One of the biggest challenges research groups face is describing their research and its impact.
Scientists are adept at writing within their field of research, but might not know where to start when writing about their research —often for audiences with little or no background knowledge. If you’re writing about your research using the same language and point of view you use within your field of study, it may not give audiences enough of a frame of reference to understand why your research matters.
Thinking from your reader’s point of view can be a bit of a mindset shift. On one hand, it can feel impossible to describe your work in simple language without losing nuance. On the other hand, science needs to be accessible, and using simplifying concepts and language is one of the best ways to do that. So, how do we approach this problem while keeping our audience’s needs in mind?
The first step is to consider what those needs are. Different audiences need different levels of support for understanding. To start, try thinking in terms of ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ audiences.
A warm audience is one that’s already immersed in or familiar with your field of research — students, fellow academics, or anyone who works in the field on a day-to-day basis.
Warm audiences are reading your writing for the same reason you’re providing it: to gain a better understanding of the actual subject. With these audiences, it’s fine to use technical terms and assume some level of familiarity with the theoretical modelling (although it’s always good to provide background information or links to background info as a basis for understanding).
Cold audiences are different. They are generally not reading your material just to advance their knowledge. They may be making funding decisions, or looking for a risk analysis on business decisions and day-to-day life. Because their reasons for reading don’t directly align with the subject at hand, presenting your information in a way that helps answer their questions (instead of just presenting straight results) can have a big impact. Some cold audiences may also eventually turn warm as they become familiar with your area of research. These could include fellow researchers, new students, and lifelong learners who may be passionate about a specific subject.
A simple method to find appropriate language to describe your research is to record yourself explaining what you do and why it matters to someone familiar with your work. Then, record yourself explaining your research to someone unfamiliar with your area of expertise. Take note of the differences between the two explanations. What language did you use? These are your basic explanations for your warm and cold audiences.
If you compare your audio clips to your written explanations, there’s often a big difference in where you start to approach your explanation and what you emphasize. It’s easy to get too detailed too fast when we write directly out of our heads. Recording yourself talking to these two different groups of people will let you hear where you need to start for understanding.
If your audio file transcript needs a bit of cleaning up, or if you find yourself getting wordy again when you start writing things down, send your transcripts to a copywriter. Copywriters are magical unicorns who can take semi-coherent ramblings and extract meaningful slices of communication from them. This does not need to be a big investment! A few hundred dollars or less can pay back dividends.
Lastly, if you need help deciding what strategies you should be using to reach these different audiences, or want to turn your ideas into a visual infographic story or cohesive program identity, send me an email or schedule a call — I’d love to hear what you’re working on.