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  • Finding your niche in the four styles of research communication

    Let’s get straight to the point. After a decade of experience using digital platforms for research communication, it has become apparent to me that there are four styles of research communication: Academic Departmental Institutional Third Party Whilst for those in the know, this may seem obvious. As I have previously discussed, alongside increased support, funding and demands for research communication, there are inherent inequalities around both knowledge and access to different kinds of research communication. In my work, I see many academics who feel they should be communicating their research, but do not have a clue as to what any such activity should look like. I would argue that for those setting out on their research communication journey, or even those who are more experienced, there is benefit from a better understanding of these styles, the demands they impose, the support available and following this, the niche your research project fits into. Image Credit: Faye Cornish via Unsplash. Academic led research communications Research dissemination at an individual level often starts with social media. This can mean Twitter, but ultimately, it should be the platform that links you to your intended audience. The barriers to entry are low and starting out can often be faltering, something I once likened to ducklings taking to water or baby giraffes. I have also found this immediacy has two results: academics communicating their research without a plan and to an imagined ‘non-specialist’ or ‘public’ audience. Whilst social media like Twitter takes a minute to set up, it can take months and years to master and build a meaningful audience. However, when used well social media can connect you to a wide spectrum of stakeholders (peers, government departments, charities, even potential students). Whilst no academic is an island, it can often feel that way for researchers when trying to find the right support for their research. The greatest benefit of this style is that no one knows your research as well as you do. It also affords the opportunity to develop transferable skills. Knowing where to publish a good research blogpost, or how to produce a podcast are (hopefully) considered useful. Especially, for Masters and PhD students building their career and reputation. It also offers an opportunity for academics to lead and inspire their colleagues in being more creative in their own communications. Whilst no academic is an island, it can often feel that way for researchers when trying to find the right support for their research. Being individually proactive with communications, or as part of a group can be beneficial, but invariably greater success requires support. That success depends on a variety of factors, not least what resources internally are at hand. Departmental led research communications At departmental level you begin to find more interests at play (notably student recruitment). On the upside, embedded departmental communication support should have a good understanding of the academics and subject matter they work directly with. This can help in getting the research shared, but more importantly it allows you to tap into existing relationships with academics in your field and prevents you having to painstakingly build your profile across different media. I work within an academic department and actively try to give colleagues bespoke help or the practical skills to disseminate their research through a variety of media. These include a podcast and webinar series that I started in the Lockdown of 2020, a service that was especially valuable when normal communication channels, such as conferences and invited seminars were shut down. My colleagues work on high impact health research which has a very wide audience. However, it is rare for a department to have this model, where an individual is trusted to plan, create and share outputs. It’s a model I explored on this blog with the idea of the Research Technologist. Naturally, the success of these roles depends on the funds to licence creative packages and the space to pursue new kinds of projects. Institutional led research communications At the top of the pyramid of university comms are central communications and media teams operating at anything between institutional to faculty level. Depending on the organisational structure, much of their capacity may be taken up by student recruitment activities. In terms of central research communications there is also a cost-benefit analysis as to what out of a very large and eclectic set of research outputs they can and can’t