Thing 16: Communicating Your Research
Academic research is traditionally communicated in articles which are aimed at an expert audience and published in specialised journals. But if you are thinking about disseminating your research more widely, and possibly beyond an academic audience, blogging or writing for news outlets like The Conversation may be the answer.
Potential Communication Vehicles
Blogging may add a level of reflection into your work, enable you to more broadly share your research with others, expand your professional contacts, and build your online presence and network. WordPress and Blogger are two of the more popular platforms currently favored by bloggers. Commonly cited reasons for academic blogging include:
- establishing a community or network
- creating opportunities to interact with an audience on a particular topic
- expanding your audience by disseminating knowledge in a more lay or reader-friendly style
Popular and successful blogs written by academics (writing, in fact, on academia) include theThesis Whisperer, the Research Whisperer, and the Research Degree Voodoo blogs. For a more comprehensive blog post on blogging, and blogging platforms, have a look here.
Over the last few years a number of independent “academic news” outlets have been established. Their aim is to communicate research in bite-size chunks, in a way that’s accessible and meaningful to a lay audience. Below we introduce two examples.
The Conversation, with its tagline “academic rigour, journalistic flair”, offers news and opinion pieces sourced from a global academic and the research community. University of Melbourne metrics to date include 3,500 articles published by 1,200+ authors and 34,500,000+ reads across these articles. The Conversation has proven an attractive outlet for researchers from a range of different institutions and subject areas because it offers writers the following benefits:
- An author dashboard with various performance metrics, e.g. number of reads, social media interaction, geographic readership and republishes
- Profile building through large audience exposure ranging from hundreds to millions and falling under a creative commons policy enabling different media outlets to republish articles with proper accreditation
- Publication only after the author has approved the final edits
- A dedicated editor
The Conversation “Author Dashboard”, available to authors, can be useful indicator of “instant impact” such as views, reads, or downloads. We’ll talk more about (alternative) metrics in our final Thing 23.
Author dashboard view of metrics for The Conversation article McDonald’s feels the pinch, but fast food is fighting fit (article co-authored by Kristijan Causovski)
Similar to The Conversation, Pursuit is the University of Melbourne’s institutional news outlet featuring “cutting-edge research and expert commentary” by University of Melbourne academics. Its mission is to “showcase our research and its impact on the world through stories, videos, blogs and podcasts.” Reasons to write for Pursuit include that every story
- comes with an associated media plan
- is disseminated using various social media platforms
- is published only after your approval has been obtained
- is underpinned by an expert editorial team
Stories published in Pursuit have also been picked up and republished by various mainstream media outlets including but not exclusive to the BBC, New York Times, the Washington Post, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Mandarin, The Australian, Huffington Post, Mamamia, The Futurist, The Herald Sun, New Scientist and the International Business Times.
In some disciplines posters are a popular way of communicating research. Head over to Thing 14 to learn about creating effective posters and infographics. For a different spin on the “traditional”, static poster have a look at the amazing entries submitted for the University of Melbourne’s Researcher@Library Week ePoster Competition.
Can you sum up your research in 140 characters? Thing 15 will get you started with Facebook, Twitter & Co.
There are a number of things to consider when deciding on how to communicate your research. Questions to ask yourself include:
- Who is the audience? Is the piece being written for colleagues, peers, students or perhaps the general public?
- What is the purpose?
- Which medium is best positioned to convey the message you wish to deliver, and what value do you hope to gain?
If you are considering starting a blog, have a think about the following:
- What tools will you use to manage the blog? Consider pros and cons of various platforms!
- How long will you maintain the blog – does it have set lifespan?
- How will you safeguard ideas you are yet to publish from readers who may pass off ideas as their own given that blogs are in the public domain?
- Have you thought about collaborating on a shared blog?
Writing for news outlets such as Pursuit or The Conversation requires compliance with various guidelines and editorial practices, such as:
- Length – both outlets sit around 800 words
- Language – both outlets emphasize the avoidance of jargon, acronyms and complex terminology when it’s not relevant. Whilst The Conversation outlines a preference for plain English, Pursuit characterizes their language as intelligent, but also accessible
- Format – Pursuit highlights the need to outline your findings before you show your workings to attract a reader’s interest as the headline is what they see first, whilst The Conversation outlines that an article start off with a bit of a summary of what you are going to write about with the various points being fleshed out as you go along
- Tone – both outlets articulate the need for a tone that is considerate, respectful, constructive, on-topic and positive rather than triumphal or attacking
- Style – Pursuit prefers a writing style that is present tense to provide a sense of immediacy – “says” rather than “said, “is” rather than “was” – while The Conversation has a style mandate of journalistic rather than academic writing
- Take a look at the Thesis Whisper post Why you should blog during your PhD, an academic’s reflections on writing for The Conversation, and a Guardian article exploring Why do academics blog? It’s not for public outreach, research shows.
Ready to communicate?
- Throughout the year the Melbourne Engagement Lab runs programs to assist academic staff and graduate researchers of the University of Melbourne with engaging a broad non-specialist audience, whether via the written word or through other forms of communication.
This post was written by Kristijan Causovski (Liaison Librarian (Research), Business and Economics) and Julia Kuehns (Liaison Librarian (Research), Arts).