about your work are always accurate.

  1. Participate in the process – show willing and take the time to explain your science to the press office in simple terms; be happy to quickly review each draft to double check for accuracy at every step, but remember to give feedback that is constructive; finally, if you really hate what you read, refrain from ranting about poor journalism in an email cc’d to everyone from your dean down – it will not help the process!
  2. Involve other institutions – if other institutions have participated in the work, inform your press office so that they can work with each institution to arrange and prepare to publish press releases simultaneously
  3. Provide images – eye-catching photographs help to attract the reader’s attention, so develop a selection of your own images or suggest several ideas to your press team to offer journalists a choice and ensure that accurate images accompany any articles about your research
  4. Offer further information – send your press officer any further papers, graphics and technical images that are relevant to the release
  5. Prepare to publish – make yourself available to answer questions from journalists when the press release goes live and know of a third party that you can point them to for an independent quote


Want a helping hand? We have experience developing scientific press releases and are happy to share our advice – just get in touch!

Alternatively, find out more about our expertise in science communication and copy writing.

Filed under: science writing,University issues | Tags: , | By Deborah on December 11, 2014 at 2:20 am

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