support. The relationship between central communications and the media should at least be established, so research outputs selected for coverage will have a better chance of reaching the right medium and audience for coverage. These teams will often also be points of access to institutional web pages and social media accounts. However, most research is not newsworthy from a national media perspective and many central teams may have just one person representing a whole faculty or department. Adding those together means that only select research outputs will get picked up centrally. That being said, all research is newsworthy. At an institutional level it might feel like only professors might receive notable coverage and support. But, that does not mean they have a monopoly on the most interesting and impactful research. Some of the most newsworthy research is happening at the grassroots level of PhD students and early career researchers. The key is to let the right people in the media team know about it. Third-party led research communications The past decade has seen a significant increase in interest from external partners looking to support research communication. Research funders, publishers, NGOs and even commercial consultancies all have different interests in research communication. Working with external organisations and consultants can be very rewarding, although this is very much dependent with their alignment to your own goals. Research consultancies can also shade into predatory practices, where offers of large audiences, colourful online magazines, podcasts, or social media posts are made in exchange for exorbitant fees. Research communication consultancies are a relatively new phenomenon and represent some of the key challenges in this area. Firstly, this style of communication is dependent on funding, some funders now actively support these activities, although as per usual, it is essential to plan ahead for these activities. Once funded, whilst it might be easy to defer to outside expertise (or sales pitches), it is essential to have an idea of what those activities will look like. If you are disseminating findings to those with hearing difficulties then creating a podcast is not a good idea. Unlike the other styles, you may have to invest time in explaining, sometimes complex outputs to non-experts which will require multiple revisions. Research consultancies can also shade into predatory practices, where offers of large audiences, colourful online magazines, podcasts, or social media posts are made in exchange for exorbitant fees. My colleagues are regularly contacted by various small consultancies or individuals offering such services. Of course, not all are bad, but it goes back to my previous point about academics feeling that they need to be doing something to communicate their research, this reflex can easily translate into noise, rather than good research communication. This is especially true, when there is a pot of research money to dip into. If you are approached by an external consultant, it is important to ask questions, is there a cost? How much? What can they offer? What kind of audience can they guarantee? Are there any hidden extras? Have they worked with any notable academics or organisations before? Much like when thinking about where to publish your research using your networks and the advice of peers can be immensely helpful when looking for a partner, who has the knowledge and expertise to communicate your work effectively. Unifying the four styles These four styles do not exist in isolation, but the more coverage you capture for your research the more likely they come together as one. Until that time comes you need to explore what resources you have to hand and who is best placed to help you. Making your research known to media and communication professionals internally is a good place to start. This needs to be ahead of publication and should be part of your research design. Timing is essential, especially for media work where publication elsewhere can effectively kill interest in the work, as most professionals are juggling multiple demands and they are also unlikely to drop things to focus on promoting your new research paper the day it comes out. Ultimately research communications are a long game. It can take time to build up any kind of visibility, particularly if you are just starting out on your career. The start of that communications journey may invariably mean doing much of this for yourself, but with tenacity and determination the attention will come as will those wishing to amplify your message. Article originally published on the LSE Impact of Social Science Blog Image Credit: Faye Cornish via Unsplash.

