Claim Your Discoveries by Communicating the Impact of Scientific Research Beyond the Lab

Researchers should engage with the public to explain the importance of their scientific work

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

We won’t step into that useless debate, but we do know this:

If you make a discovery in a lab or in the field and don’t share it for anyone to hear outside of your own immediate echo chamber, it won’t make an impact.

But with effective communication strategies, you can disseminate your findings to diverse audiences—and make your scientific pursuits worthwhile. In this article, we’ll explain some of the reasons why it’s so important to articulate the potential impact and broader implications of scientific research, and share a few basic strategies for effectively communicating research findings to policymakers, industry stakeholders, and the public—instead of letting it collect dust.

Articulating the Potential Impact of Research

What’s the point?

Why do you care about your subject?

More importantly: why should anyone else?

You might have a defensive reaction to being asked those questions, but you do need answers to them. That can be hard to do; the things we find important are often easy for us to take for granted, but they have to be painstakingly explained to other people.

Like it or not, scientists must clearly communicate the significance, relevance, and potential societal benefits of their work in order to attract funding, support, and collaboration. In short: to continue working. The place where we articulate the potential impact and broader implications of scientific research is usually in grant proposals and research publications. In academic circles, this reality is summarized with the refrain “publish or perish.” It’s not always about publication—you may also need to describe how your research addresses real-world problems through practical application to policy-makers, product designers, or to a grant funding agency. Be prepared to describe how research outcomes can contribute to positive change in various sectors beyond your own, including healthcare, environment, and technology.

Strategies for Effective Communication

Effective communication of research findings isn’t always jargony, erudite, or even necessarily technical. It has to feel meaningful and legible to diverse audiences and channels. The same message about your research might feel utterly inaccessible to one type of reader, and mind-numbingly obvious to another. The author Sarah Manguso wrote “Bad art is from no one to no one,” and the same is true of research writing.

Your first decision is to notice (or decide) who your writing is to.

In your case, as a researcher, you most often will need to translate your complex scientific concepts into language that is accessible and understandable to policymakers, industry stakeholders, and funders.

In cases like these, your best strategies for effective communication will probably include elements of storytelling, multimedia tools, thoughtful data visualization (“data viz”, as the tech nerds call it,) and engagement with stakeholders throughout the research process. Think of it this way: you’re highlighting the human impact of research and connecting findings to real-life examples and experiences, researchers can increase engagement and foster support for their work. It should be written with actual humans in mind.

Strategies for effective communication aren’t one-size-fits-all for that reason. They should be chosen to suit the audience, just like any type of content.

Interdisciplinary scientific conference promoting collaboration and communication of research impact

Developing Outreach and Dissemination Plans

To maximize the reach and impact of research findings, researchers should develop comprehensive outreach and dissemination plans. Trust us: it’s a lot less stressful to do this with a plan in place than it is to react impulsively… and a lot more effective than assuming you’ll work on it when you “get around to it.” (Sound familiar?)

In order to meet a wide audience, your plan should be intentionally balanced: a mix of traditional and digital media channels: press releases, social media, and online platforms. And don’t just talk: listen. Engage with community partners, show up at public outreach events, form relationships with media outlets and thought leaders who can amplify your message. Their audiences become your audience. 

By being proactive about disseminating research findings and engaging with stakeholders, researchers like you can catalyze change and drive impact beyond the academic realm.

No one can hear you if you’re talking to yourself inside your own echo chamber.

Case Studies and Success Stories

Case studies and success stories offer concrete examples of the transformative impact of scientific research on communities, industries, and public policy. They make your most abstract ideas feel specific, relatable, and “sticky”.

If your research findings have led to breakthrough innovations, improved public health outcomes, or informed evidence-based policy decisions—you need to describe this to an audience of people who you hope will invest in your ideas next. Tangible outcomes. Real-world applications. Quotes from humans who your work helped. These provide compelling evidence of the value and importance of scientific inquiry.

When a case study is written effectively, it does more than brag about your work. It helps policy-makers, product designers, or the people in a grant funding agency to imagine how your findings might apply to their field or industry. Again: it matters deeply that you know who you’re talking to.

Conclusion

Communicating the impact of scientific research is essential for maximizing its reach, relevance, and real-world impact. The best strategies for effectively articulating the potential implications of your research come from a deep understanding of how to tailor messages to diverse audiences. From there you can develop comprehensive outreach and dissemination plans that will meet your audience where they already are, and share compelling case studies and success stories that illustrate the impact of your work and its potential for driving positive change in society. 

Scientists and science writers are stewards of knowledge and champions of progress. People like you play a crucial role in making research an instrument for global change. If you want to ensure that your scientific discoveries benefit society as a whole, be bold—and get in touch with us at Written Progress to see how we can unlock the potential for your research to be influential.