Writing effective research profiles

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You work for a university, an institute, a branch of government or private industry where research takes place. It's your job to explain that research to audiences not reading peer-reviewed academic journals, whether those are industry partners, potential students, taxpayers, or government officials. Veteran communicator Kelley Teahen offers easy-to-digest tips on how to explain what sometimes seems unexplainable in "What is it you do, and why does it matter? Writing effective research profiles."

Transcript of Writing effective research profiles

  • 1. What is it you do, andwhy does it matter?Writing effective research profilesK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S

2. About Kelley Teahen Working in higher education for nine years Previous career in journalism as writer, editor, andcolumnist Winner of five Ontario Newspaper Awards for writing Five years running the media office, Stratford Festival Developed writing for public relations course andtaught for two years at Western University; Lecturer forEnglish 210H (arts writing) at St. Jeromes and English408A (media writing) at WaterlooK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 3. What on earth does this mean?Our research program is generallyconcerned with the concept of multi-functionalityin reduced dimensions, and theapplication of multifunctional nanosystemsfor addressing important chemical, physical,bio-medical, and technological problems.K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 4. How about this. Better?Success for [Researchperson] means coaxingnanomaterials such as quantum dots tinynanocrystals up to 100,000 times smaller thanthe width of a hair into developing the abilityto multitask This has a myriad of benefits. Having differentfunctions operating at the same time in thesame device allows it to store information indifferent modes, using light, magnetic, orelectric qualities.K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 5. And why should we care?Applications range from computers with largermemory capacity and processing speed to tinydevices implanted in a human body for cancertreatment to energy production and storage to theas-yet unimagined.(or better, for the web):Applications range from: computers with larger memory capacity andprocessing speed tiny devices implanted in a human body for cancer energy production and storage the as-yet unimaginedK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 6. Each field has specialized language Dont be cowed by research-speak If the researcher doesnt have an explanation,metaphor, or simile, try one out: Is this like thebalance point on a teeter-totter? If a techie term needs to be used, it needs to beexplained so your readers get it Be wary of being co-opted once you get familiar witha fieldK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 7. This is not about academic peersYou cant explain what you do in terms ofother academics. You have to think of it asadvertising.Professor Glenn Stillar,Director, Digital Arts CommunicationFaculty of Arts, uWaterlooK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 8. To begin: research the researchGather as much background info as possible Researchers own website Use search, seek credible sources in researchfield Other articlesMake notes helps you absorb the information you can highlight what you dont understand,where you have questionsK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 9. Which research to highlight?To show off the universitys stars? Canada Research Chairs Recent winners of big awards: third-party endorsementTo show off how were recruiting exciting new talent? Department chairs can ID their most promising hiresTo show the diversity of research? Include diverse backgrounds (both in discipline and inlife), diverse career stagesK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 10. Whats unique in this research?Could be a personal angle: from University of Waterloo Rob Gorbet (When technology dances with the sun)is an engineer who is also an artist Susan Arai (Women struggle with stigma of prison)has personal knowledge of discrimination, as a lesbianand the daughter of interned Japanese-Canadians Roy Cameron (Healthy populations combat disease),who focuses on cancer prevention research, lost hisfather to cancer at an early ageK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 11. Approach can be unique, tooMichel Fich (Researchers launch real rocketscience) said in an interview that he wasfrustrated early on because the instruments heneeded, to conduct the research he wanted to do,did not yet exist. He went on to help develop manyof them.Rhona Hanning (Exercising healthy choices)takes a deliberately inclusive approach toresearch, including her Aboriginal subjects as co-researchers,since this reflects their traditional wayof making decisions.Examples from uWaterloo writer Pat BowK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 12. Sometimes, the topic is enough Tweeting cows Why do fit astronauts faint? Whats normal when it comes to when childrenstart talking? Can scrap tires be made into new tires? How can mathematical models help prevent anepidemic?K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 