Communicating Research Broadly & Creatively

I think it’s time – way past the time – for those of us who conduct research to examine how we communicate our work and who we communicate it to. I’ve written about this before. In previous posts, I’ve talked about the traditional concept of a research agenda and how I think we need to consider if/how we can situate our agendas in collaboration with the communities our work is supposed to serve. I’ve argued that the traditional framework of a research agenda tends to be pretty self-serving. I’ve also talked about problems with traditional writing and publishing in academia.

I think traditional writing and publishing (i.e. writing an article for publication in an academic journal) has its place and its merits. I’m not arguing that we should stop doing that. I am arguing that we should broaden our scope about how we communicate.


Well, we simply need to start connecting with people outside of academia. If we want our work to have an impact then we have to broaden both who we talk to and how we talk to them. If we only publish in academic journals then we will only be talking to other academics (by and large). This is limiting our impact.

One of the things I struggle with though is how such communication can look. How can we share our work in ways that are accessible yet transcend traditional communication methods?

So I was excited when I landed on the #commoncore Project. The project was put together (with no funding) by three researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, University of California, San Diego, and Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED) in Madrid, Spain.

TwitterchatThese researchers analyzed 189,658 that used the hashtag #commoncore to see how the debate about the Common Core State Standards was discussed over twitter. You can look through their website to get more information and see what they learned.

What I loved was how the site was organized. It’s broken up into six sections and then chapters within each section.  For example, you start at the Prologue where you are provided with a quick summary. At the bottom, you can then click on the chapters within the Prologue section to get some background information about the project.

As you progress through the sections, you are presented with a wide array of graphics that help you digest the content and see how it plays out and interacts with the bigger picture. Some of the graphs are even interactive. For example, in Act 3, The Chatter, there is a section called Content of the Tweets. Here, you will find a graph called Content of Common Core Tweets. The graph works just like you think it should. For example, reading it you will will that a particular percentage of tweets were coded as Informational. Want to see what constitutes an informational tweet? Just put your cursor on the bar and a box with examples will pop up to the right of the graph.

This site is written in fairly plain language that would make it accessible to most people. Yet it still has the hallmarks of some of the more traditional aspects you would expect to find. There’s a section on the Big Takeways that includes a more formal (but still easy to access) paper (with a great social media timeline as it relates to policy so get in there and check it out!). Actually, the epilogue is very nice because there are several short papers that bring in the big ideas but written by different authors.peer review

For me, this is a great example of what we can do to connect our work to a broader audience AND keep it accessible. The other thing about a document like this is that it is easy to update and keep current if need be. Some might argue that the downside to this is that it didn’t go through a peer-review process like a traditional journal article. My response? Let it go. The work is out there for the public to see. Now, each of us gets to decide what, if any, value it holds.

You are the peer.

You are the reviewer.

You are the critical thinker.

You are the doer.