Annual Meeting Reports

You Can’t Make Them (or Can You?): Engaging Readers’ Attention

With increasing demands on people’s time and attention, it is all the more important for journal editors to grab—and keep—the interest of their audiences. In this session, three speakers provided practical advice on how to do so.

Andrés Martin focused on “disproving the null hypothesis” that there is nothing editors can do to make readers interested in their journal. Drawing on Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein, Martin discussed “choice architecture”. By physically redesigning your journal, “you are an architect of behavioral decisions”—what to read in an issue and how to read it. Using his own journal as an example, Martin suggested ways of “facilitating” the reader’s enjoyment, comprehension, and engagement.

One important way to do so is by using color, Martin said. The table of contents is “an initial point of choice (architecture)”. Martin’s journal’s table of contents is now color coded by topic and has icons with different meanings, such as indicating that supplementary content is online or that continuing-medical-education credit is available. And the “Covered in the Journal” feature in the table of contents explains the rotating cover art, nudging readers “to go inside the journal and read a paper (or three).”

“Images can really help to get people interested and to understand,” Martin stated. He does urge caution, however. Before publishing an image, several people should look at it for any subtle messages—aspects that might not be obvious on first glance but might offend readers. For example, a character with a raised arm could appear simply to be waving, but some might see the gesture as a military salute. Particularly for the “eye bite” (as opposed to a sound bite) of a cover image, it is vital that the message conveyed be the intended one.

One audience member asked how to find someone to produce cover art (economically) for a journal. Suggestions included asking readers for submissions and approaching a local art school; some of the students might be willing to create the artwork inexpensively.

David M Marques looks at the promotion of a journal by asking, What does the user want? In the Google age, he said, readers expect an immediate answer to any question. New content and platforms have created an even greater expectation of a personalized experience online. People want to have video content, multiple options for searching and sorting, and a way to use it all on their mobile devices.

The major “problem” with communication, Marques commented, is that the sender is not the receiver. However, “smart content” can bridge the divide and facilitate communication. For example, programs can allow references to be sorted and formatted in ways that make sense to different users. Journal publishers and editors should understand the expectations and tailor their content to match, Marques concluded.

Ginger Pinholster, director of public programs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes Science and other journals), spoke about working with the news media. Why do so? It is a service to authors, who may see it as a benefit to publishing in the journal. Moreover, for health-related issues, she called disseminating the new findings to the public a “moral imperative”.

There are several ways to measure the success of such efforts, Pinholster said, the simplest being to count related news stories in specific media outlets or markets. Limiting the “hype” of new discoveries is less quantifiable but a service to the authors and to the public.

Pinholster noted that even smaller journals can use some of the same tools, such as video interviews with authors, to engage the news media and the public. She also suggested going beyond traditional media outlets and engaging the writers of science blogs. Those less formal communication channels can help to “bridge the gap” between the scientist and the public.