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Stories, Shocks, and Big Bangs: How to make one’s research interesting?

The title of my PhD dissertation is “The impact of public value and value creation logics on a performance-generating operating culture in the infrastructure sector”.

Not very media sexy, or what do you think? Even to myself, if I read that title somewhere, I would not open the covers of the book or click to read the story.

So how to make one’s research interesting not just to other researchers and the science world but to a wider audience of industry experts and the society in general?

I have summarized the lessons learned into three points as I picked up that a good story entails maximum of three central issues one wants to cover.

The three points I propose to making research interesting are:

1) Create a story

2) Utilize a shock element

3) Build a Big Bang

What do I mean by these pointers?

First, stories sell, and they build brands. As humans we have a need to arrange and recount our experiences of the world and we do it through stories. Stories allow us to create order out of our chaotic and otherwise meaningless experience of our senses. (Sacks, 2012). So, by creating stories, we make sense of the world and give meanings to our experiences and the world around us.

Through stories of our research, we can create order and give meanings to other people, too. In my own research the story should be rooted in the everyday use of infrastructure like roads, bridges, electricity, water, traffic etc. and what would happen in our society if those didn’t exist or were in a very bad shape.

Secondly, utilizing the ‘shock element’ aims at hooking the reader or the audience. What do I mean by the shock element? According to Philip Kotler (2014) we gather as much as 400 billion bits of information a second. Since very little is as important to an organism as survival, the first stop for most of this incoming information is the amygdala – our danger detector.

The default setting of the brain is to overestimate threats, underestimate opportunities and underestimate resources both for coping with threats and for fulfilling opportunities. This is known as the “negativity bias”: we privilege negative information over positive information. (ibid.)

The shock element is to find something about your research that concerns people’s everyday life and present in a negative light. It’s good to remind at this point that the shock cannot be a lie, or it shouldn’t be unethical but something that catches the attention of people; something that activates the amygdala in our brain. Even better if you can back it up with a photo and create images in people’s minds.

In my own research it could e.g., be a headline like “Infrastructure productivity flatlining” or “How safe are our roads– less and less resources to keep our road networks in shape”.

Thirdly, build a Big Bang. This is very simple, but important. You need to make sure that you have one clear point, the real impact of the story. What do you really want to say, what is the most important message you want to convey to your readers, to the industry experts or the society in general?

In my case, I would want to emphasize that yes, we are facing challenges but yes, there are also solutions to the problems. We just need to look a little bit deeper than the surface.

So, there they are, my three main pointers on how to stand out in the media and how to differentiate or even brand oneself.

Johanna Liljeroos-Cork, Doctoral researcher

Faculty of Management and Business

Photos: Canva

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