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The Why: Explaining the significance of your research

In the first four articles of this series, we examined The What: Defining a research project, The Where: Constructing an effective writing environment, The When: Setting realistic timeframes for your research, and The Who: Finding key sources in the existing literature. In this article, we will explore the fifth, and final, W of academic writing, The Why: Explaining the significance of your research.

Q1: When considering the significance of your research, what is the general contribution you make?

According to the Unite for Sight online module titled “The Importance of Research”:

“The purpose of research is to inform action. Thus, your study should seek to contextualize its findings within the larger body of research. Research must always be of high quality in order to produce knowledge that is applicable outside of the research setting. Furthermore, the results of your study may have implications for policy and future project implementation.”

In response to this TweetChat question, Twitter user @aemidr shared that the “dissemination of the research outcomes” is their contribution. Petra Boynton expressed a contribution of “easy to follow resources other people can use to help improve their health/wellbeing”.

Eric Schmieder said, “In general, I try to expand the application of technology to improve the efficiency of business processes through my research and personal use and development of technology solutions.” While Janet Salmons offered the response, “I am a metaresearcher, that is, I research emerging qualitative methods & write about them. I hope contribution helps student & experienced researchers try new approaches.”

Despite the different contributions each of these participants noted as the significance of their individual research efforts, there is a significance to each. In addition to the importance stated through the above examples, Leann Zarah offered 7 Reasons Why Research Is Important, as follows:

  1. A Tool for Building Knowledge and for Facilitating Learning
  2. Means to Understand Various Issues and Increase Public Awareness
  3. An Aid to Business Success
  4. A Way to Prove Lies and to Support Truths
  5. Means to Find, Gauge, and Seize Opportunities
  6. A Seed to Love Reading, Writing, Analyzing, and Sharing Valuable Information
  7. Nourishment and Exercise for the Mind

Q1a: What is the specific significance of your research to yourself or other individuals?

The first of “3 Important Things to Consider When Selecting Your Research Topic”, as written by Stephen Fiedler is to “choose something that interests you”. By doing so, you are more likely to stay motivated and persevere through inevitable challenges.

As mentioned earlier, for Salmons her interests lie in emerging methods and new approaches to research. As Salmons pointed out in the TweetChat, “Conventional methods may not be adequate in a globally-connected world – using online methods expands potential participation.”

For @aemidr, “specific significance of my research is on health and safety from the environment and lifestyle”. In contrast, Schmieder said “my ongoing research allows me to be a better educator, to be more efficient in my own business practices, and to feel comfortable engaging with new technology”.

Regardless of discipline, a personal statement can help identify for yourself and others your suitability for specific research. Some things to include in the statement are:

  • Your reasons for choosing your topic of research
  • The aspects of your topic of research that interest you most
  • Any work experience, placement or voluntary work you have undertaken, particularly if it is relevant to your subject. Include the skills and abilities you have gained from these activities
  • How your choice of research fits in with your future career plans

Q2: Why is it important to communicate the value of your research?

According to Salmons, “If you research and no one knows about it or can use what you discover, it is just an intellectual exercise. If we want the public to support & fund research, we must show why it’s important!” She has written for the SAGE MethodSpace blog on the subject Write with Purpose, Publish for Impact building a collection of articles from both the MethodSpace blog and TAA’s blog, Abstract.

Peter J. Stogios shares with us benefits to both the scientist and the public in his article, “Why Sharing Your Research with the Public is as Necessary as Doing the Research Itself”. Unsure where to start? Stogios states, “There are many ways scientists can communicate more directly with the public. These include writing a personal blog, updating their lab’s or personal website to be less technical and more accessible to non-scientists, popular science forums and message boards, and engaging with your institution’s research communication office. Most organizations publish newsletters or create websites showcasing the work being done, and act as intermediaries between the researchers and the media. Scientists can and should interact more with these communicators.”

Schmieder stated during the TweetChat that the importance of communicating the value of your research is “primarily to help others understand why you do what you do, but also for funding purposes, application of your results by others, and increased personal value and validation”.

In her article, “Explaining Your Research to the Public: Why It Matters, How to Do It!”, Sharon Page-Medrich conveys the importance, stating “UC Berkeley’s 30,000+ undergraduate and 11,000+ graduate students generate or contribute to diverse research in the natural and physical sciences, social sciences and humanities, and many professional fields. Such research and its applications are fundamental to saving lives, restoring healthy environments, making art and preserving culture, and raising standards of living. Yet the average person-in-the-street may not see the connection between students’ investigations and these larger outcomes.”

Q2a: To whom is it most difficult to explain that value?

Although important, it’s not always easy to share our research efforts with others. Erin Bedford sets the scene as she tells us “How to (Not) Talk about Your Research”. “It’s happened to the best of us. First, the question: ‘so, what is your research on?’ Then, the blank stare as you try to explain. And finally, the uninterested but polite nod and smile.”

Schmieder acknowledges that these polite people who care enough to ask, but often are the hardest to explain things to are “family and friends who don’t share the same interests or understanding of the subject matter.” It’s not that they don’t care about the efforts, it’s that the level to which a researcher’s investment and understanding is different from those asking about their work.

When faced with less-than-supportive reactions from friends, Noelle Sterne shares some ways to retain your perspective and friendship in her TAA blog article, “Friends – How to deal with their negative responses to your academic projects”.

Q3: What methods have you used to explain your research to others (both inside and outside of your discipline)?

Schmieder stated, “I have done webinars, professional development seminars, blog articles, and online courses” in an effort to communicate research to others. The Edinburg Napier University LibGuides guide to Sharing Your Research includes some of these in their list of resources as well adding considerations of online presence, saving time / online efficiency, copyright, and compliance to the discussion.