  • Wikipedia is open to all, the research underpinning it should be too.

    There has (too) long been a debate as to Wikipedia’s relationship with academia and whether the former is a credible platform for sharing and citing research. Much of that discussion has been around how it is used by students. Whilst certain academics have had a tendency to turn their nose up at the popular encyclopaedia, not seeing it as a credible source of knowledge. Yet, for many it is simply the first stop for authoritative information and as such it offers an opportunity for the research community to share their work with a huge, global audience. This happens when their research is cited as part of a Wikipedia entry, as the encyclopaedia is built upon evidence, not anecdotes. One of the first news features on Wikipedia in Nature in 2011 suggested that editing the platform could be an influential way of improving a researcher’s visibility and communicating their work to the academic community. Bringing that forward a decade and we can see this go much further, as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Wikimedia Foundation collaborated to expand the public’s access to the latest and most reliable information about COVID-19. Image Credit: Everett Bartels via Unsplash. At the White Rose universities of Sheffield, Leeds and York, we looked at how much of our research is cited by Wikipedia and more importantly, how much of that is available via Open Access. In an age where more research is being published open access, it can be very easy to assume that every link to a research paper in the world’s most accessible encyclopedia is also freely accessible. Sadly much current and historical research is still behind a publisher’s paywall. This of course undermines one of Wikipedia’s three principal core content policies of ‘verifiability’ with the other two being ‘neutral point of view’, and ‘not original research’, meaning that it does not publish original thought. If a piece of evidence is behind a paywall it becomes harder for someone to verify it for themselves, even though it might have been through a peer review process. It is also incoherent and ironic, like research papers on the topic of open access that are themselves behind a publisher paywall. If a piece of evidence is behind a paywall it becomes harder for someone to verify it for themselves, even though it might have been through a peer review process To deal with the issue of articles cited in both journal websites and repositories, Wikipedia introduced the option for dual references to be added to a Wikipedia citation, meaning that the repository version of a research paper can be included alongside one that might still be behind a subscription wall. Some institutions, such as Leeds have hosted their own Wikipedia Editathons to address a variety of issues, such as de-colonisation of Wikipedia which heavily favours white, male content, in addition to linking to open access materials. Wikipedia does promote the use of the OABOT tool that facilitates making links to the OA versions of publications. As part of our research we obtained data from to explore how much research across the three universities had been cited by Wikipedia. The data showed there were 6454 Wikipedia citations across the three institutions (Sheffield 2523, Leeds 2406, York 1525). We used an Unpaywall API to check the DOIs of all articles appearing in the sample to explore which of these articles were open access via the Gold publishing model and through our institutional repository available under the ‘Green’ route. The two tools we employed to explore this data, Unpaywall and, are largely automated, whereas research that is cited in Wikipedia is created manually. To validate our sample we carried out a manual, random check of 100 Wikipedia citations from each of the three institutional datasets to check for accuracy and confirm that each paper was attributed to that institution correctly. We also checked that the open access status given by Unpaywall was correct. The oldest publication that was available open access and cited in a Wikipedia entry was from 1910, whilst the oldest paywalled research article was published in 1922. The fact there is a paywalled journal article from 100 years ago is rather depressing in itself. It is noteworthy that publication data that is tracked in appears to go back to as far as 1666. We also looked at which disciplines received the most citations and found Biological Sciences and Medical and Health Sciences had by far the highest number of citations for each institution. Several disciplines returned similar results across the institutions, whilst others did much better than their fellow White Rose universities. Physical Sciences research at University of Sheffield received considerably more Wikipedia citations than Leeds or York. The University of Leeds Earth Sciences and Chemical Sciences research received much higher numbers of citations than the other two. York led the way in History and Archaeology compared to Sheffield and Leeds. Our sample indicated that around half of all academic citations on the platform are paywalled. This is a major flaw in the Wikipedia model. All three institutions performed similarly well in terms of open access coverage in Wikipedia. York did best with 56% of their references openly available compared to Sheffield with 54% and Leeds with 52%. Even though that highlights a majority of open links, it also shows there is still some way to go for a truly open resource. The data from also highlighted editing patterns with multiple Wikipedia entries edited by the same accounts. Sadly we do not know the source of these editors, but can only assume they are either academics or professionals working in that particular field or possibly citizen scientists with a keen interest in current research. Our study reveals there is still much work to be done in opening up research citations on Wikipedia. Differences in coverage across disciplines also likely reflect wider issues around the availability of open access. However, Wikipedia’s ethos of verifiability should extend to the accessibility of academic references. Our sample indicated that around half of all academic citations on the platform are paywalled. This is a major flaw in the Wikipedia model. Openly available published research helps support the development of Wikipedia. This in turn assists Wikipedia’s ultimate goal of access to transparent and evidence-based knowledge. It would also lower barriers to access research, which ultimately is good for academics and society. We appreciate that not everything is open for the rest of society and it might be some time before that happens. But, given Wikipedia’s global influence and stated mission, the research that underpins each entry should be as open and accessible as possible. To take full advantage of this it requires a greater understanding amongst academics and Wikipedians as to the importance of citing open access works over those behind a paywall. Image Credit: Everett Bartels via Unsplash. This post draws on the authors’ co-authored paper: Tattersall A, Sheppard N, Blake T, O’Neill K and Carroll C, Exploring open access coverage of Wikipedia-cited research across the White Rose Universities, published in Insights. Originally posted on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog

  • Time, Finances, Confidence, Knowledge – Research communicators should be attentive to the resource i

