Communicating Your Research to a Mass Audience

Everyone working in climate change should be a communicator for the cause.

Academics writing for journals know that purpose, audience and format are key features of effective communication. What about writing for a mass audience? Communicating your research to a mass audience inevitably creates more impact for your work, since your findings reach more people. Academic thinking and writing is slightly different from journalistic writing and thinking, even though each is essentially trying to do the same thing. Since the audiences for academic and journalistic writing are different, we have to approach each differently.

On September 25, I gave a seminar titled, “How to think and write like a journalist,” to help our researchers write better. Writing is a very teachable and learnable skill. Some pointers on effective journalistic writing are below:

1. Angle. The angle is the point or theme of a news story. It is the message that will resonate with people and keep them paying attention to the issue. Your angle will stem from at least one of the following questions: How does my research relate to everyday lives? How does my research impact people? Who would benefit from this information? Does your story relate to a specific national climatic issue?  Does it help members of society understand each other better?  Does it try to solve a specific climatic issue? What is unique and interesting about it? Does it build on an ongoing momentum or trend in the climate change arena? How can we influence policy with this information?

2. Headline. The first thing that people notice and the reason they read the article, the headline should be catchy, attention-grabbing and interesting. Avoid making general statements such as “Children and Climate Change.” Instead, mention why your findings are interesting and use a title such as “Investment in Children’s disaster preparedness has long term positive impacts.”

3. Human Story. Try as much as possible to start with a human story. The best-known kind of feature story is the human-interest story that discusses issues through the experiences of another. Try to put a face and a name to the larger climatic issue that you are talking about. This should be how you start the article.

4. Lead/Lede, The lead is the first paragraph. It summarizes the story and will help readers decide if they want to read the rest of the article. Think of the lead as your thesis statement. It contains a hook – something that keeps readers interested.

4. Body. Once you have established the topic, you can now go into the larger climatic issue that you want to talk about. Solidify your findings and observations with quotes from academics, practitioners, government, community members and other professionals working in the field. Share quantitative and qualitative data and represent them pictorially or graphically. This makes your article much more readable. Strictly avoid any jargon and “academic speak.” Reference papers and reports from your literature review. Talk about the current scenario, share what others are doing if necessary and, most importantly, talk about how it impacts people’s lives.

5. Recommendations. Remember, the ultimate goal of your article is to help people understand and deal with the impacts of climate change and/or influence policy so people’s lives are less severely impacted by its adverse effects. If your research has shed any light on any possible solutions to the climatic issue in your article, mention them and substantiate them with evidence. Recommendations from academics go a long way in shaping the discourse and implementing solutions.

6. Conclusion. Go back to the human name and face and conclude with his/her story. How can your recommendations and research findings help improve his/her life? What is the role of policymakers, government, practitioners, the private sector and the mass audience? The conclusion should tie the human aspect with the larger climatic issue that your article and research deals with.

Written by: Masroora Haque, Communications Coordinator, ICCCAD October Newsletter 2014