Bridge the gap

XIII.6 November + December 2006
Page: 60
Digital Citation

Transitioning to the hallway talk

Carolyn Gale

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The Elevator Talk (<interactions> XIII.3, May-June 2006) is a brief abstract that describes your research and why it's important. After several rounds of practice, most researchers can develop an Elevator Talk that is understandable to a lay audience. However, if someone asks a researcher to go into any more detail, I have found that prior problems of clarity and jargon rear their ugly heads. Here are some tips for further discussing your research past the 30-second stage.

Continue to resist rewriting a paper designed for another audience. Academic writing stresses the statement of background information first, then methodology, data analysis, and finally results. Writing for a practitioner audience turns this formula upside down: State your results first, and fill in background information as necessary. While methodology is least important in this style of writing, it helps to discuss how you came up with a theory or developed a prototype. Using action words will help readers paint in their minds the proverbial picture of what you do.

Keep your statement focused by describing one main piece of research. Do not describe ancillary or related projects, give a history of previous projects, or provide detailed background information about your field. For starters, you don't have the space! However, if your research consists of multiple projects, that's fine—just state that fact clearly up front. If you start talking about one project, and then another, and yet another—all without any context—readers will become confused.

Set the context for your research by indicating how it fits into your subdiscipline. This is very important to help the reader understand where your work is coming from. But keep this brief! Limit your background-information discussion to a maximum of two or three sentences.

Define the key question(s) you are trying to answer in your work, and why such questions are important for your field. Spend more time on the latter—assume your reader will always be thinking, "What's in it for me?"

Your conclusion should discuss new insights and outcomes anticipated as a result of your work. However, if you have not clearly set the context for your research at the start, readers might think that you are continuing to describe your research. Avoid this confusion by being very clear that you are discussing potential applications and outcomes from your work.

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Carolyn Gale
Stanford University

About the Author:

Carolyn Gale has more affiliations than she can keep track of, but has general interests in learner-centered design and science communication. She teaches communication courses as a visiting scholar at Stanford University, co-owns a graphic design firm, and is cofounder of a global network of research communication consultants.

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©2006 ACM  1072-5220/06/1100  $5.00

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