How Can I Share My Research with a Wider Audience?

As a researcher, you are very knowledgeable about your field. You can talk to your colleagues and mentors about your research. You know how to write a grant proposal or a journal article that will be read and understood by your peers. But could you explain your research to, say, your 12-year-old nephew? Would your Aunt Helen understand what you do? Whether you’re just starting your research career or you have been a part of the research community for many years, you may find it challenging to share the results of your research with a wide audience that includes people who may not be scientists or may not be familiar with your field.

Why is this skill so important? Because people need to understand the basics of science to make informed decisions about everything from their health to the changing environment.   However, communicating science to the general public may not come easily to people trained in research methods and statistical analyses. According to researchers from Stanford University, scientists usually receive no explicit training in how to communicate scientific concepts to the average reader (1). They’re used to talking to people in their own field. They may rely heavily on jargon or industry terms, or assume that “everyone knows what an ergometer does.”

As a member of the disability and rehabilitation research community, you want to share your work with the people who need it most. That includes caregivers, service providers, and individuals with disabilities who may or may not understand that jargon. So how do you present to them so they can understand and use your research? Communicating science is a skill that can be learned, and there are tools, resources, and organizations available to help you learn how to craft your message and get it out to the people who need it.

Get to know the NIDILRR-funded Knowledge Translation projects

NIDILRR funds several projects that focus on knowledge translation (KT), bridging the gap between research and practice in disability and rehabilitation. Each center focuses on an area of disability and rehabilitation research. In addition to publishing materials and creating tools, staff are available for training and technical assistance at each of these centers.

The Center on Knowledge Translation for Disability and Rehabilitation Research (KTDRR) helps researchers and developers to reach across the gap and connect the disability and rehabilitation community to their work. The purpose of the Center is to make it easier to find, understand, and use the results of research that can make a positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities. Among their resources you’ll find a Plain Language Summary Tool , an annual KT conference (October) plus archives of webcasts and conference presentations on knowledge translation, and much more.

The Center on Knowledge Translation for Employment Research (KTER) develops and tests KT strategies designed to help vocational rehabilitation agencies and businesses find, understand, and use research related to employing people with disabilities. KTER works to improve the KT strategies of NIDILRR grantees focusing on employment. Check out the KT Planning Template and Toolbox among other resources.

The Center on Knowledge Translation for Technology Transfer (KT4TT) assists grantees conducting technology-oriented research and development to increase their stakeholders’ understanding of the processes and practices that lead to successful commercialization of technology. Check out their best practices in tech transfer.

The ADA National Network also has a Knowledge Translation Center (ADA-KTC) which works with the 10 regional ADA centers on increasing awareness and utilization of research findings by appropriate stakeholder groups. Visit their ADA Success Stories page to see how they present successful efforts at increasing access across the US.

The Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC) summarizes research, identifies health information needs, and develops information resources to support the Model Systems programs in meeting the needs of individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injury (SCI), and burn injury. Explore their Knowledge Translation Toolkit including writing for specific audiences, using social media, creating infographics, and engaging the media and policy makers.

The NARIC collection includes many publications, from journal articles to multimedia items, on knowledge translation. Browse through the abstracts.  

Outside the NIDILRR community, there are many organizations and online resources to help learn how to share your research.

Communicating and Engaging with the Public

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) runs the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology which is dedicated to “providing scientists and scientific institutions with the resources they need to have meaningful conversations with the public.” They have numerous resources, including an online discussion forum and a Communication Toolkit

The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science hosts multiple events, offers tools and resources, and has an annual course on media writing for scientists.

Check out Effective Communication, Better Science, a blog post at Scientific American with great resources (courses, toolkits, articles) for scientists of all stripes.

National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine published a report on Communicating Science Effectively.

NIH Office of Communications and Public Liaison Clear Communication Program offers resources for scientists communicating with a range of stakeholders.

The US Government’s Plain Language.gov website focuses on improving clear communication from the Federal Government to the public. The site offers tips and tools primarily for Federal agencies, but which you may find helpful in developing your writing style.

Using Social Media

Should scientists use social media? Why not! Many scientists use it to share their findings and to network with other scientists in their field.

Science Magazine from AAAS offers A Scientists Guide to Social Media http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/features/2014/02/scientists-guide-social-media

Canadian Science Publishers offers Science Blogging 101.

If you’re a NIDILRR grantee, tell us your handles so we can add them to our growing list of grantees who use social media.

Make Impactful Presentations

TED Talks may be the most famous venue for engaging a wide audience and getting them interested in what you do. TED Talks and TEDx Talks (affiliated but not organized by TED) are known for being hip and cool, where presenters “talk nerdy,” ideally without getting too bogged down in jargon or complex concepts. TED Talks are relatively short (5 to 15 minutes), are given without a podium, and may include slides or other visual aids. Learn how to organize a TEDx event and check out this TED Blog article 6 Tips for Scientists and Engineers.

Even shorter than TED is The Three Minute Thesis (3MT). 3MT started at the University of Queensland in Australia as a competition for PhD candidates. Now held in universities around the world, the competition “cultivates students’ academic, presentation, and research communication skills. Presenting in a 3MT competition increases their capacity to effectively explain their research in three minutes, in a language appropriate to a non-specialist audience. Competitors are allowed one PowerPoint slide, but no other resources or props.” Think of it like the trailer for a TED talk!

In addition to these resources, your university may have a media or public relations department which can assist with developing press releases and blog posts. If your university has a journalism program, see if they offer writing courses for scientists and other non-journalists. Finally, schedule a visit with one of your university’s librarians who can point you to resources in their collection. You can develop the skills needed to get your research into the community, where it can have its greatest impact.

Looking forward to your next TED Talk!

(1) Sara E. Brownell, Jordan V. Price, and Lawrence Steinman. (2013) Science Communication to the General Public: Why We Need to Teach Undergraduate and Graduate Students this Skill as Part of Their Formal Scientific Training. Journal of Undergraduate Science Education, 12(1), E6-E10. Accessed from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3852879/