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An Investment Worth Making. 

March 6, 2024

Insights & Reviews

By Dr Vicki Belt, Deputy Director of Impact and Engagement at the Enterprise Research Centre. 

How do you achieve impact through research? This is a question that I’ve had on my mind throughout my career. Good social science research is powerful. It can provide valuable insights into many of the world’s most pressing issues. But even the best research can only have an impact if the knowledge it creates is communicated effectively. 

The good news is that more attention is being paid to how to communicate research these days. This has happened in line with the rise of the impact agenda in universities. It is now recognised that it is not enough to simply publish findings in academic journals if you are seeking to have an impact outside of academia – regardless of how prestigious that journal may be. 

Doing research and producing academic publications involves considerable skill and expertise. Communicating research more widely also involves skills and expertise. If you want your research to have an effect beyond the world of academia, you need to spend time developing and honing these.  

Here are my 10 tips for impactful research communications: 

  1. Know your audience

Take time to think about your audience. Understand their interests and needs and how to make your research relevant to them. Communicate with them, not to them.  

  1. Drop the jargon

Academic language can be a real barrier to understanding, so simplify things where you can. Aim to be clear and inclusive. Practice summarising your research succinctly. 

  1. Don’t assume prior knowledge

Non-academic audiences often do not have the same level of understanding of your research area that you do. Don’t assume they do.  

  1. Think about the ‘story’ you are telling

Stories can be compelling, bringing research to life and enabling people to connect with it. Spend time developing your research narrative. 

  1. Be clear on the ‘so what?’ question

Why are your findings important? What do the results tell us that we didn’t know before? Why should people care about it? Make it clear what the main take away messages are. 

  1. Think visually

Make use of the range of media available to you, including graphics, diagrams, posters, photographs, video. Don’t underestimate the power of pictures. 

  1. Don’t shy away from reflecting on policy implications

Don’t stop short of making policy recommendations. Make sure you underscore how research findings could or should be applied. 

  1. Be open and innovative

There isn’t just one way of doing research communication. Be receptive to changing opportunities and the different mediums available. Try new things.  

  1. Build your networks

Building connections outside of academia is crucial and can lead to new opportunities. Take time to build your own research profile, and make sure this is accessible to the wider public.  

  1. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself

Some research insights don’t hit the mark on their first airing. Some take time to be absorbed and may need to be repeated and/or reframed over time.  

All this might seem like a lot of work. Truthfully, it is, and for many it will require stepping out of your comfort zone. But there is support available within universities, as well as amongst funders, professional and intermediary organisations. Even the highest quality research paper based on the most robust evidence won’t automatically be noticed, let alone used, by policymakers. If you really want your research to make a difference, you need to invest time in developing your communications skills. And it will be an investment worth making – in more ways than one. 

This blog is taken from a presentation at the Innovation & Research Caucus Early Career Researcher conference held at Oxford Brookes University on 17th January 2024.  

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