These days, many scientists are rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard work to sharpen their science communication skills. All sorts of reasons are motivating them to do so: some simply want to share why they study ocean chemistry with a curious neighbor; others see how their work can support better decisions about using natural resources; and still others see that communicating passionately about their work can ignite similar passions in students, helping to recruit the next generation of STEM professionals.

But all that work and thoughtfulness around communication can fall flat unless scientists think about why they are communicating in the first place. Setting communication goals can help bring clarity to what they are trying to accomplish. If no goals are set, then measuring whether or not communication efforts are successful can be difficult.

Setting communication goals should be one of the first things scientists think about. They help the communicator stay focused, giving them something to map their communication strategies to. By clearly articulating goals, scientists can more acutely identify audiences they want to connect with and how to approach creating meaningful messages that will resonate with that audience.

Here are a few questions to consider that will help you set your communication goals. Dedicating some time answering these questions can help ensure your time is well spent and that the driving reasons behind your communications are met.

Who are you trying to reach?

Start off by picking a specific audience to target. Then think about that audience and what their lives are like. Who do they trust? Where do they get their information?  What kind of information are they most interested in receiving?  Doing a little bit of “audience anthropology” can go a long way and make the difference between failure and success in any communication effort.

What do you have to offer your audience?

Does your work help solve a problem? Is there a “wow” factor about your research that shows how cool science is?  Does your work offer a new perspective on some long-held truth? Identifying what you have to offer your target audience will help you shape your communications in a way that will resonate.

What do you want your audience to do?

When reaching out to particular audiences, think about what it is you want them to do. Is there a particular action you’re looking for? Actions can take many forms — they can be aligned with generating interest in your work, encouraging business to utilize your findings in decision making or getting students to think differently about science and its place in our world. Thinking clearly about what you want your audience to do will inform what you choose to communicate.

What does success look like?

Defining what is successful for you will help you measure if you’re achieving your science communication goals. Success may be getting a meeting with a particular stakeholder or group of people. Or it could be revamping forest-management approaches in a particular region. Defining your success is critical so that you know concretely when you have achieved your objectives.