Why You Should Publish Your Research in Multiple Formats

Were you to deliberately select for the most homogenous focus group audience imaginable, you will still find a lot of diversity in lived experience, opinion, thought, and many other little nuances. Every audience is diverse in diverse ways.

With that in mind, the argument for diversifying the channels of information communication starts to become self-evident, if we think about it for a couple of minutes. After all, we all have our preferred learning methods, our preferred media, our preferred stories. To give you the TL;DR of it: the more formats we use to share information, the more people will want to engage with that information.

But we can also look beyond that and start asking questions about why the information needs to be communicated, to whom, and for what impact, as well as what social impact we want to have that go beyond those questions, something I’ll get to later.

In the case of reports and research papers, information needs to be delivered to the right people in a way that ensures that the information in question has as wide-reaching impact as possible. On the other hand, considering the number of hours researchers put into collating a report or paper, the least we can do is ensure the value created is shared as widely as possible. One such equitable solution would be that funding is made available for researchers to dedicate time to public involvement, something a canvassing of a small sample of researchers by Islam et al. revealed.

The last thing we want is for the information to become a fossilised PDF sitting in the To-Read piles of a limited mailing list of experts in the field.

The more formats we use to share information, the more accessible that information becomes. Not just in the number of people who would be willing to look at the differently-presented data, but also for people who are usually not considered as audiences who would be interested in specific data or knowledge. Research about a particular geographical area is useless if it is not presented in the languages of that area. A well-written PDF report becomes useless for someone whose text-to-speech software cannot read PDFs. And that is but two simple examples that come to mind. By building a multiple format output consideration into a report from the very beginning, not only are we building accessible provision, we are also increasing the reach of our output in the first place.

We have all, in our academic, professional and personal experiences, encountered a document, website, piece of information, toolkit or resource that we either need or would love to take a look at, only to be immediately put off by the format: the font may be too small, the format is not right for our accessibility needs; the visual breakdown of information not clear, my eyes are tired from looking at the computer all day, the words used are beyond our current vocabulary, and is that a WordArt picture used as an illustration? No, no, no, no. Click X. I have better things to do. I’ll read it one day when I have half an hour to kill while stuck in traffic. Or, you know, forget about it completely.

We could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea: multiple formats are a minimum best practice required to truly share research. But if you didn’t have much time to read through it all, here’s the TL;DR, plus some extras:

Benefits to presenting audiences with information in different formats:

  • You account for different levels of linguistic proficiency
  • People with different learning styles have different options to work with    
  • Having different formats provides flexibility from when a user is most likely to be able to listen/read/look at the information
  • Different formats with accessible design in mind could account for unexpected engagement settings (such as bright day reading or noisy environment listening) and different health conditions (such as tired eyes, audio overstimulation)
  • Accessible-friendly content ranks higher in search engines, helping digital information to be more easily found    
  • By increasing interest from a wider audience, the information can have wider impact
  • Your brand, organisation or business would become known for built-in     accessibility and flexibility, cementing your place in your chosen market    
  • You invite a more diverse audience to engage with your content, research and information, building a healthier environment for debate and discussion
  • In the case of service providers, more clients or customers could comfortably access your services, products or information

With all of that in mind, I hope that this little foray explains why using a variety of visual formats may improve the chances of your report going places.