Are you wrapping up a master’s thesis or Ph.D. dissertation? Maybe you want to share your research with the wider community beyond your peers in academia. There’s lots of ways to do that, including publishing an op-ed in a newspaper, or posting highlights on a blog or social media. “Writing a blog post or op-ed can have so many benefits – connecting you with other scholars and new ideas, potential funding opportunities, or new chances to collaborate,” says Elena Conis, a historian and associate professor at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Here are some tips for making your research accessible to a broader audience.
Avoid jargon or technical terms
When writing for the general public, you want to define any terms that are specific to the field of research you are engaged in. As a researcher, you might be used to hearing these terms, but most people will tune out once they see them. Go through your writing with an eye for jargon, and try deleting or defining the jargon in your piece. Try thinking about how you would define the specific term to your grandparents or a high schooler. If you’re still having a hard time identifying jargon, try using a web tool like Up-Goer Five.
Decide on one important takeaway
While you have likely been researching this topic for months or even years, you can’t possibly sum it all up in one article or post. Don’t try to put all of your research in the piece. Step back and think about the bigger picture: is there one aspect of your research that is most important for people to understand? What’s the immediate takeaway that you want to communicate?
Make it timely
One way to engage readers is to tie your research into something happening in the news. This is especially true if you’re trying to publish an article on a news site. It will also make people more likely to continue reading if they can relate it to a larger current event they are already familiar with or interested in.
Make the writing conversational
Now that you’re writing for a broader audience who might not be familiar with your topic, you want to hook the reader right away. Try a more conversational writing style, including asking questions and sharing anecdotes. You might also try writing in first person if there’s a particular reason why your personal story is important or relevant to the research.
Edit your work
It’s important that you’re not trying to do the work of writing in a vacuum. Ask a professional, a peer, or a mentor – potentially outside of your field – to edit your work. They can help you identify areas that need to be explained more succinctly, and can act as a stand-in for a general audience. You can also self edit, by taking a few days away from the writing to read with fresh eyes. “As you are getting close to the final version of your writing, you might want to read out loud what you have written,” says Sabrina Soracco, Director of the Graduate Writing Center. “Doing this forces you to slow down and really read and see each word, something you may not do when you are reading your writing silently.”
Are you ready to share your work? Get inspired by checking out writing from students such as Kim Tran (Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies ’18), Jane Hu (Ph.D. Candidate in English), or talks by graduate students in the 2019 UC Berkeley Grad Slam Competition.
About the Author: Muna Danish is a graduate student in Journalism at UC Berkeley, and a Professional Development Liaison (PDL) with the Graduate Division.