Welcome to our May 2016 newsletter: It’s never too early to plan your communication

Effective communication does not happen by accident. It requires thoughtful planning and proper resourcing.

Research groups sometimes get so bound up in generating new ideas that they forget about communication until the end of the project, when money is running low and time is running out.

The best research projects have communication planning entrenched in their processes.

We’d love to get your feedback via Facebook, Twitter or email.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam,

Jenni Metcalfe, Mary O’Callaghan (newsletter editor), Sarah Cole (on maternity leave), Jane IlsleyJay Nagle-Runciman and Melina Gillespie.


Measuring ‘impact’ – 3 up-front questions

By Jenni Metcalfe

‘To have a strong and often bad effect on (something or someone)’ or ‘to hit (something) with great force’ is how the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word ‘impact’.

I’m pretty sure this is not what governments and research agencies mean when they say that research needs to have a greater impact.

I suspect they are suggesting that research, and communication of that research, needs to make a difference to someone, in some way, if it is to have value.


NASA impact crater

An impact crater. Credit: NASA


What stimulated me to think about this whole idea of ‘impact’ (my new least favourite word) was a recent talk by QUT Professor Axel Bruns, entitled: ‘Amplifying impact: developing indicators of public value in public communication’.

Speaking at the Cooperative Research Centres Association’s conference, Prof. Bruns talked about measuring the impact of research beyond publications and citations by looking at the “amplifying effects” of using devices such as the media, social media, and online publications such as The Conversation.

I found his talk interesting and thought-provoking, and I asked him: Who do you want to impact and why?

It’s a question that researchers and communicators need to ask right at the start of a research project. Not after they have published their research in a peer-reviewed journal where, perhaps, only 10 people will read the journal article in its entirety. And not at the end of their research when someone (usually a funder) asks what legacy has been left or what impact has been made.

The only way you’ll be able to measure your ‘impact’, or difference, is to ask these 3 questions right at the start of your research:

  • Whom do you want to make a difference for? Farmers? Policymakers?
  • Why do you want to make that difference for these people? What are your objectives for them?
  • How will you know you have made that difference? What are the indicators? How will you measure them, starting right now?


Answer these questions and you’ll know right from the start of your research whom you want to ‘hit with great force’, and why, to make that ‘impact’.

First, dig the hole

By Jay Nagle-Runciman

When it comes to planning communication into your research right from the start, Nicky Santoro, fictional mobster and one of Joe Pesci’s seminal characters, sums it up perfectly in the film Casino:

“There are a lot of holes in the desert, and a lot of problems are buried in those holes. But you gotta do it right. I mean, you gotta have the hole already dug before you show up with a package in the trunk. Otherwise, you’re talking about a half-hour to 45 minutes worth of diggin’. And who knows who’s gonna come along in that time? Pretty soon, you gotta dig a few more holes, know what I’m sayin’? You could be there all [@#$] night!”


Nicky Santoro in the movie Casino


Okay, so he’s referring to bodies and organised crime. It’s the wise-guy’s version of ‘a stitch in time saves nine’.

But it’s also worth thinking about when it comes to science communication.

It doesn’t matter what stage of a project you are in, you can prepare a spot for communication before you arrive. If you don’t, it could get messy.

Our workshop on Planning science communication covers all there is to know about building communication into your research project at the very start.

The questions you need to consider are:

  • What research outcomes are you aiming to achieve? The research context.
  • Who is affected by or interested in these outcomes? Your target groups.
  • What do you want to achieve by communicating with each of your target groups? Your communication objectives.
  • How will you know when you have been successful? Your performance indicators.
  • What are the perceptions, concerns and communication needs of your target groups? The crucial step of understanding your target groups.
  • What do you want to communicate with each target group? Your messages.
  • How will you communicate with each target group? Your activities.


So next time you start a research project, start digging those communication ‘holes’ before you have a big messy body (of work) on your hands, wise guys!

Architecture first, soft furnishings later

By Mary O’Callaghan

As an editor, I sometimes feel like the interior designer who is called in at the 11th hour to make everything look great, only to find a problem that an architect would’ve picked up much earlier.

