Research communication: who, what, where – part 2

February 3 2023 / By Charlie Rapple

Welcome to part 2 of our series on the “who, what, where” of research communication. In part 1, “who is your research for?” we looked at the different audiences for research:


In this post, we’ll look at how to communicate effectively to each of these audiences. One of the biggest problems in research communication is the focus on scholarly language and publications. They are not always easy to find or understand, whichever audience you are targeting (even other academics may struggle to find your publication, or to quickly understand its implications and recommendations). You will know yourself how hard it is to keep up with all the research being published. The best thing we can do to help is to draw out “key messages” that help our audiences quickly understand what the research is about and why it is important.

Summarizing and repeat your key messages

“Key messages” means the core idea you want your target audiences to hear and remember. Thinking in a structured way about your “key messages” is one way that you can help ensure your communications with different audiences are relevant, focused and consistent. Each key message should be written from a position of the change you wish to bring about in a belief or practice.

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Do you remember the old adage that people have to hear something three times before they take it in? Advertising executives talk about “exposures” and the general consensus seems to be that people need to hear /see something more like 10 or 15 times before they will remember it – and that the more information you give them, the less likely they are to remember it.

So: keep your key messages simple, and repeat, repeat, repeat.

Guidance from funders

When it comes to explaining and summarizing your research, you need to shape what you say around what your audience already know, how they feel about it – what they will relate to – and what they might aspire to. Funders provide helpful guidance on this. Here’s a summary of the European Commission’s guidance from the Horizon 2020 cycle:

See through your audience’s eyes

Tell a story, don’t just list facts

Is it news?

What do they already know about your topic?

Stir your audience’s imagination and emotions

What makes the issue urgent?

What do they think about it?

Relate your work to every day life or broader societal issues

What solutions are you offering?

Do they need information, or persuasion?

Don’t just share results – explain the beginning, middle and end

What will change?


See through your audience’s eyes

Firstly, seeing through the eyes of your audience. When you’re really immersed in what you do, it’s easy to forget how little other people are aware of it. And researchers have been trained to communicate at high levels. But our wider societal audiences really need us to start at the beginning. What do they already know about your topic? What do they think about your topic? And what is it they need at this point – do they need information, because the challenge is just a lack of awareness – or do they need persuasion, because they already know something about your topic but are not taking the kinds of actions you recommend?

Tell a story

Don’t just list facts – tell a story. Stir your audience’s imagination! Appeal to their emotions. There is evidence that emotions are key to memory. If you want your audience to remember and apply your recommendations, a story – with a structure, a beginning middle and end, that appeals to their emotions – is an effective way of doing it. Then try and be clear about why your research is important, what you are recommending, and what the benefits will be – spell out to people what you hope the impact of your work will be, to maximize the chance of achieving that impact.

Make it relevant

The European Commission recommends you ask yourself “is it news?” – what makes the issue urgent? What solutions are you offering? What will change? Think about how you can relate your work to people’s every-day life, or the sort of issues they might be aware of or interested in. Catch their attention; make your work feel relevant, topical and timely.

Next up: where to share your message

The next question is where you communicate. There are so many different channels you could be using – websites, social media, conferences, workshops, broadcast media, email, consultation – and so on. That’s why it’s really important to start with thinking about who your target audience is – because that’s going to help you narrow down the options and picks channels that are comfortable for and widely used by the people you’re trying to reach. We’ll look at this more in part 3.

Getting started with research communication and impact

The things you do to communicate and disseminate your research are the vital “missing link” between the research that you do and the impact you hope to achieve. At Kudos we have spent 10 years helping researchers develop impact through better research communication and dissemination. Get started now – you can register for free and then pick the tools and services you need.

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