    Research communication is rarely thought of as an inequality, due to its seeming simplicity and low barriers to entry. You can set up a Twitter account in minutes, a Tweet takes even less time. However, as anyone who has tried to communicate research findings to broader audiences will know the complexity can quickly escalate. Promoting research as part of a modern communications campaign may now include producing, videos, podcasts, infographics and other design elements all communicated through different social and traditional media channels. More often than not, this requires professional skills and training, which is where research communicators come in. However, these people and their resources are finite, which leads to the question how should they be distributed? As Benjamin Franklin said: “There are three kinds of people: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those who move”. Whilst we should champion those who ‘move’, we should also be wary of a potential Matthew Effect, whereby those already effectively communicating their research accumulate further advantage over those who don’t. If we concede that there are some academics and research, that simply do not want to move, that leaves the possibility of reaching a significant group of researchers who don’t ‘move’ but are ‘movable’. In this regard, I suggest there are four factors that often limit engagement with research dissemination activities: Time, money, confidence and technical skills. Factors, which are of course interrelated and subject to wider inequalities in society and academia itself. Image Credit: Omid Roshan via Unsplash. Lack of time Academic life is accelerating, increasing demands on researchers to win research funding, write papers, as well as navigate the choppy waters of information governance, research ethics and Open Access publishing, often leaves further research communication a distant prospect. This unequal distribution of time within the academy was starkly highlighted during the COVID-19 lockdown, which both increased the demand for digital media engagement and reduced the time available to academics with caring responsibilities and especially women. If you are a part time researcher with no funds or support to engage in research communications, then you are at a disadvantage. Especially so in comparison to a large research project with a communications budget that is able to pay for bespoke content and to develop effective campaigns. You might choose to offset research communications to an in-house communications professional or private consultancy, but this brings us to the next inequality. Lack of finances Disseminating research costs money, especially for more complex outputs. As part of my own work, I have started to see an increasing number of successful research bids that factor in funds for dissemination activities. Whilst digital scholarship may once have had a vaguely indie garage start-up quality to it, it is now an established business. The increase in funding and recognition of these activities also points to a widening gap between those with the support to communicate their research and those without. If funds are forthcoming, there is the issue of who undertakes the work, is it carried out in-house, by third-party consultants, PhD volunteers? There are pros and cons, to all options, bringing with them as they do different skills, levels of subject specific expertise and unequal expectations. Lack of confidence Academia is synonymous with imposter syndrome, something that is even more acute when an academic is thrust in front of a camera to comment on a research story. Whilst not every academic will be on ‘the news’, increasingly social media and research communication is becoming an audio-visual medium. There is a tendency for star performers to dominate this space, but if the thought of appearing in a video causes anxiety, researchers should not be forced into appearing in it, neither should they be excluded from creating one. There are practical ways around this, asking other colleagues involved in the project to present the work citing your involvement. Video also does not have to include anyone at all, animations using tools like Videoscribe or Lumen5, are all possibilities. Perhaps of greater importance though, is building a research culture in which communication is valued rather than seen as a waste of time. If a movable academic’s first experiences of research communications are ad hoc or unfruitful, it can be a missed opportunity, especially if their research has the potential to be of interest to a wide or influential audience. Lack of knowledge For those researchers that move in terms of research communication, not knowing how to can be hard to understand. As I wrote for this blog in 2017, the inertia that is brought on by the fear of ever changing technologies, can be negated somewhat by the support of in-house research technologists. This is a role that transcends so much of the modern academic landscape, from an understanding of Open Research, metrics, technology and media communications. Knowledge of dissemination practices is important, but so is knowing how to access this knowledge, which requires time, resources and the confidence to recognise its potential value. How do we build equality in research communications? Tackling these inequalities depends to an extent on how a range of longstanding issues within academia can be resolved. Research communicators are also constrained within their own institutional contexts. However, this does not mean they should simply be ignored. The introduction of increased funding for communications in research grants, is not without problems, but it highlights a progressive trend towards outreach and communication. There is no one size fits all and any solution requires investment from funders, support from line managers and expertise from research communication professionals. Research communication activities such as podcasting, blogging, and social media are not as onerous as they might seem with the right skills and support. That small band of academics who do move and have built up a good online reputation for themselves and their work started small. With the right support, others can participate in their own research communication activities and help direct their own research impact over time. Enabling this to happen for a more diverse range of research and researchers should be the goal for research communicators. Image Credit: Omid Roshan via Unsplash. Post originally published on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog

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  • Scholarly Communications | Andytattersall

