By Cally Guerin
Book Review: Irenee Daly & Aoife Brophy Haney (Eds) (2014) 53 Interesting Ways to Communicate Your Research. The Professional and Higher Partnership: Newmarket, UK.
I’m pleased that I was invited to post a review of a book entitled 53 Interesting Ways to Communicate Your Research. It is part of a series that includes topics such as 53 Interesting Things to Do in Your Lectures, 53 Interesting Things to Do in Your Seminars and Tutorials, and 53 Interesting Ways to Help Students Study. Personally, I really like lists – they help me see where the individual items begin and end, give me a sense of progress as I work through the list, and reassure me that there is a manageable amount of information at hand. A list provides a feeling of having the topic organised, categorised and under control.
There is, of course, a place for including the standard advice in a book of this nature. There are always new people coming into research for whom the expectations of research communication are unfamiliar, or who find it hard to reflect on their own performance in these areas. Many researchers find themselves producing poorly structured papers (or find this out from reviewers’ comments), or presentations that are hard for others to follow and understand. There are also researchers who are little inclined to pay attention to the qualities of their own voices (both written and spoken) or pronunciation in a foreign language. In these situations, reminders of some basic principles are useful and can make a surprisingly big difference to the way research is received by readers and listeners.
However, I was delighted to find that the book in my hand is much more than a standard set of guidelines about research writing and oral presentations. I’m not sure why the books in this series use lists of 53 (maybe one idea for each week of the year, plus one extra?). The book itself is divided into three sections: Communicating within academia; Communicating beyond academia; and General techniques. Each covers the things you’d hope to see under these headings, such as advice on writing abstracts and turning your thesis into a book; writing press releases and information sheets; and preparing slides and understanding body language when presenting. But it also includes more unexpected topics, such as ‘How to teach project management using your research’ (double value for your work!); ‘Stand-up comedy for researchers’ (a kind of mix between PubhD and Three Minute Thesis, with added humour); and several items relating to academic and non-academic interviews and CVs.
The 39 contributors to this volume are drawn mostly from the UK and the US; some are currently working inside universities and research institutes, while others are working outside academia in private and government organisations. Their collective knowledge comes together here to offer a host of practical, up-to-date and relevant insights into what works to communicate research to a range of audiences. It is to the editors’ credit that they have ranged beyond the academy to include the insights and experiences of communicators working elsewhere – often these are the voices and perspectives that researchers overlook.
This book is timely in its focus on communication of research, in that academics are increasingly expected to engage broad audiences when disseminating the findings from their projects. It is still important to know how to effectively perform the traditional academic modes of lecturing and conference presentations, and writing for publication in journals and books. But today’s researchers must also expand their repertoire to have an ‘impact’ beyond academia, and the book’s structure points to those changing demands.
This book offers lots of pertinent information on the uses of digital media to communicate research, ranging from Twitter and blogging to webinars, podcasting and crowdsourcing. The advice here is practical and sensible. The entries are fairly brief and there are no diagrams or illustrations to help elucidate unfamiliar concepts; this might make it harder for those very new to the technologies to see how they could be implemented in their own work and to have the courage to try something outside their comfort zones. Nevertheless, it provides a starting point for more adventurous ideas, and a way into finding out more if the mode of communication sounds attractive. Information and advice can date very quickly in a world of rapidly changing technology – for this reason, only relatively general principles can be committed to print in a book like this one.
This is probably not a book to read from cover to cover; rather, it lends itself to browsing as a resource for specific communication situations. I’ll be keeping it within reach for my own use, and recommending it to PhD students and early career researchers as they find their way through the complexities of communicating their research.