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Flip the academic script to engage your audience

If you have ever read (or written) a scientific or technical paper, you will be familiar with the structure.

Each paper consists of an Introduction, followed by the Method, Results and Discussion. There are clear guidelines about the types of information that are presented in each section, and these are drilled into students and academics alike.

That structure is diligently upheld by examiners and reviewers, and when you are an academic, it is easy to forget there are other ways to communicate in the written form.

A very simplified overview of the focus and content for each of these sections is as follows:

WHY: Introduction

In the Introduction, your job is to summarise and review the existing literature about your topic. This helps you to place your study in context and identify the gaps to demonstrate why your study is relevant, important and timely. You also outline your hypothesis (what you think will happen), which is based on the literature you have reviewed.

HOW: Method

The Method includes a description of what you did and how you did it. You need to provide sufficient details that somebody else could replicate your study.

WHAT: Results

In the Results, you describe what happened when you did what you did and report (but don’t interpret) the findings of your analyses.

SO WHAT: Discussion

In the Discussion, you summarise and interpret your results, explain what they mean in the context of the literature you reviewed in the Introduction, and discuss the implications of your findings for the bigger picture.

This structure is great – for academia!

This structure is logical and thorough, and ensures the rationale, hypothesis, methodology, findings and implications of the study are communicated transparently.

In this way, the scientific model of testing, measuring, evaluating, and reiterating can be used effectively to build a credible knowledge base.

I have no arguments with this structure when its purpose is academic or technical communication.

So, what’s the problem?

When academics and professionals with technical and corporate backgrounds become entrepreneurs, this framework creates a major barrier between them and their intended audience.

Whether we realise it or not, we frontload our communication with information that our new audience couldn’t care less about.

In business, your intended audience is NOT other researchers or academics who may wish to replicate your study. Nor is it examiners or reviewers who are assessing your ability to conduct and report research.

Rather, your audience is your prospective clients, and, quite frankly, they are predominantly interested in what you can do for them.

This requires a very different style of writing, and it can be difficult to transition from the structure of academic and technical writing to the more conversational structure of copywriting.

Bridge the gap – start with what you know

So, as a way of bridging the gap between these styles, you can start with what you know, and give it a bit of a twist.

Rather than just “free writing” (also known as “throwing spaghetti at the wall” or the “hit and hope method”), you can take each of the sections of the scientific paper and put an entrepreneurial spin on them.

With a creative interpretation of the content requirements for each of the sections, and a minor restructure, you can use your scientific framework to create engaging marketing collateral.

When writing for your business, try this structure:

SO WHAT: Discussion

Describe how the challenge you can assist with impacts your prospective clients in the context of the rest of their life (i.e., their big picture). This is also how you show them that you “get them”, because you can speak to not only their specific challenge, but how it impacts them in a more general way.

WHY: Introduction

Explain why your solution is going to fill the gap for them and provide them with the transformation they are seeking. You may describe the other solutions available in your market, and identify the gaps (i.e., why they don’t work).

WHAT: Results

Describe what they can expect to achieve in their work with you. This could include client testimonials or a description of the results you achieve.

HOW: Method

Last, and definitely least (in your client’s estimation), is an explanation of how you do what you do. As academics, we are trained to focus on the methodology in painstaking detail, because “replicability” is a core foundation of the scientific method.

In business, this is the least interesting component of your messaging. Only those who are interested in working with you are going to be interested in how you achieve your results, so save that until the end.

With practise, you will get more confident with writing for your new audience. In the meantime, using this adaptation of the scientific framework can serve as your training wheels which enable you to transition from the highly impersonal style of academia to the highly conversational style of entrepreneurship.

Here’s to writing fearlessly,

xx Kate

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