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WV Press Convention Review: Available research resources can help transform a good article into a memorable one

By Matt Young, WV Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Accurate research can make all the difference in the world to a reporter, and the ability to make efficient use of available research resources can help transform a good article into a memorable one.

On Aug. 6, a panel of industry experts – led by WVU Vice President of Research Fred King – delivered an interactive presentation to those in attendance at the 2022 WV Press Convention, designed to assist reporters in honing their research skills. 

See presentation here.

“Everything we do in terms of research is really a collaboration,” King began. “Not only within WVU in Morgantown, but also with our partners across the state and across the nation.”

King explained that WVU works closely with other state academic institutions, such as Marshall University and West Virginia Wesleyan, as well as industry-leading organizations like the Greenbank Observatory and Toyota. 

“When it comes to the research itself, a primary sponsor of university research in the United States is the federal government through its various agencies,” King noted. “Principle for us is the NIH (National Institute of Health), DOE (Department of Energy), NASA, the Department of Agriculture, and then the National Science Foundation.”

“We employ about 1,800 people in the research enterprise at the university,” King added.

At the conclusion of King’s portion of the presentation, WVU Executive Director of Communications April Kaull and Director of Research Communications Jake Stump then provided what they described as a “more tactical approach” to research-resource utilization.   

“We are always interested in hearing more from you about what you’re interested in, what your audiences are interested in, and what we can do to help connect you, your reporters, and your staff to the topics and people that will have the greatest impact.” Kaull began. “That’s our job – we are here to help” 

Stump then took a few moments to explain “the goals of good research.”

“Communicated-research in science is a different beast when it comes to writing and reporting,” Stump told those in attendance. “If you’re writing about the house fire that happened down the street, or the new signee for the WVU football team – people want to read about that. But how do you get readers interested in science and research that happens at the university?”

Stump said that a primary “goal of good research” is to overcome the “perceived disconnect between academia and research with the general population.” 

“One of the goals that we strive for is to make the scientists more relatable and approachable,” Stump said. “Research communication is not academic or technical communication, despite what some faculty members may want you to believe.”

Stump explained that research communications is “translating science,” and not “dumbing it down, which is another thing that faculty members are afraid that we’re doing. Going back to relevance to everyday life – it has to tell a good story and be accurate.”

“One of the questions that we ask is who is it for,” Kaull added. “It’s the same question that you ask when you’re developing a story. Who is the audience for this? Who is going to care about this?”

“What we come back to is that research communication doesn’t have to be academic or technical communication,” Kaull continued. “It is sharing information on the things that have an effect on people in their everyday lives in some way. It might not be a direct impact, but it probably is an impact nonetheless.”

Kaull said that “hunting down jargon and killing it where it lives” is an essential step in meeting this goal. 

“If I take my car to a mechanic, I want them to explain the problem to me in a way that I’m going to understand it,” Kaull said. “They live in the world of being a mechanic 24 hours a day, seven-days a week. I expect them to be an expert in fixing my vehicle. Same with a brain surgeon… same with someone who studies astrophysics. I want them to talk to me in my world.”

“You’re an expert in your area,” Kaull added. “What you need to do is recognize that they (readers) don’t live in your world everyday. So you need to talk to them in their language.”

Kaull concluded by saying, “Nine times out of 10, the faculty get it. That’s one of the reasons why, if you’re looking to talk with a faculty member about research in particular, we really ask that you start with our office.”

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