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Presenting your work, discussed in Section 13.2 "Presenting Your Research", is one way of disseminating your research findings. In this section, we’ll focus on disseminating the written results of your research. DisseminationA process of careful planning, thought, and consideration of target audiences followed by communication with those audiences. refers to “a planned process that involves consideration of target audiences and the settings in which research findings are to be received and, where appropriate, communicating and interacting with wider policy and…service audiences in ways that will facilitate research uptake in decision-making processes and practice” (Wilson, Petticrew, Calnan, & Natareth, 2010, p. 91).Wilson, P. M., Petticrew, M., Calnan, M. W., & Natareth, I. (2010). Disseminating research findings: What should researchers do? A systematic scoping review of conceptual frameworks. Implementation Science, 5, 91. In other words, dissemination of research findings involves careful planning, thought, consideration of target audiences, and communication with those audiences. Writing up results from your research and having others take notice are two entirely different propositions. In fact, the general rule of thumb is that people will not take notice unless you help and encourage them to do so. To paraphrase the classic line from the film Field of Dreams, just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come.
Disseminating your findings successfully requires determining who your audience is, where your audience is, and how to reach them. When considering who your audience is, think about who is likely to take interest in your work. Your audience might include those who do not express enthusiastic interest but might nevertheless benefit from an awareness of your research. Your research participants and those who share some characteristics in common with your participants are likely to have some interest in what you’ve discovered in the course of your research. Other scholars who study similar topics are another obvious audience for your work. Perhaps there are policymakers who should take note of your work. Organizations that do work in an area related to the topic of your research are another possibility. Finally, any and all inquisitive and engaged members of the public represent a possible audience for your work.
Where your audience is should be fairly obvious once you’ve determined who you’d like your audience to be. You know where your research participants are because you’ve studied them. You can find interested scholars on your campus (e.g., perhaps you could offer to present your findings at some campus event), at professional conferences, and via publications such as professional organizations’ newsletters (an often-overlooked source for sharing findings in brief form) and scholarly journals. Policymakers include your state and federal representatives who, at least in theory, should be available to hear a constituent speak on matters of policy interest. Perhaps you’re already aware of organizations that do work in an area related to your research topic, but if not, a simple web search should help you identify possible organizational audiences for your work. Disseminating your findings to the public more generally could take any number of forms: a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, a blog, or even a post or two on your Facebook wall.
Finally, determining how to reach your audiences will vary according to which audience you wish to reach. Your strategy should be determined by the norms of the audience. For example, scholarly journals provide author submission instructions that clearly define requirements for anyone wishing to disseminate their work via a particular journal. The same is true for newspaper editorials; check your newspaper’s website for details about how to format and submit letters to the editor. If you wish to reach out to your political representatives, a call to their offices or, again, a simple web search should tell you how to do that.
Whether you act on all these suggestions is ultimately your decision. But if you’ve conducted high-quality research and you have findings that are likely to be of interest to any constituents besides yourself, I would argue that it is your duty as a scholar and a sociologist to share those findings. In sum, disseminating findings involves the following three steps: