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Press releases as a way to disseminate research results


Published: 01 February 2017

Version: Version 1.0 - Feb 2017

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Press releases are an important tool to tell the world about your research. Through their distribution and the subsequent articles and news stories that are generated from them, this is how the majority of the public learn of current progress in health research.

Apart from the media, press releases also communicate important information to decision-makers and other researchers and scientists.

What is a press release?

A press release provides the basic details needed to develop a news story, increases the chances of your news being reported, and allows you to present your position on research findings.

Journalists like clear and concise releases providing all of the information they need to know about what’s going on, presented in a newsworthy manner to attract their interest and encourage them to cover the story.

For smaller publications and online news sites, the press release may appear in its original form. Elsewhere, the release acts as a teaser, garnering attention which will then be followed up by the journalist who will find their own angle on the information.

Journalists are looking for a hook which will form the main focus of their story. They like to know outcomes of research and they prefer a human angle to ensure the story has public interest.

Preparing a press release

Your first step should be to speak to your press office or communications team to work with them to produce a press release. You should also inform your NIHR Coordinating Centre about any planned press release so it can be included in the NIHR Planning Calendar. Read more in the NIHR research outputs and publications guidance.

You should be prepared to speak to interested journalists or writers about your research results, because they are likely to want to follow up on the information they have received, viewing your approved release as an invitation to get in touch.

Including a good (relevant) picture helps! Once a press release has been issued, you have to be prepared to talk to the media. A press release should be clear, concise, engaging, accessible to non-expert readers, and – most importantly – accurate.

Key elements of a press release

Heading: Keep it short and use the active voice. Avoid including too much scientific detail in the title.

First paragraph: This should be a three to four sentence paragraph and should be a stand-alone ‘snapshot’ of the research and include: 

  • Who are the authors
  • What was the main finding
  • When is the research going to be published in a journal or publication and when is the date of publication
  • Why is the research findings relevant
  • Where where was the research carried out, or where did the patient population come from.

Subsequent paragraphs: The rest of the press release should set out the background to the research and provide additional information. The finding must not be overhyped or oversold. A brief quotation from a researcher involved in the work or from a colleague familiar with the importance of the results can also be included, but be sure that they agree to be quoted.

Contact details: Remember to include contact information for the corresponding author - name, email, phone number, and institution/organisation. Also provide information for accessing the original paper, such as a URL or DOI.

Embargo: If the press release will be sent while the research paper is under embargo, note the date and time that the embargo will be lifted at the beginning of the press release.

Notes to Editors: this is where your press office will include the standard boilerplate information about all the organisations involved, and perhaps other reference material.

Press release checklist

It is your responsibility to check the following:

  • Check the press release is a reasonable reflection of your work? If not please make the necessary changes to the copy and return it to the Press Office.
  • Get sign off from any individuals or organisations with an interest (including NIHR, any joint funders, colleagues, heads of department, publishers etc)?
  • Confirm that there will be no ethical or confidentiality issues with the text and that you have copyright and appropriate permissions for any images you have supplied.
  • Notify the Press Office or communications team of your availability to speak to the press