InSciOut trial information

The University is involved in a national trial to examine whether and how wording of press releases influences news coverage

Important notice for all academics authors

The University of Leicester is collaborating with researchers from Cardiff University and other press officers across the UK in a national trial to examine whether and how wording of press releases influences news coverage.

The InSciOut trial is a randomised controlled trial, funded by the ESRC transformative scheme, and only involves press releases about empirical research relevant to human health (e.g. biomedical and psychological sciences).

For the trial, all eligible press releases will be randomly allocated to different press release styles and formats and their effect on subsequent news coverage will be monitored. All changes are minor and none of the changes would encourage unhealthy behaviour.

Academics will retain final say over the content of their press release, and will accept or reject the final version as per our standard procedures. However, if you would like to opt-out of the trial, such that none of your press releases will be submitted to it, then you can do so by emailing pressoffice@le.ac.uk.  

An information sheet with details of the InSciOut trial procedure and frequently asked questions is attached to this email. You can also find out more about the research by visiting the researchers’ website: insciout.org/research/rct

Alternatively, please contact the researchers directly: Dr. Rachel Adams: adamsrc1@cardiff.ac.uk; Prof. Petroc Sumner: sumnerp@cardiff.ac.uk; Prof. Chris Chambers: chambersc1@cardiff.ac.uk.

Outline protocol

The aim of this study (funded by the ESRC transformative scheme) is to run a randomised controlled trial to see whether and how wording of press releases influences news coverage for health-related research. The study is targeting only press releases based on peer-reviewed research of relevance to human health.

Press officers and academics will write press releases, in the usual way, until the press release is ready for final approval by the academics and interested partners (i.e. collaborators and funding bodies). At this stage, the eligible press releases will be sent to the InSciOut team and randomly assigned to have suggested modifications or not. The suggested modifications will be sent back by email to the press office within pre-agreed timelines.

Suggested modifications will depend on the type of study as described in the journal article itself. The press office and academic retain final say on all press release text as usual. 

Frequently asked questions

What can be gained from the trial?

This trial will be the first of its kind, investigating the causal relationship between wording of the press release and news coverage. We will end up with a rich database that can inform evidence-based practice. As well as looking at how wording affects accurate news coverage, we can also investigate how other factors of interest affect news uptake e.g. day of release, embargo period. There may also be benefit for the sector working together to improve practice, if improvement is possible (or else we'll produce evidence that practice is already optimal).

What are the risks of the trial?

Although our previous research found no association between subtle exaggerations and news uptake, there is always the possibility that the changes we suggest could reduce news uptake. We will examine evidence for this possibility as we go; if evidence builds that a condition is harmful to uptake (according to criteria pre-agreed with the press officers), we will stop using it.

What will be the suggested changes to the press release?

The suggested changes will be based on the associated journal article and will be small changes to the wording and phrasing. For the integrity of the trial is it important that academic authors remain blind to the experimental conditions, however, academics and press officers will always have final approval for the press release. Suggested changes will be presented as ‘tracked changes’ and can easily be accepted or rejected.

How long is the trial for and how big will it be?

The trial will run for approximately 12 months. We are aiming for 500-1000 press releases across many press offices. The greater the number of press releases, the more powerful will be the trial.

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