Writing for impact
This page considers how research can be written to improve the impact of the findings.
The importance of well written research
Reports, executive summaries, journal articles and online materials are all vehicles for communicating the main messages of research to the wider world. Whatever format is chosen, it is essential that the style and content of the writing is both engaging and accessible to the reader. If the writing fails to capture the reader’s attention then it is unlikely that the research findings will make an impression either. As one Children’s Service representative commented, a lot of research is ignored because it comes in ‘vast tomes that nobody has a chance to read’.
What makes effective writing?
- Clear and decisive findings. Children’s Services staff found it difficult to act on research evidence in the absence of clear policy and/or practice implications. Writing which is ‘woolly and vague’ or ‘full of provisos’ is unlikely to stimulate change.
- Provides recommendations. Interviewees wanted suggestions for how to implement findings, how to learn from the research and how to work towards solutions. Research needs to be written with a clear steer for local authorities.
- Adds something new to the body of knowledge. Findings that go beyond what is already known helps move the debate forward and may encourage new thinking on certain issues. (Although interviewees were also pleased when research confirmed their ideas about an issue and provided evidence to support it).
- Includes wider research evidence: To back up any recommendations, interviewees were keen to see evidence from other national studies or local evaluations (e.g. case studies of effective interventions).
- Provides short, sharp research summaries. Children’s Service interviewees explained that research must be seen as ‘immediately relevant’ to staff to ensure that they will read it. They need to know instantly what it is about and who it is relevant to. A short summary report enables them to make this assessment, where as a 200 page document could be overlooked.
- Layers of details within reports. Some interviewees stressed the importance of ‘layers of detail’, even within the main report, so that readers can quickly identify key points. They can then be signposted to further information, if relevant or interested. This can be achieved through the use of chapter summaries, layouts that highlight key points, and charts or graphs.
- Accessible, lively and engaging language. Researchers need to consider the style of writing they use and tailor it towards the needs of the audience. Very academic, weighty text is unlikely to appeal to policy makers and practitioners who have limited time to read and digest research information. It is better to use plain English, avoid jargon and explain any technical terms or abbreviations when they are first used.