The fresh angle on anaerobic digestion

By David Poulson

It’s a struggle to balance context and new information, especially in a research story or presentation.

Scientists are used to writing up studies and reports that start by laying the groundwork of the research upon which they are building.  That makes sense – for a scientific publication.

But other audiences want the new angle to the old story. It’s what will engage them.  It’s not that they don’t need context. But unlike a research article, they don’t need an excessive amount right off the bat.

So get to the point.


This presentation at a recent workshop by Michigan State University’s Global Center for Food Systems Innovation found that sweet spot.

It starts with a quick reference to how cows and kids, well…poop. This is hardly news, but it makes us chuckle. Nor it is news that this phenomenon can help fill energy needs with the raw material for anaerobic digesters.

But just as we begin to wonder if this is yet another presentation on the environmental wonders of biogas, our presenter confronts that question head on:  “Now these systems are great. We’re putting them in all over. Other people have put them in.

“So why am I here?”

Good question. And she answers it: The innovations discussed here address second-generation anaerobic digestion problems. This is the fresh angle that nicely builds upon context that is quickly established.

One other point about this presentation: carefully listen to the end. Our presenter finishes by giving credit to members of her team working on these problems. And there is a hint of emotion, a catch in her voice that signals pride in their work.

You can’t plan that. It must be sincere.  The lesson here is to be honest and don’t be afraid to let your own feelings show. You’re not issuing a research report.

You’re telling a story.

Check out other examples of this kind of work here.

David Poulson is the director of Michigan State University’s translational scholars program and the senior associate director of the university’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s