Making your research accessible

The dos and don’ts of successful media engagement

By 15/01/2015

Does your research dissemination strategy make best use of the media? Getting research findings heard, and making sure they reach the right audiences, can often seem like a daunting and complex process. Here, Research Media have outlined their top tips for avoiding common pitfalls when communicating research and discuss how to optimise reach and engagement.

Common mistakes

1. Overlooking context

Don’t forget who you are writing for.

One of the first tasks writers at International Innovation (Research Media’s flagship publication) undertake when putting together a feature on a research project is to discern context. This is vital for engaging your audiences (most research requires dissemination to more than one type of audience… more on this below).

Imagine the scene… a researcher has produced countless valuable pages on his investigations of coronal mass ejections, which he wants to promote. But not once, among the complex descriptions of magnetised plasma, does he explicitly mention the sun. Avoiding this type of oversight is crucial when engaging with audiences beyond your direct peers. (Incidentally, it would be hard to find an opening description of the aforementioned subject that’s more entertaining than this.)

Don’t misuse declarative phrases. Never presume a fact is obvious or clear… obviously

2. Presenting research data poorly

Make sure graphs do the job they are designed for, setting out data clearly and accurately. Ensure information is placed in a suitable context in the main text, but do not spend paragraphs explaining every aspect of it. Readers will switch off based on the assumption that the graph hasn’t done its job

3. Failing to discuss the broader impact of research findings or any downsides

Clear, concise writing and effective communication are essential when attempting to convey the importance and significance of your work to a broader community.

The perfect experiment is often compromised by the realities of life in the lab. A scientist’s duty includes full disclosure of such events… who knows where the next accidental innovation may spring from?

Strategies for research success

1. Thinking about the range of media available

The medium should suit the message, not the other way around. If your story can be told in a visually appealing way, it may be worth commissioning a video or infographic to reflect this, but don’t feel this is necessary if the topics you cover are more abstract. Well-conceived press releases or media interviews may be much stronger tools for dissemination if the findings of your work are directed at topical issues of benefit to society.

2. Identifying the audience, identifying the message

At the start of a project researchers already have expectations of outcomes. Achieving maximum impact relies on envisioning who might want to know about these findings, which aspects are most relevant to them, and how they are best reached.

These key questions should help you identify and understand your target audience:

  • What type of stakeholders should be targeted?
  • What message are they interested in? (e.g. societal benefit, policy relevance, commercial opportunities, the methodology you adopted, educational value)

A common mistake is to think that, because the investigation is complex and set within an academic context, the general public will not care, or be able to comprehend the significance of the work. Some researchers are able to tell their story well and have the time to do so, but many have only one, or neither of these luxuries. If this is the case, it may be worth thinking about getting external support . Which leads to the final point…

3. The key to a successful media campaign is in the planning

  • Have you prepared a communication strategy and timeline?
  • Does communication of the project involve all consortium partners (and their respective staff), i.e. are you only telling a small part of the story?
  • Is there awareness that communication is a continuous process, not a one-time effort when the project ends?
  • Have resources been allocated to professional assistance with the drafting of press releases, graphic design, maintenance of the website and other communication tasks?

It is important to ensure your work is accessible beyond your direct peers, this can include search engine optimised (SEO) websites, video dissemination and concerted social media campaigns that target core audiences.

Research Media offer translational services that shape research efforts into coherent narratives that appeal to policy makers, industry specialists and the public at large.

Topics: , ,