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Taking your research paper from published to public

April 13, 2023

Person writing a lengthy to-do list in notebook on the steps needed to take their research from published to public

Congratulations! The research paper you’ve been working tirelessly on for months years is accepted, published, and in print. You hold back the urge to print the cover page and post it on your refrigerator. Instead, you take the link and post it to social media sharing your paper with the world. And now you are considering taking it from published to public! 

We’ve talked about media pitching, whether you are pitching a story or writing an op-ed. But we skipped over arguably the most challenging part – boiling down your massive paper or book to a few sentences or paragraphs. To start, you should not wait until the paper is published to start talking about the research. And that is the premise of this post.  

Note: Before we get in too deep, let me say that everyone’s research, topic, communication goals, outcomes, etc. are different. And everyone’s research process is different. This is a generic outline and suggestions based on my own writing process as a researcher. Obviously, do what makes you comfortable and is in line with your goals. As my favorite Peloton instructor Denis Morton says, ‘I make suggestions, you make decisions’. 

Another side note: This will take time. There is no way around that fact. But going into a project with a plan at the jump can help manage your time a bit better. This will get easier and easier and less time consuming once you create a foundation and do this a few times.

Before and during the writing phase

Start building relationships with the media

Build a list of relevant media members (e.g., name, email, publication, social media information, recent and relevant pieces, etc). Relevant as in their beat is related to your research. Do not pitch your research to someone who does not cover the topic.¹ PR services like Muck Rack, Cision, and Qwoted all maintain databases of media contacts and their beats so you can connect with the right people. 

Follow those media members on social media and begin engaging with them and their work. Share their pieces, comment on their posts, repost their work and add your own commentary. This should go without saying, but your added commentary should be tactful and constructive. Don’t be a dick. And do not pitch them on social media. 

Exhibit thought leadership

Thought leadership is displaying your critical thoughts and considerations about the work you are doing, as we know you do! Share those thoughts about the research and the process more openly on social media or wherever you feel comfortable talking out loud on the internet. This can include various stats, relevant literature, the research process, what you read, what you think, etc. This should all be in a jargon-free, accessible voice. Commentary on the literature or questions that arise during the process are evidence of thought leadership.  

At minimum, your Google Scholar profile should be up to date. You really should have your research listed on your LinkedIn profile too (as more journalists are planning on using LinkedIn).

Beyond demonstrating thought leadership, this practice will also help your communication skills and writing more succinctly and accessible. Practice makes perfect!  

I cannot overstate this…start this entire process before you start writing and keep it going throughout the process. This is part relationship building and part establishing your thought leadership! These things can take time, so start now.

During the review/revise & resubmit phase

Narrow down your messaging

Establish your communication goal.

Why is this research important enough to be taken public?² Do you want to inform policy? Do you want to change people’s mind about a specific topic? Are there behaviors you hope to change? Do you want to inform people about a little know bit of history? Answer this before you move on to…

Identify who your audience is.

If your audience is other academics in your discipline, then you probably don’t need to shift much in the way you already present and share your research. If it’s academics outside your discipline, then you may have to address discipline-specific jargon in your messaging. And it’s an entirely different approach if you are trying to reach the masses through media or directly through social media. 

Once you establish your communication goal and your audience, then you can work on how and where to reach them (e.g., social media, blog post, pitching an op-ed or news story, podcast interview, Tik Tok/IG video, hosting a community event/talk, etc.).

Hyper focus on 1-2 findings.

Even two may be too many, especially if you are sharing your findings on social media. The world does not need to know about every single thing to come out of the paper at once. Focus on one thing at a time. Share other findings at a later date. Take this opportunity (if you are comfortable) to tease out relevant preliminary findings with a graph or image. 

If you are struggling with distilling your research findings down, think about it from the reader’s perspective. The audience (assuming it is the masses) are novice at best in the topic, in the research method, and in the literature. What would be the most relevant to them? Focus on that, and present it in a way that peaks their interest. 

Another way to work on your messaging is to talk it out with people removed from higher education, your research, etc. Yes, this means you have to talk to people. This is a great exercise if you are trying to reach a wider audience. Plus all the jumbled up noise in our brains sound very different when spoken out loud. Getting real time feedback can be vital. Workshop your message out loud with other humans!  

Also, you do not need to spend time or space establishing the literature in your public messaging. Simplifying the findings into layman’s terms does not reduce the rigor. The rigor is in the research and in the fact that you successfully passed the review process. The thought leadership you’ve displayed up to this point can help elevate the rigor and your expertise in the public purview. 

Media planning

Referring back to your communication goal, create a strategic plan for disseminating the findings in order to meet your audience where they are. This can include:

  • Creating data visualization(s) to share on social media
  • Building a micro website if the data and findings are interactive or if there are resources to share, etc.
  • Writing up a 1-2 paragraph summary to provide to your university public relations/affairs office 
  • Creating a video abstract in layman’s and academic terms (for the different audiences)
  • Contacting organizations and groups who could be interested in the findings
  • Building a list of podcasts to pitch. Check out as a starting point.

As you are getting the messaging down, continue nurturing your media relationships. Consider reaching out to a few media contacts via email and state your expertise, and make yourself available for their beat if anything should come up (assuming your topic is one that may be controversial, timely, etc.). Present your research and the research topic as relevant, newsworthy, and something their audience would be highly interested in because it can impact them.

Pitch as an exclusive.

If you are having luck with media members interacting with you, reach out with an exclusive to your published research paper. This means one person, one publication. Offering an exclusive is exclusive! This act will do wonders for relationship building too. 

During the accepted phase

Pitch it as a story

Assuming you didn’t land an exclusive for whatever reason, you should start pitching the idea to editors. Remember, the published research is not the story. What is the story behind the research? Can you create a narrative to contextualize the research? How does it affect/impact their readership base (the audience)? Why would someone read it? How do your findings impact the broader society? Insider tip: We have more on messaging in our Academics Guide to Media Pitching

From published to public

Share it with the world 

It’s time to put your mini strategic plan into action. Whatever you did way back in the review/revise & resubmit stage is ready to see the light of day. Go forth and prosper. 

As you are sharing, take note of responses, interactions, and shares as you build your network. Also keep track of any quantitative measures you can use to support your annual performance review and tenure and promotion packet. Continue to nurture your media relationships even if your paper didn’t get picked up by the media. The next one could. 

What are some ways you are taking your research findings from published to public?

1 – This may come as a shock, but they aren’t going to write about your research if they don’t cover the topic.

2 – Literally, not every published paper needs to see the public light of day. Time is a finite commodity and choose carefully.

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Alicia Cintron, PhD

Research Public Communications Trainer & Coach

hi there. welcome! here you’ll find insight, musings, and thoughts about research, public engagement, communication, travel, and higher education. have an idea for a topic for us to cover? shoot us a note

Alicia Cintron

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