How researchers get heard
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Cultivating Better Writing Skills: What Research-Based Organizations Should Do

How can individual researchers assess their writing strengths and weaknesses (and improve on those weaknesses)? Last week I gave you four ideas.

How can research-driven organizations/institutions help with that assessment and improvement? In many of the same ways:

  • Hire a staff editor with some domain expertise to work with its researchers;
  • Hire a professional writing coach to evaluate manuscripts and the strengths and weaknesses the researchers are displaying in those manuscripts;
  • Put on two- or three-day writing workshops for its researchers, led by a scientific writing coach and scientists who write well (the manuscripts might be peer-reviewed papers, pieces for non-specialists, or a mix of both);
  • Develop an internal communications platform where researchers can get candid, supportive feedback on their writing from their peers;
  • Develop an external-facing platform (OK, a blog) where researchers can publish at low stakes.
  • Encourage their scientists on Twitter to thread and get more comfortable with putting trial balloon ideas and perspectives out in public and getting feedback.

Here’s the problem: doing one or two of these of these isn’t enough for organizations that want more impact for their work and expertise with non-specialists.

That’s because research culture doesn’t reward frequent publication and high-quality writing — two qualities required for authority building.

It rewards the opposite.

Researchers publish in journals infrequently. (Sorry: four to six times a year is not frequent by the rest of the world’s standards.)

Also: researchers can write badly — shockingly so — and still get published.

If you want to improve your researchers’ writing for non-specialists, you have to turn those habits and mindset around. You have to create a countervailing culture of impact through writing: providing as many opportunities for them to write and publish as possible, and demanding that that writing aspire to effortless readability.

Researchers who are creating outsize impact for their expertise write a lot. They are often academics who have figured out how to compartmentalize their academic writing from their non-specialist writing (and don’t have to spend much time managing others).

Research-driven organizations can create tailwind for their research staff to fly in this direction. The best efforts are intentional and programatic.

Let’s talk if your organization would like guidance thinking through that kind of program.