Tips for Writing a News Summary of a Study
Tips for Writing a News Summary of a Study

Tips for Writing a News Summary of a Study

Consider Your Audience

If you are aiming to write for a broad audience, keep in mind that most non-researchers do not have training in research methods, are not familiar with theoretical concepts, and may not immediately understand why your scholarship is relevant to them. Writing for non-researchers often means that you must translate your work from a format and language appropriate for fellow scholars to formats and language that broad audiences can easily and quickly digest. This will affect the terms you use, how you frame the importance and relevance of your research, and what you emphasize and what you leave out.

When writing for lay audiences, keep your sentences short, do not use technical or academic jargon, and avoid using references/citations in the text.

Answer the “So What” Question

Readers will want to know right away what your main findings are and why they matter. Think carefully about, and directly and succinctly convey, the implications of your findings to teachers and school leaders, to current and future students, to parents and other guardians, to policymakers, and to the general public. 

If your research does not have immediate relevance to these audiences, that certainly does not mean it is unimportant scholarship. However, it likely means your summary should be targeted to other researchers.

Think About What Makes Your Research Newsworthy

Consider what makes your findings worth sharing with broad audiences. Do they provide new insight into an important issue? Are your results surprising in any way? Does your research provide compelling evidence that helps confirm existing knowledge? Or does it question what we think we know? Make clear to the reader how your findings add to the existing body of research knowledge and why it matters beyond the research community.

If your findings have relevance to an issue in the news, locally or nationally, point out the connection. It may not be clear to the reader how your research contributes to the public discourse. Explain why in one or two sentences.

Think About Your Key Takeaway(s)

Your study likely includes several findings. What is the most important one or two for practitioners, policymakers, and the general public to know about? Lead with your most important findings/key takeaways and their implications; don’t bury them. The headline and lead sentence of your summary should highlight the key takeaway.

Keep It Brief and Get to the Point

If you are planning to write a narrative summary for posting on a website or for distribution by other means, aim to keep it to about 500 to 750 words. Include a link to the full study and your contact information for readers who want to learn more. Further condense this to post on social media. Lead with your major one or two findings and their implications for education practice and policy. Theoretical concepts and methodological approaches should be kept to the study. Mentioning your study sample and data source(s) in a sentence or two is useful, but make sure to keep it simple and do not lead with it.   

Understand the Inverted Pyramid

A basic concept in journalism is the inverted pyramid. The information most important to the reader goes at the beginning of the story, with each subsequent paragraph becoming less important. Academic studies do not follow this, nor do a lot of study abstracts, but your summary should. 

Start by reporting your major findings and stating what makes your study important. Then address what the findings mean for students/educators/policymakers/the public. Follow with a brief, simple explanation of your participants/sample and your data source. And then report on other findings and their implications. 

Use Numbers and Terms that Lay Audiences Understand

If your study is quantitative or uses mixed methods, and you have numbers that help convey the magnitude of your findings and their implications, do consider including them. The caveat is that they need to be numbers that lay audiences understand. Do not report standard deviations. Instead, if possible, use percentages, percentage increases/decreases, or other commonly understood numbers.

In writing your summary, use words and phrases that can be readily understood by your targeted audience. If you hope to effectively reach non-researchers, first try explaining your main findings and their implications to a relative, neighbor, or someone else who does not have research training or your academic background, to make sure that the language you use is jargon-free and accessible.

Voices Can Matter

If your study is qualitative or uses mixed methods, selectively highlighting the voices of subjects (kept confidential) can be a compelling way to convey the significance of your findings and their implications. Quotes that illustrate your main findings can add a human touch that helps readers connect to your reach topic and to individuals who are affected by it.