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Six ways to share your research findings

Background

In March this year, the ENRICH Research programme, the Centre for Mental Health and Community Research (CMHCR), the NUI Maynooth Department of Psychology and the Linking into Knowledge Translation (LinKT) project organised a two-day Knowledge Translation Masterclass with Dr. Melanie Barwick. Dr. Barwick is head and senior scientist of the Child and Youth Mental Health Research Unit at SickKids Hospital in Toronto. She teaches Knowledge Translation skills to scientists and researchers. Two of the CES staff went along to discuss tips and techniques for sharing research findings to a larger audience.

Here are six tips for adapting and sharing your research findings.

1. Know your audience and define your goal

How can we effectively communicate research to increase its impact?

When you’re planning how to communicate your research, you should always think about the end user. Once you know your audience, you can start to think of ways to communicate with them. What platforms do they use? Are they likely to read a peer-reviewed report, a lay summary, a blog post, or perhaps listen to a podcast? Knowing your audience is crucial to keep in mind when you are communicating your research findings, as it focuses your attention on creating an impact.

It is important to know what your goal is at an early stage. Whether you are trying to raise awareness, change policy, influence practitioners, impart knowledge, or achieve something else entirely, defining your goal early on allows you to think of the most strategic ways to reach your audience.

2. Collaborate with others

Interactions between people with different skill sets can generate innovative solutions. At the Masterclass in Maynooth, Dr. Barwick illustrated this point by giving the example of researchers who had been struggling for fifteen years to solve a problem involving a protein from the virus that causes AIDS in rhesus monkeys. The researchers decided to present the problem as an online puzzle to be solved by internet gamers. Within three weeks of the game being put online, the gamers had solved the protein problem. This demonstrates the power of collaboration, branching out and re-packaging information in different formats.

As well as helping to solve problems, collaboration is also important for sharing knowledge. Researchers know a lot about their subject. However, there is a difference between knowing a subject thoroughly and being able to communicate its meaning to others. By collaborating and communicating with people outside your area of research, such as those with a communications or media background, you can find ways of broadening the reach of your work.

3. Make a plan

Converting your research papers or reports into more easily digestible summaries, podcasts, articles and so on, is becoming more widely regarded as an important factor in creating impact.There is a growing movement for scientists to incorporate Knowledge Translation into research work. However, people often think about dissemination towards the end of the research process — and typically when the funding cycle is over. At the masterclass in Maynooth, researchers were encouraged to incorporate the cost of dissemination into funding applications.

Dr. Barwick created a Knowledge Translation tool which is available here.This interactive PDF acts as a checklist for planning, executing and measuring the reach of your work.

4. Embrace plain language writing

It is important to write so that everyone can understand what you are saying. Avoid ambiguity, keep your sentences short and concise, and use the active voice when you can. There are several online readability tools available for assessing your plain language writing skills. The Hemingway app highlights sentences in red when they are too long and convoluted. It also alerts you when you have used a passive instead of an active voice. The HSE has put together a useful guide to plain language writing here.

Presenting your work in a readable, accessible way also involves thinking about layout and design. Certain tips, such as making sure you have a lot of white space on your page, using clear headings and relevant visuals and infographics, can make all the difference to the readability of your work. Click here for a handy guide to formatting and designing reports.

5. Layer and link

If you have published a report, don’t let it gather dust! You don’t need to put all of your findings into the one output and forget about it. Think of ways to tailor your research to different audiences. Storytelling is an important skill to practice in order to effectively communicate your research to the outside world. By telling a story in your work, it becomes more human, more digestible and more memorable.

Try to personalise your message and think about what matters to the people with whom you are trying to communicate. Present your work in different formats, or layers, and link them to your larger report.

6. Evaluate your work

There are many ways in which you can measure the impact of your Knowledge Translation. Each depend on what format you have used to disseminate your work and the goal of your work. Consider measurements such as downloads from websites, media coverage, ‘likes’ and shares on social media platforms, and requests for the report.

You can also measure the impact of your work through surveys. Ask your target audience about their evaluation format preferences in order to target your dissemination plan more effectively.

More about CES Knowledge Translation

For some examples of CES Knowledge Translation, check out our On The Right Track summaries, where we synthesised findings from evaluations of 52 programmes and services aimed at improving outcomes for children across the island of Ireland. Another example is our Access Evidence series of literature reviews and digestible summaries and videos for frontline practitioners.