How researchers get heard
Abstract lines

Get Outside Your Own Bottle

You can’t read the label from inside the bottle.

And you can’t read anyone else’s label, either.

A scientist — and an old friend — emails to ask: would I look at a data viz he’s created?

He wants it to be a teaser for his organization’s website; to get decision makers to click through.

I look at it. It presents a data set over time, sortable by region, with a call-to-action: go to the org’s site for more information.

My friend had questions. Should he change the fonts? The color palette? Should he add more captions? A logo?

He was way inside his own bottle.

I needed to pry the cap off.

So I asked him:

  • What problems do your intended users have?
  • Does the data viz speak immediately and obviously to those problems?
  • Does the data viz also obviously suggest your organization has a solution or insights on how to solve those problems?
  • If not, what could get the intended users to that realization? A framing narrative? Something else?

If you’re not directly connecting what you’re offering to how they’re suffering, then we need to start over.

Otherwise, you’re just kidding yourself.

My old friend was grateful for the straight talk.

In business, we try not to make products that don’t solve a problem.

Research communications is subject to similar laws of gravity.

Any research communications product should first be constructed to speak clearly to users’ problems and the potential solutions the product suggests.

Don’t throw data or findings or tools at people and hope they’ll connect the dots.

Your research is never the story. How it helps solve other people’s problems — that’s the story.

So many researchers (and research-driven organizations) spend their professional lives inside their bottles. Some defiantly so.

Make sure you have a communications professional to help you climb out of your own bottle.