How to Capture the Attention of Readers with Your Research Story
Writers of fiction are well aware of the importance of catching their readers’ attention on the very first page and holding it close indeed until the very last. Most authors of academic and scientific prose, however, have been encouraged to achieve a formal scholarly style that presents the content of a book or article in an orderly and objective fashion. This is entirely appropriate for advanced research, of course, and such a logical style is almost always necessary to achieve publication and be taken seriously by readers, yet it does not preclude writing in an engaging manner. Some might say that efforts to please the audience of scholarly writing is completely unnecessary, and it is true that sophisticated and well-informed readers who are interested in your work will be unlikely to need further encouragement, but the level of competition faced by any text in today’s marketplace justifies the adoption of a strategy that can successfully gain a wider audience for your research without compromising the high quality of your scholarship.
Although academics and scientists may not always think of their work in such terms, there is a story behind every research project, whether short and simple or long and complicated, and emphasising the story of your research as you write up your results will help you encourage interest among your readers. The basic structure of a scientific paper, with its sections dedicated to introductory or background material, methodology, findings and conclusions along with implications and recommendations, already lays the groundwork for this story, but the lessons of creative writing can be applied within this larger structure. The opening of individual sections can, for instance, grip the reader’s attention by highlighting the immensity of the problem you are tackling, the many people affected and the ethical or theoretical difficulties involved. The thread of your research story can be woven through the different sections, giving your paper a plot of sorts, creating suspense as the process advances and rendering the results, expected or otherwise, climactic. Significant implications and thoughtful recommendations can elaborate and continue the story, inviting other researchers to pick up the thread of a fascinating line of research.
Remember as you write that concrete language is generally far more effective than abstract terminology. The right verb or noun is far better than one that sort of works but requires adverbs or adjectives to make it fit the context perfectly, and if this rule is followed whenever possible, those adverbs and adjectives that are absolutely necessary will prove more definitive. Abstract and specialised terminology cannot be avoided in all cases, of course, and at times it is central to the research reported, but if such language is necessary, using it in meaningful and accurate ways and defining or explaining anything potentially confusing will ensure that you do not lose the interest of your readers. The detailed, complex and repetitive nature of certain aspects of academic and scientific writing means that keeping readers interested at all times can be a challenge, but it could be said that challenges render success all the more rewarding.