Maybe there’s a structural flaw or the content is way too technical for the intended reader.

Fortunately, moving words around is easier than moving walls. But sometimes there’s no time left, no money left, or no energy left to review anything other than grammar and style edits.

To make sure your document is in great shape from the outset, take the time to sit down with an editor before you even put pen to paper. Together, you should be able to tease out the answers to these questions:

  • Why are you writing this document? What do you want to achieve through writing it? The answer should inform your answers to the following questions.
  • Who are you writing it for? Beware of lumping different types of readers into one. If, for example, you’re writing for ‘policymakers, landholders, funding agencies and the general public’, think about whether 4 different documents tailored to their needs would be better than one document that tries to be all things to all people but ends up satisfying no-one.
  • Why will they read it? What will they want to know? What decisions might they make based on the information? The answer will help you select the content and may influence the structure.
  • What important messages do you want to get across? The answer to this one will also help you select the content and may influence the structure.
  • How much do they already know about the topic? How familiar are they with the jargon? The answer will help you select content and pitch it at the right level.
  • How much detail do they need? Perhaps you can layer the information with multiple documents of ever-increasing detail. The answer can also help you decide what content can be placed in appendices.
  • How will they read it? Your answer will influence the structure. Will they dip in here and there, using it as a reference guide, or will they read it from start to finish in a linear fashion? Will they want a short summary of the important messages up front? Should the summary fit on one page for busy readers? Will they be making a decision based on this document and if so how can you structure the document to make it quick and easy for them to make their decision? Will they need to be led through the context, methods and arguments before being confronted with your conclusion or will they prefer to see the conclusion up front, happy in the knowledge that it is rigorously backed up in later sections?


Working through these kinds of questions is part of the skillset of a good editor who knows how to do a substantive edit, which is a higher level of editing than copyediting.

If you put this effort in upfront, not only will you meet your readers’ needs, but the copyediting stage should be more straightforward, with the focus being on clear expression, consistent style, and impeccable grammar and spelling—the ‘soft furnishings’ that will save you from embarrassment and that won’t distract the reader from the overall experience of reading.




Make sure your document is structurally sound before you reach the copyediting stage.
Photo: Benjamin D. Esham / Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0 us]

Giving a talk? Prep like TED

By Melina Gillespie

More than 2100 TED talks are available online and every day they are viewed more than 2 million times.

TED talks certainly have an appeal about them—they’re inspiring, entertaining and accessible.

Speaking before a group is one of the most effective ways to communicate your ideas. Unlike with written text, it’s a chance to engage your audience—a powerful way to send a message and have it received.

Just think about some of the most influential speeches of our time—Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ (1963); Emmeline Pankhurst’s ‘Freedom or Death’ (1913).


Martin Luther King - I have a dream


But chances are you’ve sat through some boring presentations. Perhaps one that was confusing, or poorly prepared, where the presenter seemed as surprised by the content as the audience? A squandered opportunity to communicate what might’ve been an important idea of benefit to the audience.

Giving a good talk is not an easy thing to achieve. Good presentation skills and good content require much preparation and practice.

TED talks go through several steps of preparation, which generally start 6 months before the event. These steps include:

  • preparing a basic outline
  • writing the script
  • creating and preparing slides
  • rehearsing.


Harvard brain researcher Dr Jill Bolte-Taylor is said to have rehearsed her TED talk ‘My stroke of insight200 times. Her talk has had 18 million views.

Investing time and effort into preparing your talk can ensure you communicate your main message with confidence, clarity and flair.

So start early and take advantage of the valuable opportunity to present your ideas. Prepare your content well in advance. Get it reviewed. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Your audience will thank you for it.


Quote of the month

“Putting communication towards the bottom of every ‘to do’ list is a way to guarantee that there is never enough time to communicate effectively. Instead, communication must be part of [achieving research outcomes] rather than sugar-coating them.”

― Caron Chess in ‘Attacking a problem with the facts’, EPA Journal, vol. 18, no. 2, p. 46