Communication Skills and Publication: Graduate Student Resources
Communicating Your Research: Presentations and Talks
Using plain language to describe your work is not only important, but also part of the NIH mission and federal law. The following are some tips for telling the public about your research and helping them understand why it matters.
Plain language is grammatically correct language that includes complete sentence structure and accurate word usage. Plain language is not unprofessional writing or a method of "dumbing down" or "talking down" to the audience. Come learn and practice these skills at the Communication Academy.
Prepare your message
Know your audience. Good communication starts with a solid understanding of your audience and what they care about. What do they already know about the subject? How might your work affect them?
Craft your take-home messages. What main ideas do you want the audience to take away from your presentation or article? Limit yourself to a few primary messages. Introduce them near the beginning and summarize them at the end to help ensure they stick.
Provide extra context. A non-scientist (or even a scientist who works in a different field) may need additional background information. Why did you propose and conduct this research? What do the results tell us that we didn’t know before?
Tell a story. Narratives humanize your work and can make otherwise dry facts and statistics come to life. Including a story can help people connect with your research.
Use plain language
Be simple and direct. Plain language is wording that’s clear, accessible, and understandable. In general, it will be easier for people to grasp your ideas if you convey them using familiar words, simple sentences, and short paragraphs.
Avoid jargon and acronyms. Replace or explain technical terms. Avoid or spell out acronyms that aren’t widely recognized by non-scientists.
Use the active voice. Structure most of your sentences with an actor performing an action, such as, “We chose participants” vs. “Participants were chosen.” The active voice creates clearer sentences and reduces ambiguity about who has done what.
Choose engaging verbs. Strong, direct verbs make your sentences more straightforward and easier to follow. For example, this wordy sentence: “We provided an analysis of the data that led to the conclusion that the treatment was effective,” could be rewritten as: “We analyzed the data and concluded that the treatment was effective.”
Revise your draft
Allow time for revisions. It can be helpful to step away from your draft for a day or two. You might notice awkward phrasing or typos when you return to it with fresh eyes. Reading your draft out loud can also help pinpoint places to improve upon it.
Reduce clutter. Cut any words, phrases, or sentences that are confusing or unnecessary. Review your take-home messages and remove anything that doesn’t support those main ideas.
Get feedback from a non-expert. Have a friend, family member, or colleague in another field review your draft before you share it widely. Focus your revisions on areas that they find confusing or don’t understand.
Making your research understandable to non-scientists can be challenging, but it’s worth the effort. Effective communication not only increases the reach of your own work, but it also contributes to better public understanding and helps build trust in science. Learn more at Plain Language at NIH.
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Mason graduate students have several opportunities to present their research right here on campus:
The Mason Graduate Interdisciplinary Conference hosted in Spring semester Aprill: This one-day in-person event will showcase graduate student scholarly research and creative works across disciplines through posters, oral presentations, and creative, visual, and performing arts.
Students are also encouraged to participate in the Three Minute Thesis (3MT): In this research communication competition, graduate students present their original research to a non-specialist audience using only one visual aid—in three minutes.
Coming soon: Launches January 2024!
In this interactive series, participants learn techniques, as they find new ways to engage their bodies, voices, and passions in order to communicate in compelling ways. Students will develop many communication skills, such as enhancing one’s presence, active listening, and storytelling. The workshops also build community among participants, as people collaborate in interactive and fun activities with one another.
Training in communication practices and tools will enhance your ability to vividly articulate your research and inspire audiences. Dedicated research communication training prepares you to incorporate storytelling, metaphor and gestures while practicing innovative communication of your research are available on campus. Here are some tips to help you get started:
1. Stay focused
Decide on your key points in advance. These should help illustrate the project without over-complicating things.
What is being done in the research?
Why is it important?
Who might it help?
2. Create a story
The key points you lift from your research often create a story. Answering the above questions will form a story around your project. This will form the skeletal framework for your talk. You can then add any new facts to this framework, clearly highlighting their connection to the main points. This will allow the audience to follow you easily.
3. Less is more
Try to limit the number of new ideas being presented to an audience, so that their attention is not pulled in many different directions.
4. Focus on trending topics:
Use a key topic of interest in the news, such as the pandemic. Linking the research to the topic of interest or a major social or community issue can help grab your audience’s attention more quickly and help them put the research in a context they understand.
5. Use social media as a template
One of the best methods to communicate research findings can be found on social media. Most platforms now encourage content to be short and concise (e.g., Twitter/ TikTok). https://influencers.feedspot.com/science_instagram_influencers/
6. Build excitement
When presenting, consider how you will build excitement. Tools like varying the pitch and tone of your voice can help engage your audience’s attention and highlight any key bits of information.
7. Practice makes perfect
Try to communicate your research to people from a different academic background and notice at which points of your talk they appear lost. Ask them what they found difficult to follow. These are often the points to simplify or remove.
Academic Publisher Taylor & Francis provides guidance to researchers looking to publish, present, or blog. Check out resources here: https://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/blog/research-impact/presenting-your-research-effectively-and-with-confidence/