How a scientist furthered his communication skills

The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe

Gustave Flaubert

 

‘There are many ways of telling stories to many different audiences or readers’, said Robert Finlayson, regional communications specialist, at a CGIAR Research Program on Forest, Trees, and Agroforestry writing training for communications staff in Hanoi, Viet Nam, 30–31 March 2015.

I learned that there are many kinds of ‘story telling’ a communicator can use to tell stories. I originally thought that a ‘weblog’ or ‘blog’ was a mere synopsis of a longer story but ‘it started as a personal journal that became public when the writing went on online’, said Robert, who has been contributing and editing stories for the Agroforestry World Blog.

‘For me, a blog is a form of writing that is intimate and personal. It is like writing a diary or a journal’, said Yessi Dewi Agustina of the World Agroforestry Centre Indonesia program.

Overviews and progress reports are straightforward and simple enough to write for investors in projects.

‘I am planning to write one after visiting the Agroforestry for Livelihoods of Smallholders in Northwest Viet Nam project’, said Yessi. The project is supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.

Ha My, communication assistant with the Viet Nam program, said that, ‘I will write a story about the problems farmers are facing there. This kind of story can be for investors, scientists and policymakers.”

Robert Finlayson, Mai Thanh Tu, Tran Ha My, Yessie Dewi Agustina

Clockwise from left: Robert Finlayson, Mai Thanh Tu, Tran Ha My, Yessie Dewi Agustina. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Prasit Wangapakapattanawong

I personally think that Ha My is a great photographer when I saw some of her excellent photos. Visual stories can also be one of the options for telling stories. The World Agroforestry Centre website also features Flickr and Slideshare links, where scientists and non-scientists can share their photos and slides, with or without captions.

Mai Thanh Tu of the Humidtropics research program, who is also based in Hanoi, told us that after our earlier field trip to Son La province, ‘I will write a story focusing on the participatory nature of the project’.

To grab readers’ attention, Robert suggested that, ‘news-style writing can be used. This is the kind that features catchy headlines and leading paragraphs stating the who, what, where, when, why/so what of the story’.

We trainees shared our opinions on which of the headlines from the Agroforestry World Blog were catchy and which ones were not. It’s so interesting to hear what non-scientists think about some blog titles that sound scientific. I am a scientist, so I tend to think that scientifically inclined titles are catchier than the other kinds.

One of the very useful exercises that we did was to a ‘tiny marathon’ writing exercise in which we were asked to keep writing anything for a 20-minute stretch, without any thinking and correcting. The result might look useless at first but it proved to a great start because we could at least get some key words, as getting started doing something is always difficult. It’s amazing how much I could write in just 20 minutes. I got about 900 words.

 

Read Prasit’s first story on learning to communicate differently

 

 

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This work is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry

 

 

 

 

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