The Art of Disseminating Research

An image depicting a book open on a laptop in the research archive in a library.

By Sarah Alsager, President

Far too often research findings get lost in translation when communicating results to those who are not familiar with scientific jargon. A few words and phrases that highlight the divide include “statistically significant,” “meta-analysis,” “technical review,” and “observational data.”

To those in the scientific community, these words and phrases have deep and distinct meaning. To the rest of the world, they are confusing and sometimes off putting.

This blog has previously addressed the importance of conducting scientific research when marketing the health and nutrition of foods, so I won’t go into great detail about that, but I will share some best practices for communicating those research findings:

— Establish strong relationships with experts.
As communicators, we are only as strong as our information allows us to be. By tapping into researchers and scientific experts (PhDs, ideally) we can be confident that we aren’t understating (or exaggerating) the scientific data. In a world of clickbait and pseudo-science, it has never been more important to lean on allies who can review and discern the meaning of scientific research.

— Add clarity, but don’t oversimplify.
In my opinion, this is probably the hardest one. As communicators, we want to share definitive conclusions and be as clear as possible. Our goal is to distill dozens of pages of information into digestible bites of information. But when it comes to scientific research and health outcomes, there are rarely definitive conclusions (e.g., soyfoods protect against breast cancer) and it’s important to provide appropriate context. To stay true to the science, we use phrases like “may lower cholesterol” and “possibly decreases cancer risk.” This sometimes feels like we’re weakening the message, but on the contrary, it is an accurate account of what the data indicates. We aim for a careful balance between communicating concisely and oversimplifying.

— Target an informed audience.
One way we have been successful in disseminating research is by targeting an audience that is educated and interested in health and nutrition topics – health professionals. Health professionals are a key, powerful audience when it comes to health and nutrition decisions. Registered dietitian nutritionists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, chiropractors, and others have a strong impact on the decisions of those whom they advise (patients, clients, etc.). By aiming our messages to this informed and influential audience, we can ensure that the information is being appropriately received and shared with others.

Communicating science can seem overwhelming, but when done appropriately, it can be extremely effective. These are some of our top tips for disseminating research findings. What would you add?