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Writing for a non academic audience by Marcia Hughes

Today’s post is about writing for non academic audiences. Marcia Hughes, the post author is one of the founders of the Boulder Group Ltd, a communications consultancy founded in 2007, dedicated to working with universities and higher educational institutions in the delivery of knowledge to wider audiences.

If you’re passionate about communicating your research with as wide a public as possible, then the chances are you’re already presenting your ideas clearly and simply to diverse audiences outside of academic walls. Hopefully, you’re also benefiting from your public engagement.

As a journalist and reporter with the BBC for nearly 15 years, I had to ensure my ideas ‘educated, informed and entertained’ the public. I found it rewarding making programmes for a general audience to absorb and appreciate.  Working mainly for Business and Financial News and Current Affairs, I had to turn quite complex issues into accessible listening and viewing for TV and Radio. I quickly learnt some important steps for engaging a general audience:

  • Developing a clear and simple narrative for the audience to follow
  • Choosing interesting case studies (voices) with relevant human interest or experiences
  • Making sure interviews with experts outlined key themes in a straightforward way
  • Removing any jargon or specialist speak
  • Using simple and concise language and using short sentences

Of course, it wasn’t always plain sailing. At times, appealing to this unknown “general audience” felt like being in the firing line from a group of people with the same “Am I bothered?” attitude as the infamous teenage girl played by Catherine Tate. Reaching out to the world beyond my like-minded BBC peers and financial experts took me out of my comfort zone. It constantly challenged me to think more simply and develop a much more open mindset every time I thought of a new programme idea:  Why am I making this programme; Who am I really trying to reach? What do I want to say?

These questions centre on two key areas: Audiences and Messages. They are as important and relevant to an academic individual writing for ‘non-academics’ as they are to a journalist.  What are the potential audiences are out there for you? What are their needs? What are their interests and values?  What are your key messages? Why does your research matter to them?

The more you ask yourself these sorts of questions, the sharper your focus. The more straightforward your communication, the more likely your research will resonate with a non- academic audience.

At the Boulder Group Ltd we are committed to supporting individual researchers, academic professionals, and post-graduates in their communication with the wider world. Our founding belief is that the knowledge created in our universities and HEIs, and the great ideas of researchers deserve a much bigger audience and greater appreciation.

Our service Researcher AM focuses on Audiences and Messages. It gives one-to-one help in audience engagement and current thinking on public engagement in order to help you define your research’s key audiences and choose the most appropriate means of communicating with that audience.

Contact Marcia: marcia@bouldergroup.co.uk