Survey says…

By/par Magdalen Normandeau (Cassiopeia co-editor)
(Cassiopeia – Summer/été 2017)

“Is anyone going to read this?” That’s what I asked myself as I pulled together a recent edition of the Cassiopeia. It seemed like an important question to ask about a newsletter. When it was first created, the purpose of Cassiopeia was clear: without the web or email, the hardcopy newsletter that members received a few times per year was an important tool for keeping the CASCA community in the loop about observatories, instruments, big projects, etc. Now, however, there’s email and a web page in addition to the newsletter, so does the Cassiopeia still serve a purpose?

Word cloud

Wordcloud created using the responses to the question “In your opinion, what is or should be the purpose of the Cassiopeia newsletter?” Words that appeared more often are in larger font. The colours and placement have no meaning.

When asked what the purpose of Cassiopeia is or should be, many CASCA members referred to community (the Canadian astronomy community, the CASCA community). For example, one survey respondent wrote “To relay news from the community to the community,” while another contributed “créer un esprit de communauté pan canadien.” One senior member of CASCA wrote: “I lived thru the pre-CASCA wars. Never let that kind of situation develop again. The newsletter has been a successful unifying factor.”

The majority (67%) of those who responded to the survey in April 2017 indicated that CASCA should continue to publish Cassiopeia, while only 11% said that Cassiopeia should be discontinued. However, most CASCA members did not choose to complete the survey: 139 surveys submitted – 119 in English and 20 in French. In other words, roughly a quarter of CASCA members were sufficiently interested to complete the survey. Thirty-one other people began the survey but did not get past the third question. Of those who completed the survey, 57% work or study at a university with opportunities for graduate work in astronomy and 23% work for a governmental agency (NRC, CSA). At 26.5%, mid-career people made up the greatest proportion of respondents from academia, followed by late career at 19.7% and emeritus at 14.5%. Only 6 graduate students and 7 postdocs chose to complete the survey, suggesting a lack of interest in CASCA affairs among the younger members.

While 69% of respondents were likely or very likely to read the titles in the announcement email for a new edition of Cassiopeia, only 57% were likely or very likely to follow through to look at the web actual newsletter. This corresponds to approximately 18% of CASCA members. Reasons given for being unlikely to read Cassiopeia include lack of time/feeling overwhelmed (22), information being available from other sources (13), lack of interest (8) and aspects related to presentation or format (8).

Types of articles

A list of types of articles that recently appeared in Cassiopeia was given for consideration. In retrospect, when designing the survey, it would have been more useful to have 3 categories for instruments/observatories instead of specifying instruments: 1) operational, 2) under development, 3) proposed. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Be that as it may, the results are presented in the figure below. Only for the LRP updates and the message from the president did more than 50% of respondents indicate that they were likely or very likely to completely read the article.

Bar chart - Current article types

Responses to “How likely is it that you will at least scan or partially read the following article types?” The list of article types was drawn up based on the table of contents of recent editions of Cassiopeia.
Deep red = very unlikely. Deep blue = very likely. Stars indicate those for which more than half of the respondents indicated likely or very likely. Two stars indicate those that more than half the respondents indicated they were likely or very likely to read fully.

Members were also asked what they would like to read. The figure below shows the responses for the list of possibilities presented. More than 50% of respondents expressed interest in articles about statistics related to astronomy in Canada, award announcements, reports from the Ground-Based Astronomy Committee and from the Joint Committee on Space Astronomy, as well as conference announcements.

Responses to the question: "How likely would you be to read these types of articles?" Deep red = very unlikely. Deep blue = very likely.  Stars indicate those for which more than half the respondents chose "likely" or "very likely".

Responses to the question: “How likely would you be to read these types of articles?” Deep red = very unlikely. Deep blue = very likely. Stars indicate those for which more than half the respondents chose “likely” or “very likely”.

In addition to the options listed, several suggestions were made. These mostly fell into 3 categories: 1) the business of astronomy (astronomy & politics ; NSERC ; grant policies & implementations ; CASCA Board agenda & major outcomes), 2) research (research-oriented articles; papers published in previous quarter ; summaries of current Canadian astronomy research accomplishments ; progress reports of major research efforts), 3) people (news on new staff, new PDF hires ; profiles of astronomers in the news ; what has become of…? ; obituaries).

Redundancy and format

redundancy

Given the multiple means of communication at CASCA’s disposal (email, web site, newsletter), members were asked if they considered redundancy between emailed information and Cassiopeia to be desirable. The answers shown in the figure on the right suggest that while most CASCA members consider repetition of information acceptable, many would appreciate it if articles in Cassiopeia were written as proper articles, not simply direct repetitions of email messages.

