A tool to help researchers communicate their findings
In this blog post, we want to share a simple tool to help researchers communicate their findings.
Introducing the Research Canvas.
We will break down the key components of the canvas and how the tool can be used for research projects.
This blog is inspired by the Branswer workshop (09 Oct 2019) on crafting content for customers at Avenue HQ in Leeds.
In true Research Retold style, after the event, we reflected on how what we learned can help researchers communicate more effectively with stakeholders.
The Branswer event on crafting content for customers in Leeds
The event was hosted by the co-founders of Branswer, Kayla Herbert and Tom Dean Knight.
The attendees were business owners keen to explore ways to better communicate with their target audience, be it new or existing customers.
The Branswer team introduced a very useful tool called the ‘Branding Canvas’ and offered interactive exercises to explain how the tool works.
“The Branding Canvas is an accessible tool to evaluate the brand of a business and help create a branding strategy.” Kayla Herbert, Co-founder, Branswer
Participants were then asked to provide descriptions and examples of what their company does and how they currently engage their audience online and offline.
After helping attendees uncover their customers’ interests, the hosts offered insights into the various types of content to use, tips on how to communicate clearly and the best way to structure content to suit the targeted audience.
Overall, the event was engaging and offered great ideas from both workshop leaders and participants.
From a research perspective, of special interest was how we could adapt the Branding Canvas to the specific needs of academics. So we accepted the challenge and came up with a solution.
“I’m always keen to adapt tools and reuse them in different contexts. The Research Canvas offered a new way to structure key information about a research project.” Mihaela Gruia, Founder, Research Retold
As presented here, the Research Canvas can be a powerful tool to gain clarity on your research communication efforts.
A tool to help researchers communicate their findings effectively
As mentioned, we were inspired by the Branding Canvas, which we’ll see below also got inspiration from other bright minds.
The Branding Canvas “is a practical guide to branding for everyone.” Branswer
The inspiration for this came from the Lean Canvas, which in turn…
“The Lean Canvas is a 1-page business plan template created by Ash Maurya that helps you deconstruct your idea into its key assumptions. It is adapted from Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas and optimized for Lean Startups. It replaces elaborate business plans with a single page business model.” Leanstack
As you can see, the aim of these tools is to streamline what can be a complicated process and break it down into bite-size chunks.
The Branding Canvas
The branding canvas helps you see what is important in order to cater to your audience or stakeholders in the best way possible.
So we propose a tool to help researchers communicate their findings, tailored to the needs of academics, the Research Canvas.
The Research Canvas
“The Research Canvas is a practical guide to research communication for anyone involved in a research project.” Mihaela Gruia, Founder, Research Retold
Components of the Research Canvas
In this section, we break down each of the nine components of the Research Canvas to help researchers communicate their findings.
The first step is to think about your audience. This helps you reverse engineer the communication process.
Remember that research communication is not about cramming 40 pages of text into a shorter format using font size 2. The idea is to select key messages while keeping your audience in mind.
Spending time identifying your audience creates a filter through which you can communicate your research.
Alternatively, try to create a portrait of your ideal reader by identifying their:
– Position on the topic
– Pain point/Gaps in evidence
– Most likely to respond to
Remember to do your research and be as specific as possible. For example, don’t say ‘policymakers’ but get detailed on the exact government department, position, and if possible and ideally, specific name and contact details.
2) Research Promise
The brand promise should communicate what makes one’s business unique.
“The brand promise should be the concentrated version of your overall value proposition.” (Nielson, 2019)
Similarly, the research promise should state what is unique about your research project.
How does your research differ from any other project in the field?
This uniqueness captured in this section should be reflected throughout the research communication process and in your engagement with stakeholders.
3) Research Essence
Every brand should have something that they stand for and believe in. In a research context, you as the researcher, have a set of values that guide your work.
Why did you conduct your research? What was the motivation behind it? What drove you?
These questions can take you back to why you started the work in the first place and remind you of the uniqueness of your research and efforts.
How will your brand essence benefit you as a researcher but society?
The research essence can be seen at the epitome of how your audience will receive and interpret your researched work.
“The more you understand your brand promise and brand essence, the easier it is to communicate your brand.” Branswer Founder, Kayla Herbert
Similarly, the more in tune you are with the unique elements of your research and the motivation that drove you, the more passionate your research communication efforts.
The branding canvas focuses here on brand values. Brand values are derived from the brand essence. These can be ‘transparency, reliability, simplicity’.
For a research context, we adapt this section to talk about the benefits, which is closely linked to the research essence and what drove you to research a certain project.
Who does your research benefit? Who are the beneficiaries? Whose life will be made easier as a result of your research being acted on?
They are required to adhere to what the research stands for and expected to project to your audience usually described in single words.
You may have different layers, from people on the ground to more high-level stakeholders. Again, be as specific as possible and identify how these groups would benefit from your findings.
It is important to know what platforms your audience uses the most and where they would like to hear from you in order to reach them.
