3 Ways Being a Cognitive Neuroscientist Makes Me a Great Communicator

By Sheeva Azma

photo of sheeva azma standing in front of her research poster
Here’s me in my past life as a scientist! In this photo, I am presenting my thesis research on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the brain sometime in the early 2010s. I still love to read about and study the brain. It’s amazing! 🙂

These days, I call myself a science copywriter and digital communications strategist, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that I have no formal marketing or communications training at all — and that, weirdly, that’s never been a problem for me.

My clients, excited to learn that I have a science research background, often challenge me with new work that puts me outside of my comfort zone. They are the ones who are often confident I can pull off a new project, even if I think it seems outside of my wheelhouse. While this might sound daunting, these are the best type of clients to have, because they challenge you in new ways and help you build new skills and expertise.

A neuroscience background gives you a unique view of copywriting and of life.

What’s more, having a neuroscience background gives you a unique view of copywriting and of life. Neuroscience deals with how we think, feel, make decisions, and live. My subfield specialty of neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, deals specifically with “how the brain enables the mind.” Because communications are ultimately designed for humans, having an understanding of the human brain actually goes a long way.

I meet a lot of scientists who are interested in science writing and this post is for them. As a neuroscientist, you have a lot to offer in science communications and science writing. Here are three ways my neuroscience background helps me be a great communicator.

1. I can write for humans.

I optimize my writing to be understood by people. As neuroscientists, we know about human factors, an area of research which deals with the way people’s brains understand and analyze data. Knowing about human factors of information processing makes writing more readable. It optimizes the text I write for the user experience of reading.

Some types of writing rely heavily on human factors, and neuroscientists could be a great asset there. User experience or UX writing is an area of writing where neuroscientists are especially effective. UX writing involves writing short snippets of text for smartphone apps and other customer-facing products. UX writing borrows from human factors principles to make text easily understandable.

Regardless of whether you are a UX writer or not, you can apply what you’ve learned as a neuroscientist to write better. Think of all the coursework and research you’ve done that explained how the brain works. You can apply that in your writing. Even if you’ve not done any neuroscience research with humans, or you don’t think your research applies readily to human cognition, I challenge you to think about ways you can incorporate what you’ve learned about the nervous system to improve your writing.

2. I can see through the ‘hype.’

As someone with a science background, I have the ability to perform literature searches and critically evaluate and analyze information. I can write about complicated topics which require extensive research and even technical knowledge. This means that I am able to debunk misinformation, provide authoritative, research-backed content, and, importantly, analyze new information critically. In this way, being a neuroscientist helps me see through the hype.

3. I can write at the intersection of science and marketing.

In the COVID-19 pandemic, a new type of writing became important. This type of writing combined a knowledge of science (such as the evolving science of COVID-19) with the ability to communicate scientific information to a general audience. This task requires science writers who have the critical thinking skills needed to evaluate science as well as sharp research skills to rapidly understand and contextualize information as it becomes available. Scientists can do all of these things!

As scientists, sometimes we feel that our skills are only relevant in academic settings, when that’s not the case at all. Even though I am no longer formally doing neuroscience research, I still take every opportunity I can to learn about the brain and how it works. It helps me better serve my clients to be able to optimize my communications for the limitations and quirks of the human brain and mind.

I hope I have convinced you that neuroscientists are natural communications pros. What would you add to this list? Feel free to add your two cents in the comments.


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