What does it mean to ‘retell research’?

by | Nov 15, 2017 | Blogposts | 0 comments

Each year approximately £6 billion are invested in research in the UK (UKRI). One problem is that the resulting research findings are under-utilised in decision-making processes because those who need to implement them don’t understand either a) the jargon and what the research did and b) how the findings apply directly to them and their day-to-day activity.

When I was in the process of deciding whether to set up the company or not, I had conversations with over 100 researchers and senior managers across 7 UK universities, as well as individuals working in research-oriented organisations.

Those conversations have led me to believe that, in order to maximise the societal impact that research can have, it needs to be presented in shorter, more digestible formats.

Long, detailed, jargon-filled research reports are perfect for situations in which the audience is familiar with the research area and when there is a need to go into the nitty-gritty of the research and methodology.

However, in most situations, be that discussing with high-level policy-makers or engaging with NGOs, public sector organisations and officials, civil servants or the general public, research needs to be presented in a format that can be easily absorbed and digested.

It is this process of capturing the essence of the research and retelling it using accessible language and visual aids that we aim to deliver at Research Retold.  

In light of this, our mission is encapsulated in the following statement:
Research Retold provides communication and design expertise to help researchers present their findings in easy-to-read and creative ways.

How exactly is this research being ‘retold’?

Step 1: Making research findings easy-to-read

One important part of retelling research in more accessible ways refers to the language in which the findings are presented. This means that wherever possible, academic or industry-specific jargon is removed, and key messages are rephrased using laymen and non-technical language. Beyond this, elements of storytelling are inserted to make the narrative more compelling and relatable.

This step can be carried out successfully by the researchers themselves or by an external research communicator. Regardless of who summarises the research, three ingredients are key: an understanding of the research, the main findings, and the audience the summary is aimed at. This understanding is developed through a series of pinpointed questions and discussions.

The process of condensing typically 20 or 40 pages of research into a 2- or 4-pager is iterative and requires flexibility and open communication. In the end, the most important and relevant messages are captured in a concise summary that is tailored to a given audience.

Victoria Hasson, Research Communicator

“I feel privileged to help get key facts, information, and evidence communicated to a broader audience. Research communication is all about making information digestible so that it can have a greater impact. At times it can also be about opening up the language of research to a broader audience.

This is the most satisfying aspect of research communication because I feel I’m helping the writer and the reader to reach each other without them having to put the work in themselves, and in the end making that connection is the most rewarding aspect of this work.”

Step 2: Making research findings creative

Another important part of retelling research relates to visuals. This entails repurposing the summary in different visual formats, elements and components. The narrative adopted to present the research findings is brought to life into a visual narrative. An imaginative process is kicked off in which various concepts, ideas and processes are illustrated visually.

In most of our past collaborations, the creative and visual part of the research communication process came after the summary. In these cases, the summary acted as the starting point for the creative journey.

Inspiration for this step can come from different aspects of the research: its theme, the various elements that make up that theme, the nature of the research (i.e. more qualitative or quantitative), the people impacted by the research, or the setting in which the research is presented. Any of these aspects can provide a starting point to reimagine the research findings in a visual way.

Once the textual basis of the visualisation is agreed on (i.e. summary or script), the design process is both fun and challenging. The goal is to ensure the visuals match the context of the research, that is hitting the right mark, that it is authentic and representative of the people it speaks about.

As we saw in the collaboration with Pf Caroline Dyer, the authenticity of the icons and visual elements used was key in ensuring the visuals were aligned with the audience and research participants. In that case, we ensured the icons accurately depicted the education context of pastoralist populations in African countries and were not reflecting Western ideals of education instead.  

In terms of concrete final formats that this step can take, these can be:

  1. Infographics
  2. Visual summaries 
  3. Videos
  4. Animations
  5. Documentaries

There is no limit to our imagination in this step, with the only limiting factors being where the research is being presented and the intended plan for disseminating the final product.

Beyond the ‘Oh, this looks lovely!’ factor, the most important function of these visual representations is to create a link between the audience and the author of the research so as to facilitate further collaborations and, in the process, maximise the impact that the research can have in the real world.

Radina Metodieva, Graphic Designer

“Designing research findings starts with understanding what the research is about and what key things should be represented in the design. This is then followed by brainstorming ideas about how these key messages can be shown in an interesting and representative ways in the design! Deciding on colour palettes and sketching our ideas down is one of the first things we do. Will it have icons? Or photos? Maybe some fun illustrations! Always keeping it relevant to the research findings.

This is a very enjoyable process, because not only is it fun to obviously create new designs, but I get to learn new things from a variety of topics I might have not even known about from the research papers themselves! Working on research I might not necessarily be familiar with challenges my creativity every time. But it is definitely an amazing and fun ‘challenge’ to have the pleasure to be part of!”

In conclusion, ‘retelling research’ means condensing a research piece into an accessible and engaging piece of content through a set of language and design procedures.

We love retelling research and would love to hear your thoughts! Have you seen research communicated in an engaging and fun way? Please share below!

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