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Communicating to non-specialist audiences

Find out more about the purpose of public communication.
A newspaper with a cup of tea sat on top of it. Newspapers are a good example of a public communicaiton.
© University of Hull

As the previous activity showed, there is a growing pressure to ensure academic research is open and accessible to the public. Communicating to the public – as a non-specialist audience can be challenging as it requires a very different style to that of traditional academic discourse. For this reason, this article will focus on public communication, which can be defined as any writing or rich media designed for a public audience.

Public communications are created to bring academic research and knowledge to the public, and are usually based around a specific topic, or conveying an important message. Your format will depend on your target audience, where you want your work to be published, and how you wish it to be presented. This will also affect the style, structure and your use of language. Public communications must be accessible and readable for a wide audience and written in a clear and concise way, making academic research more understandable. You may be an ace at writing essays reports or articles, but to write for the public you’ll need to learn new techniques, as the formats used for public communications will differ from the academic writing you’re used to.

Academic Writing vs. Public Communications

Before jumping into your writing, you need to know the differences and similarities between academic writing and public communications.

  • Use more informal language depending on the format (some will be formal) but all must have a professional tone.
  • Vary in structure and formats: blogs, wikis, articles etc.
  • Can have more visual elements, this doesn’t only include images.
  • Not only showcase your knowledge but inform and educate.
  • Draw in the audience with literary devices such as, short, snappy sentences/paragraphs and engaging punctuation.
  • Use less jargon to help readers understand the topic/message easily.
  • Use similes and metaphors to help readers visualise the writer’s points, as well as images.
  • Still need references that are cited correctly to back up your points and make your work more credible.
  • Still should use a professional tone signifying that it has been written by an academic.
© University of Hull
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