Your research breakthrough doesn’t just need to be read by the experts, says Mark Lorch.Guest contributor Mark Lorch
You’ve just made the breakthrough you’ve been dreaming of. The
days-weeks-months-years in the lab or field have all paid off, and
everything has dropped into place. It’s the sort of moment that we
scientists live for – the buzz of discovery. So now it’s time to
Tell your peers about your work and hope it leads to new and even
greater things for you, your fellow scientists, and society. But is that
really enough? Maybe there’s a wider audience for your science, outside
of the narrow confines of your academic circle. Maybe it has
applications in other fields, or perhaps the public would like to (or
even should) know about it. Plus of course if you get your paper noticed
it’s much more likely to have the citations and impact that you, your department and all the metric measurers have been hoping for.
In the open access era there’s nothing stopping anyone from
downloading your paper. But there are still hurdles to overcome before
getting the wide readership your paper deserves. Based on my experience,
here’s five tips for helping your paper reach the widest possible
Write a clear paper
Your newly pressed manuscript might have been liberated from those
towering paywalls, but it’s probably still locked away behind an equally
impenetrable comprehension wall. Try reading a paper in an unfamiliar
field and the chances are you’ll get so lost you won’t make it much past
the abstract. Now imagine a press officer, journalist, investor or
other lay person trying to understand your research.
Communication to a wide audience should start and end with a clear
paper. Just like with any good article you need to grab your readers’
attention. In the first line let them know why your work is important.
Spell out its relevance and impact; don’t just assume the reader comes
with that knowledge. Keep your prose as light and jargon free as
possible, whilst still maintaining the level of accuracy you need for a
research paper. Cap things off with a clear conclusion that links back
to your opening line. You want a non-expert to come away with a strong,
simple take-home message.
Write a lay summary and post it somewhere
The point of the summary is to have somewhere you can point
interested people to so they can find an easily digestible version of
your work. For maximum impact, keep it short at about 400-600 words. And
to make sure it’s accessible, have someone who isn’t a scientist read
it to see if they understand it. Then post it online. Maybe you, your
lab, or your department has a blog. If you don’t, maybe you should.
Tell your press office about it
The press office is there to help prepare a press release about your
research paper, ready to go live with the publication. The news cycle
wants fresh material. Something published a few days ago is old news, a
week ago and it’s history. If you’ve got a clear paper written and a lay
summary ready before your publication date, then your PR team are more
likely to get the gist and stay on message.
Prepare your social media circle
Using social media can help get your paper to wider audiences, but it
takes a lot more than just one tweet when it gets published. Putting
some effort into cyberspace conversations to familiarize yourself with
the community can help develop your network and establish you as a
contributor to conversations. This creates a supportive network that can
lead to relationships in the Twittersphere that are just as powerful as
those in real life.
Follow science journalists and editors, and engage with them before
you have something to promote. Then when you do they’ll be much more
likely to recognize you, and interested in what you have to say. For
more information on social media, check out Nature Chemistry’s Tweetorial.
Use The Conversation and sidestep all of the above
The Conversation is a news site with content coming entirely from
researchers in academia from PhD level upwards. Email in an idea for an
article (which could be about your latest paper or even someone else’s)
and an editor will help you craft a piece into something suitable for
mainstream media. You get final say on the piece so there’s no danger of
publishing something you aren’t happy with. But the real power of The
Conversation is that all articles are then freely available for any
other organization to publish, as long as they don’t change a word. The
result can be extremely impressive. Articles that start life in The
Conversation now regularly appear in newspapers, science magazines and
news sites worldwide.
Try these tips and your dream breakthrough could be something that everyone is talking about.
Mark Lorch is Associate Dean for Engagement at the University of
Hull’s Faculty of Science and Engineering. In the lab he’s a biochemist;
outside of it he’s a science communicator.
Five top tips for getting your paper noticed : Naturejobs Blog