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En 84: Writing About Science: Resources

Dr. Susanne Hall

Press Release Services

These services connect journalists and bloggers to press releases about recent research and current events. For a fee, institutions can share their press releases with these readers. Often it costs money to gain access to the full services of one of these sites, such as embargoed stories and contact information for sources, but a great deal is also available without subscription.

Institutional News Offices

Research institutions employ journalists who write news stories and press releases that seek to promote the work of that institution. While such stories are generally reliable, it is important to remember that the promotion of the institution is part of the goal of these offices, whose budgets come from the institution whose work they cover.

Mainstream Media Reporting on Science

These are stories written by professional reporters employed by these publications. The primary purpose of these organizations is to report news of many kinds to their readers. These stories are also professionally fact-checked and edited. These organizations make money by selling subscriptions to readers as well as space to advertisers.

Science Media Reporting

These are stories written by professional reporters employed by these publications whose main purpose is to report news about science to their readers. Some of these publications are popular, while others cater more to professional scientists. These stories are also professionally fact-checked and edited. These organizations make money by selling subscriptions to readers as well as space to advertisers.

Blogs

Many of the institutions mentioned above maintain blogs of various kinds. Blogs can vary widely in their purpose, reliability, and audience. An individual scientist’s blog is quite different than a recurring blog feature written in a major journalistic publication, for example. In general, blogs are seen as more casual, more personal, and more commentary-driven than a news story. Typically, they analyze or reflect upon news rather than breaking it, but this is not true in all cases. Independent blogs usually make money through ad sales or paid content, and many passionate individuals write blogs without being compensated for their work.

News Agencies (Wire Services)

News Agencies, formerly called wire services, are independent newsgathering organizations that employ journalists to write stories about breaking news that can be run in other publications for a fee or for free, depending on the service. Some wire services do little more than republish press releases, but more reputable news agencies do employ reporters who investigate and write stories.

Aggregators

These websites use both algorithms and human editors (depending on the site) to collect stories on particular topics. They assemble stories of all the above kinds, throwing them together to make them quickly accessible by topic. These can be immensely useful, especially for sorting through information that is too new to be widely covered yet. It is imperative to seek out and understand what the original source of a story is when using an aggregator.

Google and Google Alerts

Search engines like Google are the big nets that sweep the ocean of information in which the writing discussed above floats. Because these search engines are generally meant to find the most popular websites, they’re good for reaching stories that are being covered already, and are less adept at surfacing breaking stories. A Google Alert can be a useful tool when you’re at work on a story, however, to help you stay abreast of newly breaking information about a researcher, topic, or problem.

Academic Databases

When you find an interesting story via one of the above sources, you’ll want to trace it back to its origins in order to write your own story. This involves being able to negotiate academic databases that will allow you to access scholarly journal articles.

Contacting Sources

Depending on your goals, you may wish to contact sources both to discover new stories and to interview as a part of a story on which you’re working. Bear in mind that scientists and researchers are extremely busy, so you must be very clear with them both about what you’d like information about and what you plan to do with that information. We’ll talk more about working with sources later this quarter.