Publishing our first ever guide: an interview with Mihaela Gruia
In this blog post, Anca Coman, our Outreach Communication Officer, sits down for an exclusive interview with Mihaela Gruia, the founder and CEO of Research Retold, to talk about Research Retold’s guide to ‘Communicating research beyond academia’. The guide was officially launched at the first year anniversary of Research Retold on November 8th 2018.
The guide provides practical advice and tips on how research could be visually disseminated and presented in a more engaging way to stakeholders. In this interview, Mihaela shares insights about the process of creating the guide, its format and content, and on how the guide will further support Research Retold’s vision.
1. How did you come up with the idea of launching a guide?
I had been thinking for a long time about collating the insights and information that I have gathered from hundreds of conversations with researchers who actively communicate research or struggle to do this effectively. There was no A-HA moment, it just felt like a natural step and the most effective way in which to present this information. I personally enjoy reading guides of this format from other organisations, so I wanted RR to have one too.
2. How have you decided on the title?
I first thought about an abstract title, ‘Noise or Music’ which comes from John Lavis who said that ‘policymakers hear noise instead of music’ when they are presented with complex and confusing information (2009 presentation titled ‘Supporting evidence-informed policymaking’). However, I decided on a straightforward title and I felt that ‘The Guide to Communicating Research Beyond Academia’ does what it says on the tin and gets the message across in a clear way.
3. What is the purpose of the guide?
The guide is a useful tool for researchers to create a 2-page visual summary of their findings, using a step by step process that is easy to follow, engaging and thought-provoking.
4. What does the guide contain?
The guide follows a simple step by step structure, that includes the “before”, “during” and “after” steps to go through in creating this 2-page research summary.
The guide also includes tips and best practice from several thought leaders in academia, who excel at communicating their research beyond universities, as well as media and business individuals who believe in the importance of research being communicated widely and used in society.
5. Visuals are key for Research Retold’s mission.
How did you come up with the design of the guide?
It was really important for me that this guide was visually appealing, in line with the projects we create for our clients. The design concept was co-created with one of our longest-standing designers, Radina.
We came up with a creative vision for the guide to incorporate an avatar of myself, as if I was talking to the reader throughout the guide, which I really like! The ‘look and feel’ of the guide is very inviting and playful, with a flowy design that is easy to follow. We drew inspiration for the branding from our logo, combining the classic orange with a soft, complementary blue.
6. What was the actual step-by-step process for creating the guide?
The first step was deciding to do it! It took a while to actually motivate myself to do it… But then the power of deadlines cannot be undermined.In one of our first team meetings, after I had hired three new interns and mentioned that I plan to write a guide and that we will be 1 year old in November, Isabel suggested: “Why don’t we publish the guide for our anniversary?!”
In that moment I realised that I could push myself and really put all of those ideas I have in my head on paper and make huge progress in a relatively condensed span of time.
I planned out a structure and thought about the flow of information. The structure was inspired by a workshop with the same title that we deliver to universities. So that was a great starting point.
I then wrote the first draft and spent a significant amount of time editing and refining the language. At one point, I did a dramatic edit, ruthlessly cutting down the text and only keeping the essential information.
Deciding on the design was one of the most exciting stages. We came up with specific icons for specific sections, such as the “Golden Tips”, “Case Studies” or the “Call to Action”, all of which tie in nicely on the cover of the guide – which funnily enough was the last design element that we did. It was a fantastic team effort between myself, Radina and another designer Sam.
After about 20 iterations, we developed a document that we proofread probably 7,568 times. I am so happy with how it turned out and with the amazing feedback we have received so far.
7. What inspired you in writing this guide?
I had this image in my mind of an ideal researcher we would love to work with and then holding this guide in their hands and feeling excited to learn from our insights and put them in action. It’s a thought that kept me going when I felt stuck.
8. What challenges have you faced while working on the guide?
I had two major challenges… First, the “imposter syndrome”, feeling that what I was writing was obvious. With helpful feedback from those who had proofread, I constantly reminded myself that the information I was offering was valuable, relevant and presented in a helpful way.
The second challenge was reaching out to thought leaders and asking for their input. I had a real fear at the beginning that people won’t write back, but I was impressed by people’s answers, as they were willing to offer tips and insights into how to communicate research beyond academia. I’m grateful for their contributions and I think it makes the guide a much stronger piece.
9. Can you describe the guide in three words?
Engaging. Actionable. Accessible.
Stay tuned for the second part of the interview with Mihaela Gruia next week, on the 7th of December!
In the meantime, follow along with live updates on Twitter or join our LinkedIn page for behind the scenes of our services as well as useful insights and articles on science and research communication!