In academia, we are used to presenting information in a very specific order. We have been trained to start it off with the context and the background, so the other person understands where our research question comes from. Then we explain our method, so we can prove that the way we went about answering our question makes sense. And only after that, we will dive into our results and what we learnt from our research… and don’t forget to add in a few extra questions and how the topic can be further addressed in the future. This order is a rule that is very rarely broken.
It doesn’t matter if we are writing an article for a journal or presenting at a conference. We are so used to it that we even use this same formula when we are talking about our research to another scholar in a coffee shop.
While this structure is appropriate in academia, this is not how the public processes information.
This is what we call in journalism “burying the lead”.
In journalism, the opening paragraph is called the lead. It is considered by some the most important part of a news story. The lead should give the audience the most important information of the news story. Journalists aim to make the lead concise and clear, while still keeping the readers’ interest.
How does this translate to research? If you want to grab someone’s attention, you need to lead with the most important information. If we are talking about research, this usually means your findings.
Your findings should be your lead.
Your findings are what you want people to learn from reading your blog post or watching your YouTube video. Your findings are the one thing you want people to pay attention to. Your findings are what you want your audience to connect with.
The public and the media want to hear the key findings first. This will help them decide if they want to engage with you in the first place. After that, explain why the findings matter, which is where some context might be relevant. Any supporting information should come last, but keep in mind that the nitty-gritty of your methodology probably doesn’t matter to them, so you might want to save that for your academic papers.
So when you are writing for SciComm, go ahead: start with your findings. Break the rules of academic writing.