How to Write a Research News Release

For many research communicators, reading the journal article and interviewing the researcher are the easy parts. Facing a blank page is the hard part.

This guide will help you get from that blank page to a first draft more quickly. It covers the main elements to include in a research news release, and how to structure them.

Write it like a news story

The goal in writing a news release is to make it easy for newsroom decision-makers to imagine your item as a news story. The best way to do this is to write it like a news story.

What does this mean?

Primarily, it means discarding academic jargon in favour of a conversational tone and everyday language. If you use a term that would be unfamiliar to a lay reader, define it: “A planet’s global magnetic field arises from what scientists call a dynamo: a flow of molten metal within the planet’s core that produces an electrical current.”

It also means identifying and highlighting the most newsworthy elements. For this, it may be helpful to review our list of traditional news values:

  • Timeliness
  • Impact
  • Disaster/threat
  • Conflict
  • Discovery
  • Superlatives
  • Human interest
  • Proximity
  • Oddity
  • Prominence

Finally, you should structure your news release like a news story. A news story, like most stories, has a beginning, middle, and end:

  • The beginning covers three things: the news, why it matters, and a quote.
  • The middle provides background and context for the study, and describes how it was conducted. It covers the findings in more detail, usually with a second quote or observation from the research team.
  • The end looks to the future, suggesting where the discovery could lead. It also takes care of any acknowledgements that are owed.

You will find some news releases that depart from this formula. Experienced writers know the rules, and when to break them. You don’t have to stick to this formula, but if you do, it will be hard to go wrong.

The ideal length for a news release is 500-600 words. You don’t have to tell the story comprehensively, because you will link to the research paper and include a contact for media who want to learn more.

Now let’s take a closer look at how to structure a release…

LeadThe single most newsworthy thing people need to know
Lead quoteResearcher sums it all up in a punchy sentence or two
SignificanceWhy it matters
BackgroundProvide context and/or set up the problem
ApproachHow they went about the study; methodology
FindingsDetails about main finding and secondary findings of note, with stats and data
Secondary quote(s)Researcher elaborates or provides another interesting observation
LookaheadNext steps; what has to happen; new questions or avenues of research
CreditAcknowledge partners, granting agencies, etc. Should include a reference and link to the journal publication, if it hasn’t already been mentioned.