Moreover, in this section, it may be useful to think about where you plan to engage your audience.
It’s useful to split it into online and offline channels.
Online channels: social media, websites, blogs, online magazines, online articles, newsletters.
Offline channels: events, conferences, one-to-one meetings, consultations.
6) Tone of voice
The tone of voice you choose for your project enhances customer experience, humanises your work and encourages interaction. This will enable your work to remain constant and form an identity for your audience (Williams, 2019).
The tone of voice in the research communication process helps focus your writing efforts. Think of adjectives that you’d like to best describe your tone. For example, professional, knowledgeable, accessible.
When finding your tone of voice, try to:
– Keep it conversational
– Avoid jargon
– Write in an active voice
– Keep your research essence in mind
– Consider your audience
Based on the sections so far, especially the audience and channels, researchers should now be closer to identifying what content to create to communicate their findings.
Start by crafting your key research message. What is the one message that cannot be lost? If you prefer thinking in 3s, think of 3 key messages that cannot be lost.
Following from this, spend some time thinking about your format. Would a 1, 2 4-pager work better than others?
Once you know this, think about the content of your document. Try to pencil a quick structure per page.
Don’t self-edit too much. Write with a hot pen and allow ideas to flow.
So far, developing the answers to these sections can see very laser-focused and details. Now it’s time to zoom out.
Similar to your research essence, identify the big picture behind your project. Beyond this project, beyond this document or research communication effort, there is a wider context.
Reflect on the destination in which you are going with your research.
What is the big goal, the ideal goal behind your findings?
This will help you contextualise and apply a wider lens to your efforts that remind you that this is bigger than yourself.
Finally, to reach your intended audience with your key messages that they will respond to, what are you going to do?
Your mission represents the vehicle to get to your vision: How will you get there? What is your plan of action? What upcoming events or opportunities will you take advantage of?
Types of content to communicate research projects
Beyond these, however, there are other types of content you can create to promote your research.
Again, inspired by the Branswer team, we’d like to draw your attention to the following:
1. Press Releases
Press releases are usually short news stories that are sent out to the media for publication. They can reach a large audience to promote something specific. Some examples are:
Event press releases – used for local news outlet where your event is/was hosted
News press releases – used for the business section of your local media or industry-specific media
Product press releases – they communicate your product or service
Launch press releases – used to communicate the launch of a new product or collaboration
Useful Leeds-based company for researchers: Campus PR
If you have a blog, like most research projects do, there are different types of posts you can create.
News: usually about the project, keeping your community in the loop and attracting new interest. For example, we published a recent ‘news type’ post on our collaboration with Leeds Beckett University and their MA Graphic Design course.
Instructional: these are “how to” posts, FAQs or reviews that engage with your audience’s interests and help you position yourself as a thought leader. A recent post of ours in this style was about tips on promoting your work as a researcher.
Case studies: these blogs include detailed insights about specific aspects of your project, either collaborations or interviews.
Personal stories: here you can usually share personal and success stories of your project which can help people relate to its cause. For example, we shared a post in this vein on how we recharged during the holiday
Product: these blogs announce a new product, a service or a new aspect or feature of your project.
Newsletters are helpful to build and communicate with a community of people interested in what you do. You can send a newsletter regularly to your community in order to share what is new and to keep people in the loop.
We have our very own monthly newsletter where we share resources, news, blog and more! Why not sign up?Sign up to the Research Retold newsletter
Why is the Research Canvas important?
It offers a holistic overview of your research project
Research projects can feel lego projects and sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture. The canvas offers a birds-eye view of your project. Moreover, it offers a chance to reflect on various aspects of it in a holistic way. This can help you identify any gaps or areas that need further refining.
It offers clarity on your research communication efforts
Having clarity on crucial aspects of your project is key to a successful communication effort. Especially in multidisciplinary teams, having everyone on the same page builds consensus and momentum. Moreover, you can use this clarity as a baseline against which to measure your efforts.
It helps create a communication plan
With its simple structure and visually pleasing aspect, a Research Canvas should be straight to the point and should not use jargon. It should be easy to understand for internal team members and stakeholders in order to make understanding and communication easy. From this, any efforts to create a communication plan will flow a lot easier.
Communication is a key component that researchers need to consider when presenting and communicating their projects.
The Research Canvas offers a tool to help researchers communicate their findings.
By reflecting on the audience, research promise, research essence, benefits, channels, voice, content, vision and mission of a project you are well-positioned to share key aspects of your research. You can be more strategic and organised in your efforts and aim for a greater degree of success in reaching the right people with your messages.
A special thanks to Branswer for organising the workshop. Many thanks to Grace Maina, our Content and Communications Coordinator, for contributing to this blogpost with research, writing and editing.
Nielson, J. (2019). The Brand Canvas – How To Create and Communicate A Compelling Brand – Ignition Framework
Williams, H. (2019). Creating a Brand Tone of Voice: Do’s and Don’ts – Meltwater UK & Ireland