When asked about the importance of images in articles, only 19.5% of respondents indicated that they were not important. On the matter of whether or not photos of authors should be included, most were indifferent.

In the comments related to format, 5 people stated that they would like to have a PDF version of the newsletter so that they could read it offline, 4 stated that they would prefer one continuous post rather than each article being a separate post linked to a table of contents, and 2 people suggested that the email announcement for the newsletter could be in a format similar to that used by NRAO, i.e. all articles titles would be listed in the email, with each title linked to its article, and perhaps the first few lines of each article would appear in the email as well. The latter suggestion is relatively easy to implement if the editors send emails directly to the list rather than submitting the announcement via the CASCA webpage where it is not possible to include hyperlinks.

Language

Currently, articles in Cassiopeia are published in the language in which they are submitted. Most are submitted only in English, with a few being submitted in both languages (NRC-Herzberg, CSA, Gemini). No articles in French only have been submitted in recent years. There would be logistical challenges to having the entire newsletter translated: the deadline would need to be a few weeks before publication rather than a few days, and the cost would probably be $1000 per edition (it might be more: I haven’t done a word-count or updated my awareness of the going rate for translation in quite a while). However, it is important to consider the matter as the predominance of English may be a barrier to participation for some CASCA members.

Members were asked if they had any comments related to the fact that Cassiopeia is currently mostly in English. Only 2 people wrote that the newsletter should be fully bilingual, and another 2 indicated that translation would be “worth it if French-speakers feel that it is limiting their participation in astronomy communications.” Most respondents on the English version of the survey wrote that they would defer to their francophone colleagues on this matter. As indicated above, only 20 people responded to the French version of the survey, and 2 of these requested a fully bilingual Cassiopeia.

Two people suggested that short abstracts in the other language would be worth considering. Two members stated that the message from the president should be bilingual.

Moving forward: thoughts and suggestions

Back to my original question: “Will anyone read this?” The answer can be stated two ways: either “Very few will read it, but it’s important to those who do” or “It’s important to those who read it, but very few will.” The response rate for the survey was low, only ~25%, and not all who responded consider it worth continuing to publish Cassiopeia. On the other hand, those in favour of continuing to publish Cassiopeia presented compelling arguments for doing so. The decision of whether or not to continue with Cassiopeia rests with the Board.

If CASCA continues to publish Cassiopeia, I would suggest the following:

  • Save non-urgent matters for Cassiopeia

    Throughout the various comment sections in the survey, there were several mentions of receiving too much email via the CASCA email exploder. I would suggest that non-urgent matters should not be sent via email, that they only be communicated via Cassiopeia.

  • Have the message from the president in both languages

    While only two people thought to suggest this, it seems like a reasonable thing to do. The president can either write his/her article directly in both languages or have it translated. It should be submitted in both languages.
    [For this edition, the President's Message was finalized too late to allow translation.]

  • Use NRAO-style format for the announcement-of-publication email

    While only two people suggested this specifically in the “suggestions regarding format” section, similar things were mentioned by some elsewhere in the survey. As this is relatively easy to implement, it should be done.
    [Done. Was it helpful for you? If so, please let us know. It takes a while to set up, so it's only worth doing if it makes a positive difference.]

  • Add a link to Cassiopeia under the News tab on the CASCA website

    Based on some of the comments, it was clear that some people did not know how to access Cassiopeia other than through the link in the announcement email. While it is possible to navigate to Cassiopeia on the website, how to do so would be more obvious if Cassiopeia appeared under the News tab.
    [Up to those who control the CASCA website.]

  • Articles about awards should be part of Cassiopeia

    Members of the awards committee should be encouraged to write articles about awards and their recipients, preferably going beyond the contents of the announcement email and making good use of appropriate images.
    [Encouragement was sent. No articles received for this issue.]

  • Updates from the Ground-Based Astronomy Committee and the Joint Committee for Space Astronomy should be included

    Respondents indicated that these would be of interest. The members of these committees should be encouraged to submit articles.
    [Encouragement was sent. No articles received for this issue.]

  • Authors should think about communication when writing articles
    • Write an article not an email
    • Write for your audience
    • Write informative/compelling titles and 1st paragraphs
    • Include some relevant visuals
    • (And authors probably shouldn’t write an article as long as this one…)

Reminders

As it says in the description of Cassiopeia:

“Members are invited to submit letters or articles of interest, Departmental or Observatory news, instrumentation ideas or proposals, symposium and meeting reports, and so forth, for publication in Cassiopeia.”

Articles can be submitted in French, in English, or in both English and French.

Cassiopeia is the society’s newsletter, it is what you, members of the society, make it.

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