13. Green brain break: hostaname?K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 14. Rule No 1: audience comes firstApply the W5s to figuring out your audience Who are you telling this story to? What do they want to know? Why would they care? Where, when, and how will they hear your story?Communications is foremost about audience. Always.K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 15. Setting up the interview Even for a 200-300-word piece, try to book at least 30minutes. Admin assistants can be helpful tracking downelusive / busy profs Arrange to see where the research happens: if elsewhere inthe world, ask if there are pictures Decide if you should interview more than the main researcherand arrange Send a polite reminder email about the interview the daybefore Always go to them. See their office, their lab, their worldK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 16. Brush up your interview skills Start with the easy stuff, like confirming the persons title Prepare questions, but dont be a slave to your list Closed versus open questions The mirror probe technique to clarify information To home in on key concepts ask: If there was just one thingthat everyone should know about your work, what would itbe? The clearing house question at the endK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 17. Open your eyes, follow the clues Check out the room: dcor; art; bulletin boards; books;photos. Ask questions. Get the stories. Why is there arubber chicken stuffed in that beaker? Write down descriptions, impressions: you wont knowwhat you might want to use until you go to write yourstory. The interview subject: check out jewelry, clothingchoices, any obvious affiliations or symbols. Ask. Youre not being nosy: youre being curious.K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 18. More interview tips for researchIf a researcher uses technical or scientific terms, askhow he/she would explain that concept to the averageperson on the street. Ask again if it still isnt clear.Save questions that might seem critical or challenging(e.g., about the environmental impact of an oil sandsresearchers work) until the end of the interview: Atmosphere should be friendly by then But dont leave questions so late that the researcherdecides he/she hasnt the time to answerK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 19. Other interview tips and tricks You want your profile subject to be comfortable canyou find a common hobby, passion, or interest todiscuss to animate the conversation? Dont be afraid of silence After, send a quick email of thanks for an interestingconversation; If anything seems unclear when you arewriting, call back and clarify If you arent going to write your story for awhile,schedule enough time to transcribe or fill in notesimmediately after the interviewK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 20. Interview is done, writing is nextFollow Lunas example and take a minute to pauseK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 21. Before starting, think audienceHow would you start a research profile about anano researcher for the following audiences: Potential donors Potential students (high-school age) Potential facultyK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 22. In 300 words? Are you nuts?Web-based stories and print brochures need short text Describe research accurately while only covering a smallpart Use mainstream language and a friendly, informal style Make the subject comprehensible without dumbing itdown Bring the researcher and the work to life without goingdown the rabbit hole of irrelevant detailK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 23. Ways to keep it shortNarrow your focus to one key project Mention that this is just one part of the researchers workLook for the killer quote Can be an excellent way to kick off the profile Encapsulates the topic while piquing interestIf you use a technical term, include a brief plain-languagedescriptionKeep language tight, direct, concrete. Use active verb tenseK E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 24. OK. Whats a killer quote? In astronomy, every photon counts, says ArsenHajian. Youve got to make the most of them,because what else can you do: turn up the stars? Terri Meyer Boake admits her ambitions are lofty:Im trying to save the world, one architecturestudent at a time. Imagine, says Marianna Foldvari, chicken wirerolled up into a tube. Thats how a carbonnanotube would look.K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 25. Descriptions? Be vivid not vapidIf millions or even thousands of people are going touse a cardiac monitor, it will have to be small, robust,and affordable. The key will be biological micro-electro-mechanicalsystems: BioMEMS.These tiny devices will draw in the blood droplet, thensort and filter blood components through channels finerthan spider silk.At the other end of the channels, optical sensors willmeasure the levels of various cardiac markers. It all fitson a microchip not much bigger than a grain of rice.K E L L E Y T E A H E N C O M M U N I C A T I O N S 26. Colourful details should add new infoTo maintain personal contacts, Skinner andother grad students often visit the remotecommunities, travelling by small plane andboat, snowmobile, or p