Workshop Helps Grad Students Use Plain Language When Writing About Research

This post was first published on January 10, 2019 in YFile, York University’s News. It is reposted here with permission.

Innovation York’s Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) unit is a national and international leader. It has a suite of services that create connections between researchers and community and government organizations to support the development of research partnerships and the dissemination of research results. It has also created training tools for developing and implementing KMb strategies.

This productive and award-winning unit has turned its attention to a much-needed area: lay or plain language writing about research. This past fall, it launched a pilot project, a workshop, with Glendon Campus and the Faculties of Health and Science to train graduate students in this vital area.

“The interest and enthusiasm around this pilot, to date, has been very positive,” says Manager Michael Johnny. “Our goal is to expand this pilot to Faculties across campus, those interested in participating in 2019-2020,” he adds.

KMb unit provides vital learning experiences at York University

Michael Johnny

The KMb unit has an ambitious portfolio. “From partnerships with community organizations to grad student internships to assessment of research impact, this unit is a wonderful complement to the existing services provided by the Innovation York office,” says Johnny. As manager, he is responsible for all KMb operations and he provides leadership in brokering collaborative projects.

Training is an important part of this. “We provide learning opportunities for York researchers, staff, grad students and external partners to help make research relevant to community programs and policy development. We also deliver customized learning sessions to research teams to provide information, skills and experience in KMb,” Johnny explains.

Some examples of learning sessions that have been offered in the past include:

  • building a KMb strategy;
  • impact and accountability in KMb;
  • social media strategy building for research teams; and
  • hands-on training in WordPress and Twitter.

It started with research snapshots …

Since 2008, the KMb unit has provided campus-wide service support for the development of lay summaries of research findings, papers or outputs – called “research snapshots.” How was this undertaken? Student writers, trained in plain language writing, produced short, two-page summaries of peer-reviewed research, using a template developed in partnership with Research Impact Canada.

Ten years later, in 2018, the KMb unit took this idea to the next level and piloted a new project, a workshop on the development of research snapshots, working in partnership with three York entities: the Faculties of Health and Science, and Glendon Campus.

The objectives of this pilot project were:

  • to help grad students become highly qualified personnel;
  • to optimize KMb service for faculty members; and
  • to support the mobilization and dissemination of research in Faculties across campus.

Pilot launched last fall

The pilot project launched in November 2018. The Faculty of Health – specifically, the Department of Psychology – went first: 14 grad students attended a free, hands-on workshop on plain language writing and design principles. In early December 2018, the KMb unit next collaborated with the Faculty of Science, where over 20 grad students participated in the workshop.

How did it work? The participating students summarized research undertaken and provided by their supervisors or others in their department; they created research snapshots. In return, the KMb unit provided the student a stipend for their work.

The pilot continues in 2019. Early in the new year, the KMb unit will offer the workshop to grad students at Glendon. This will complete the initial pilot.

Benefits for graduate students and Faculties

The advantages for students are evident: they will receive valuable skills that will complement their scholarly training, as well as modest payment for their contributions.

The benefits for Faculties and, more broadly speaking, for York University are also clear: “Faculties across campus will have more control over the development of research snapshots, allowing them greater capacity to support their own KMb objectives,” says Johnny. “Ultimately, this pilot can help York expand its leadership in KMb in Canada,” he adds.

The research snapshot template used in this pilot has been used by nine partner organizations. Collectively, they have developed over 2,000 research summaries in Canada. The KMb unit alone has over 400 summaries. These are stored in the York Library in an Open Access “D Space” repository.

To learn more about Innovation York, visit the website. For more on the KMb unit, visit the website.

To learn more about Research & Innovation at York, follow us at @YUResearch, watch the York Research Impact Story and see the snapshot infographic.

By Megan Mueller, senior manager, research communications, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, York University,