Academic writing to reach the wider community
What is true impact?
Impact is about making an impression, often to bring about change. To make a real impression, it is important to reach large audiences to spark ideas in as many minds as possible. If we silo ourselves, we end up releasing potentially disruptive information into an isolated echo chamber, touching only a small proportion of people with valuable information. Here, we discuss how to reach those outside of our own niche, and how to most effectively communicate ideas across multiple disciplines.
The nature of academic publishing often encourages us to think in very detailed, narrow terms. Your research group probably focuses on a small area of a particular topic, but what other fields could your research apply to?
Try to think of the bigger picture – for example, if you study a particular disease, think more broadly, beyond biological mechanisms, and touch on how your findings could affect treatment or how the disease is handled in hospitals. It is okay to speculate about this, but ensure you substantiate specific claims with references.
Broaden your title
Make sure that the title of your piece is easily understandable and not filled with exclusionary jargon. You want to give the reader a taste of what’s to come and lure in experts from other fields, who may have only a fleeting interest in your subject area. Do this by keeping it simple.
It is very common practice to simply state your main finding in your title but keep it top-level enough to capture the interest of a wide audience. People most commonly want to know the why, not the what. For example, a new finding about how a particular aspect of solar power works is very interesting, but why is it interesting? Could it save on emissions? Make it straightforward and easy to understand.
A great way of checking in on whether you are in danger of writing for too narrow an audience is to talk to your peers about it. Exchange thoughts on your findings and learn about their point of view. You may discover aspects you would never have thought of and might consider including certain viewpoints in your paper.
Generally, in an academic paper, the best place to include these other ideas is the introduction or the discussion/conclusion. The final part of your paper is particularly suitable for locating these ideas, giving you the opportunity to creatively consider possible future directions for your research while taking into account thoughts from the wider academic community.
The waters of academia are difficult to navigate, and it can be a challenge to break free of your particular niche – but as research begins to become increasingly multidisciplinary, it is more important than ever to communicate ideas across disciplines. This will expand both your own and others’ appreciation of your field and may even lead to novel opportunities.
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