Relating Your Work to Any Audience

Most researchers are extremely adept at communicating the importance of their research projects and findings to other researchers and those familiar with the topic of the investigation. Fewer researchers are as effective at describing the importance of their work to a lay audience, whether that audience includes policy-makers, the public, the media, or others who are interested.

Communicating with lay audiences can be crucial to improving practices and procedures, and informing public policies. Whether you are writing or speaking about your research, there are a few principles you should follow in order to have the greatest impact on your audience.

  1. Determine the audience you want to reach most. Tailoring your message for a key audience will help you focus the call to action of your research. For example, if you are writing to a hospital administrator, are there procedures and protocols that need to be changed?
  2. Tell a story and provide context. Providing a context for your research, and describing its implications, will help your audience to connect with the research on a personal level and to fully appreciate its significance.
  3. Narrow the amount of information you present. Most people cannot remember a lot of information presented at once. Decide the key findings of your research – no more than three – and reiterate those findings throughout your story. This will help you to keep your presentation focused.
  4. Write using plain language. Avoid using acronyms and the jargon of your discipline. Lay audiences don’t necessarily know what the NICU is, or won’t understand DVT. If you do use acronyms, spell them out. Wherever possible, use analogies to everyday events and phenomena in describing the work; this will ensure your audience follows you at every step.
  5. Present data visually. Using graphics and simple numbers (e.g., percentages in addition to actual numbers) can help convey the “takeaway” of each stage in your process.
  6. Let readers and audiences pass your story on. Provide your audience with clear information so they are able to share your key findings with others.

To learn more about relating your work to any audience, visit the “Resources” section of RWJFLeaders.org and check out the archived webinar, “Making Data Sing: Talking About Research to a Lay Audience.”

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