    Learn how to make an impact with your research communications How we carry out and communicate research is changing beyond recognition. Much of this change is driven by the web through social media, blogging, podcasting, video and other visual abstracts. The research world is also changing from the impact of Covid-19 to political change and Fake News. The focus, whether that be the media, stakeholders or the general public on academic outputs has never been greater. All of this has an incredible impact on research, whether you work in the arts and humanities or within pure science. Thankfully there is a myriad of tools and technologies available to undertake, communicate and evaluate research and create attention and potential pathways to impact. The growing number of communication platforms can be very overwhelming for academics and professional support staff. Not everyone has time to learn how to use them properly, never mind understand their opportunities and threats. I can very much help with that. ​ The Digital Academic We often hear that students are not prepared for this new digital world , but what about academics and those who support them? On the surface tools like Twitter might seem simple, but it depends on your audience and how you use it. Academics and students can fall foul of social media and traditional media when problems could be avoided with guidance and support. Ultimately communicating your research should be an opportunity, not a threat or barrier. Not every tool works for everyone, there is no ‘one size fits all’ and my workshops are tailored to the needs of the participants and their ability. This is where I can help ​ Who can benefit from my training Academics and departments who want to discover how best to disseminate and evaluate their findings across multiple platforms and networks and increase the impact of their research, as well as support their REF and impact statements. Library, information and other research support professionals who support academics in scholarly communications and research evaluation. PhD candidates and Masters level students to communicate their research findings and gain early attention for their work. About me I have several years of experience supporting and training academics, students, research support staff, library and information professionals. I have hands on practical skills in social media, research blogging, infographics, podcasts, video, animation creation and altmetrics among other areas. I can help you communicate your research and work better with the media and have a Honours Degree in Journalism and worked as a sub editor for The Press Association before undertaking a Masters degree in Information Management. These qualifications and well over a decade of innovation within academia have afforded me a wealth of expertise in the area of digital academia. You can read more about me and my work here. ​ Get in Touch

  • Services | Andy Tattersall

    Training courses - build your own Higher education is going through a period of change transforming it beyond recognition. The web, social media and new approaches to scholarly communications are driving that. Academics and research students have a wealth of opportunities to engage with the world beyond their offices and labs. There is much to be gained by immersing yourself into the world of digital academia. There are also the pitfalls and overload of platform choice as to how best navigate this brave new world. ​ To help this transition I offer a variety of bespoke training courses to suit your group or organisation's best needs. My training style is informal, engaging and interactive. Experience has taught me that learners are at their most receptive if they are in a relaxed and comfortable environment. I enjoy passing on knowledge and tools to ensure attendees take away as much practical skills as they can. ​ "My workshops are focused around empowering researchers and their professional support staff to help themselves and be much less reliant on others to deliver their message." Who can benefit from my workshops Library and information professionals within an academic environment Academics from early career researchers to those more established in their career Postgraduate Research Students Postgraduate Taught Students Professional staff involved in supporting academics in the area of scholarly communications and digital academia ​ Typical learning objectives Greater understanding of social media, how it can be effectively used within academia Use of creative, low cost, digital technologies to enhance self-directed eye catching research communications Development of a suit of tools and skills to help deliver effective, impactful research communication campaigns Understanding of how research communications fit within the new Open Research setting Below are examples of workshops I am able to deliver An introduction to scholarly communications and social media in the digital age. Using creative tools to enhance your research communications Build your own workshop I am able to offer training on any of the below if you wanted to build your own one day workshop. Twitter Blogging Altmetrics Social media Infographics Podcasting Reputation Management Scholarly communications Video and animation creation ​ I also offer workshops on beating digital disruption and writing productivity and have extensive experience in facilitating online and face to face writing retreats. The feedback from these sessions is always very positive. ​ The 'build your own workshop' is just like making your own takeaway pizza. I provide a base and the essential sauces (introduction to how academia is changing in a digital world), you chose the toppings. You can also suggest specific areas you may want to cover more deeply. ​ ​ Get in Touch

  • About Andy | Andy Tattersall

    @Andy_Tattersall I am an information professional by trade and have delivered teaching and training within academia, healthcare and the information and library field for well over a decade. I particularly teach, write and give talks on research communications, digital academia, information literacy, social media, altmetrics, technology, open research, web and information science. In my day job I am an Information Specialist at The School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) at the University of Sheffield. I received a Teaching Senate Award from The University of Sheffield’ for pioneering work on the first Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) at Sheffield. I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and in 2017 I was named one of Jisc’s Top 10 Social Media Superstars in Higher Educatio n. I am a member of the UKSG Education and Events Subcommittee and resided on the Library and Information Association Multi Media and Information Technology Committee for over a decade (and held position of Chair for two years). I regularly write on the topic of technology and research communications, mostly for the popular LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog , The Conversation and I edited a book on Altmetrics for Facet Publishing. which is aimed at researchers and librarians. I have also contributed to professional information and knowledge management website Jinfo. Get in Touch Follow © 2022 Andy Tattersall

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