How to demonstrate the value of your research

A tool to help you master the four Cs: citations, communication, coverage, and collaboration.

20 March 2020

Carsten Lund Pedersen

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Successfully publishing a paper in a peer-reviewed journal is only part of the journey – once your research is in the public sphere, you’re expected to demonstrate its value.

This goes beyond simply explaining your work to a broad audience. Future career and funding opportunities depend on you being able to show why it’s valuable, and to whom.

Scientists are rarely taught how to promote their research. Studies have found that 93% of humanities research and 45% of social sciences research remains uncited within five years of publication. There is also a gender gap in academic self-promotion, with studies finding that male researchers are more likely to promote their research.

Science that has no life beyond a published paper leads to many lost opportunities. With this in mind, I’ve created a tool that can help you exhibit the value of your research using “the four Cs”: citations, communication, coverage, and collaboration:

How to demonstrate the value of your research

The first thing to consider is who your primary target audience is, whether it’s scholars and scientists or practitioners and policy-makers. Next, you need to define the value of your research through facts and figures or experiences and engagement.

Put together, four different value demonstration opportunities emerge.

1. Citations: If your primary audience is scholars and scientists, and value is best demonstrated through facts and figures, the value demonstration mode is citations. While researchers are well-aware of these metrics, they can be overlooked when demonstrating the value of your research.

Google Scholar is a great tool for this, as it aggregates and disseminates citations information and displays it under individual researcher profiles.

2. Communication: If the primary audience is scholars and scientists, and value is best demonstrated through experiences and engagement, the value demonstration mode is communication.

Here, the researcher demonstrates value in live settings, for example, at a conference. By engaging with other academics in an interactive manner, you can demonstrate the value of your research and your knowledge in the field.

3. Coverage: If your primary audience is practitioners and policy-makers, and value is best demonstrated through facts and figures, the value demonstration mode is coverage.

In this scenario, the researcher demonstrates value to broader societal stakeholders. The proficiency of this can be gauged through measures such as the “Twi-Li index”, which is a proxy to assess scientists’ relative social media impact, and the Altmetric Attention Score, which helps to identify how much attention a research output is receiving online.

You can use these measures to demonstrate to societal stakeholders that your research is having an impact beyond the walls of academia.

4. Collaboration: If your primary audience is practitioners and policy-makers, and value is best demonstrated through experiences and engagement, the value demonstration mode is collaboration.

Researchers can collaborate with societal actors in different ways, such as consulting with decision-makers or engaging in committees. By doing so, you are ensuring that stakeholders can experience first-hand the value of your research, as it is demonstrated in the context of their specific project or problem.

How can you use the four Cs?

First, when your paper is published, you can plan relevant activities in each of the four Cs. For instance, how many citations does it have? What’s its Altmetric Attention Score? Which conferences or seminars has it been presented in? Do you intend to collaborate with any practitioners or policy-makers?

Second, what do you want to achieve with your value demonstration? Is it tenure or new funding opportunities? Who is your most important target audience? Your objectives will determine which of the four Cs are most important to you.

Third, which activities are you going to prioritize, and when will you perform them? While it’s beneficial to demonstrate value immediately upon publication, it may also be useful to demonstrate it further down the track, if you can see that the topic gains traction and is becoming more timely.

While you might find it uncomfortable or outside your field of expertise, demonstrating the value of your research is essential. As the saying goes, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.”

Carsten Lund Pedersen is an assistant professor in the Department of Marketing at the Copenhagen Business School, Denmark.

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