Michaela Panter states in her article, “Sharing Your Findings with a General Audience”, that “tips and guidelines for conveying your research to a general audience are increasingly widespread, yet scientists remain wary of doing so.” She notes, however, that “effectively sharing your research with a general audience can positively affect funding for your work” and “engaging the general public can further the impact of your research”.

If these are affects you desire, consider CES’s “Six ways to share your research findings”, as follows:

  1. Know your audience and define your goal
  2. Collaborate with others
  3. Make a plan
  4. Embrace plain language writing
  5. Layer and link, and
  6. Evaluate your work

Q4: What are some places you can share your research and its significance beyond your writing?

Beyond traditional journal article publication efforts, there are many opportunities to share your research with a larger community. Schmieder listed several options during the TweetChat event, specifically, “conference presentations, social media, blogs, professional networks and organizations, podcasts, and online courses”.

Elsevier’s resource, “Sharing and promoting your article” provides advice on sharing your article in the following ten places:

  1. At a conference
  2. For classroom teaching purposes
  3. For grant applications
  4. With my colleagues
  5. On a preprint server
  6. On my personal blog or website
  7. On my institutional repository
  8. On a subject repository (or other non-commercial repository)
  9. On Scholarly Communication Network (SCN), such as Mendeley or Scholar Universe
  10. Social Media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter

Nature Publishing Group’s “tips for promoting your research” include nine ways to get started:

  1. Share your work with your social networks
  2. Update your professional profile
  3. Utilize research-sharing platforms
  4. Create a Google Scholar profile – or review and enhance your existing one
  5. Highlight key and topical points in a blog post
  6. YouTube
  7. Make your research outputs shareable and discoverable
  8. Register for a unique ORCID author identifier
  9. Encourage readership within your institution

Finally, Sheffield Solutions produced a top ten list of actions you can take to help share and disseminate your work more widely online, as follows:

  1. Create an ORCID ID
  2. Upload to Sheffield’s MyPublications system
  3. Make your work Open Access
  4. Get a DOI
  5. Create a Google Scholar profile
  6. Join an academic social network
  7. Connect through Twitter
  8. Blog about your research
  9. Upload to Slideshare or ORDA
  10. Track your research

Q5: How is the significance of your study conveyed in your writing efforts?

Schmieder stated, “Significance is conveyed through the introduction, the structure of the study, and the implications for further research sections of articles”. According to The Writing Center at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “A thesis statement tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion”.

In their online Tips & Tools resource on Thesis Statements, they share the following six questions to ask to help determine if your thesis is strong:

  • Do I answer the question?
  • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose?
  • Is my thesis statement specific enough?
  • Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test?
  • Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering?
  • Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test?

Some journals, such as Elsevier’s Acta Biomaterialia, now require a statement of significance with manuscript submissions. According to the announcement linked above, “these statements will address the novelty aspect and the significance of the work with respect to the existing literature and more generally to the society.” and “by highlighting the scientific merit of your research, these statements will help make your work more visible to our readership.”

Q5a: How does the significance influence the structure of your writing?

According to Jeff Hume-Pratuch in the Academic Coaching & Writing (ACW) article, “Using APA Style in Academic Writing: Precision and Clarity”, “The need for precision and clarity of expression is one of the distinguishing marks of academic writing.” As a result, Hume-Pratuch advises that you “choose your words wisely so that they do not come between your idea and the audience.” To do so, he suggests avoiding ambiguous expressions, approximate language, and euphemisms and jargon in your writing.

Schmieder shared in the TweetChat that “the impact of the writing is affected by the target audience for the research and can influence word choice, organization of ideas, and elements included in the narrative”.

Discussing the organization of ideas, Patrick A. Regoniel offers “Two Tips in Writing the Significance of the Study” claiming that by referring to the statement of the problem and writing from general to specific contribution, you can “prevent your mind from wandering wildly or aimlessly as you explore the significance of your study”.

Q6: What are some ways you can improve your ability to explain your research to others?

For both Schmieder and Salmons, practice is key. Schmieder suggested, “Practice simplifying the concepts. Focus on why rather than what. Share research in areas where they are active and comfortable”. Salmons added, “answer ‘so what’ and ‘who cares’ questions. Practice creating a sentence. For my study of the collaborative process: ‘Learning to collaborate is important for team success in professional life’ works better than ‘a phenomenological study of instructors’ perceptions’”.

In a guest blog post for Scientific American titled “Effective Communication, Better Science”, Mónica I. Feliú-Mójer claimed “to be a successful scientist, you must be an effective communicator.” In support of the goal of being an effective communicator, a list of training opportunities and other resources are included in the article.

Along the same lines, The University of Melbourne shared the following list of resources, workshops, and programs in their online resource on academic writing and communication skills:

  • Speaking and Presenting: Resources for presenting your research, using PowerPoint to your advantage, presenting at conferences and helpful videos on presenting effectively
  • Research Impact Library Advisory Service (RILAS): Helps you to determine the impact of your publications and other research outputs for academic promotions and grant applications
  • Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT): Research communication competition that requires you to deliver a compelling oration on your thesis topic and its significance in just three minutes or less.
  • Visualise your Thesis Competition: A dynamic and engaging audio-visual “elevator pitch” (e-Poster) to communicate your research to a broad non-specialist audience in 60 seconds.

As we complete this series exploration of the five W’s of academic writing, we hope that you are adequately prepared to apply them to your own research efforts of defining a research project, constructing an effective writing environment, setting realistic timeframes for your research, finding key sources in the existing literature, and last, but not least, explaining the significance of your research.