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You click on the Web link or flip open the journal, and there it is: your brilliant, definitive paper! For years you conducted rigorous experiments and meticulously recorded the data. You assiduously analyzed those data to arrive at your compelling conclusions. You painstakingly wrote up the work, submitted it to a top journal, and survived a gauntlet of editors and reviewers to get it accepted. Now that it is published, your job is done . . . you think.
Or instead, maybe you have given your seminal talk, presenting your hard-won discoveries to your peers at a conference. You perfected your PowerPoint slides, rehearsed your delivery, and anticipated every possible question. You were eloquent, the audience was rapt, and you detected on their faces a green-with-envy tinge at your brilliance. Again, you may believe you have told the world about your research. After all, you did clearly elucidate your findings to your most important audience: your peers.
In both cases, though, if you are to do full justice to your work, your communication job has only just begun. Your paper or talk is only a first step in reaching the many audiences important to your research success: colleagues, potential collaborators in other disciplines, administrators of foundations and funding agencies, private donors, prospective students, your institution's leaders, legislators, your own family and friends, and of course the general public. Explaining your work effectively to these audiences means mounting a comprehensive communications effort—including talks, Web sites, news releases, feature articles, multimedia presentations, and media stories. Unless you take full advantage of these communication pathways, you are short-changing yourself and your research discoveries.
In fact, you are not really doing "science" unless you widely disseminate your work, argued physicist John Ziman. In his classic 1968 book Public Knowledge: The Social Dimension of Science, he wrote
The objective of Science is not just to acquire information nor to utter all non-contradictory notions; its goal is a consensus of rational opinion over the widest possible field. [Seeking a broad consensus] is not a subsidiary consequence of the "Scientific Method"; it is the scientific method itself.
Ziman's book dealt primarily with scientific audiences. However, he would have undoubtedly agreed that the "widest possible field" includes the many lay audiences Explaining Research will help you reach.
You would not dream of switching on a new research instrument before thoroughly training yourself to use it. Nor should you try to explain your research to important lay-level audiences without learning to use communication tools and techniques. Explaining Research aims to give you those tools and techniques. And your research success depends on using these tools and techniques to explain not only a single scientific paper or talk but also your research as a whole. So, Explaining Research shows you how to fit the puzzle pieces of communication—your Web site, news releases, feature stories, and talks—into a broad strategy to portray your work to important audiences.
The communication skills the book teaches will aid your career success as well as your research success. For example, employers rank communication skills first in the qualities they seek in an applicant, according to the Job Outlook 2009 survey of more than a thousand employer organizations conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The survey found that employers ranked communication skills higher than a strong work ethic, teamwork skills, initiative, and analytical skills.
However, as skilled as you become at communicating, you will undoubtedly encounter communication traps in explaining your work—from misleading media stories, to unfair criticism from rivals, to controversies over your findings. Explaining Research reveals those traps and shows techniques to avoid or escape them.