Fishing for Scientists To Write for Lay Audiences

Guest Author: Scott Baker

Editor: Patrick Cooney

For the last two and a half years, my colleague Sara Mirabilio and I have been presenting reader-friendly science on HookLineScience.com, a website we created for saltwater anglers to learn about fisheries research that may affect their pastime. And, beginning many years before that, I’ve been embedded in the fisheries research community in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic, a region synonymous with saltwater angling. Further, I get to do lots of outreach with fishers as part of my job with North Carolina Sea Grant.

And what have I learned in 25 years as a scientist?

Many people compile information on where and how to catch fish — but few outlets highlight fisheries science in a way that is interesting or useful to anglers.

I’m talking specifically about saltwater anglers, but the case could be made for commercial fishers and for-hire operators as well. My belief is that more informed anglers may become better stewards of shared fisheries resources.

Fellow scientists, consider this: think of ALL the fisheries research published every year around the world and then think about how little of it anglers ever learn about!

We know from authors like Randy Olsen and others that science is best communicated using story – as this type of communication triggers the brain to pay attention and follow along. Instead of piling on more facts and figures, we need to present information in a way that answers simple questions. Anglers want to know things like:

So, in late 2018, we launched HookLineScience.com. Each Monday, we offer a new, concise post about a single, recent research project. We summarize other scientist’s work ourselves, but we also recruit guest authors, including students.  

The difference between our site and other science blogs is that we focus on topics of interest to anglers as identified by a needs assessment survey we conducted in 2017. The beauty of this approach is that our curated content is designed around topics that people already are curious about and actively searching for online.



A word cloud of the first two years of articles on HookLineScience.com. (Source)

We’ve already recruited dozens of guest authors. But, after two and a half years and more than 120 posts into our effort, we really want MORE guest authors to write about their OWN work in their OWN words — and do so in a way that engages all types of anglers.

For fisheries scientists that are inclined to share their work with anglers, we’ve made it surprisingly easy.  

First, we offer a simple template for most posts — requiring but a few sentences under each section to construct a story. Hollywood uses templates to write screenplays, why shouldn’t scientists?

Second, Dave Shaw, editor of Sea Grant’s Coastwatch magazine, provides notes and other suggestions on all our posts — and these edits are ALWAYS optional. We’re not here to dumb down your science. We’re here to make your posts better. And I will say, not a single guest author to date has outright refused this service!

Finally, we always provide a link to the journal article or data source. After all, we are providing a summary of the work. It’s just the right thing to do.

Sara and I can summarize your research until the cows come home, but why not tell your own science story! Believe it or not, enquiring anglers want to know.

North Carolina Sea Grant widely publicizes all posts through social media, and some posts have been reprinted in local, national and Sea Grant publications, including 12-16 per year that Dave selects for Coastwatch

Creating peer-reviewed research is integral to the advancement of fisheries science, but so is sharing your work in a format suitable for lay audiences. Remember that in many instances, anglers, through fishing license sales and fishing related expenditures, indirectly fund some of the work that scientists do. Don’t wait for someone to profile your work when you can take the opportunity to do it yourself!

Fish scientists are among the most trusted sources of information when it comes to sharing information about fisheries. (Source)

Check us out at HookLineScience.com. If you’re a scientist and feel like sharing your work with the public, we want to hear from you. Mondays come around once a week so we’re always looking for new fisheries science to share with anglers!

About the Author: Scott Baker

Scott Baker is Fisheries Specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant and works with the commercial and recreational fishing communities to understand and apply the latest in fisheries management, research and technology. Baker holds a master’s in oceanography and coastal sciences from Louisiana State University and a bachelor’s in biology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to joining Sea Grant, Baker worked as a research associate at Louisiana State University and as a biological science technician for NOAA Fisheries in Panama City, Florida.

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