A University Rethinks Research Communication

3523b4e.pngToday my colleagues and I are proud to share the results of nearly a year of hard work, rethinking how we share interesting stories about the exciting research taking place at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

This is more than just a magazine redesign and a website launch. We’ve completely changed our approach to telling research stories, so they’re more understandable, compelling and impactful. Our efforts are also fully aligned with Georgia Tech’s research strategy and core research areas.

My teammate Peralte Paul wrote this excellent overview of how we made it happen:

For 31 years, Research Horizons has showcased the Georgia Institute of Technology’s groundbreaking scientific and engineering research.

Now the magazine, which started as a four-page, black and white publication for the-then Engineering Experiment Station (today, Georgia Tech Research Institute), has undergone a major content update and design metamorphosis.

In the new Research Horizons, which debuted this month, readers will see a publication with more visuals — larger photographs, illustrations, and accompanying graphics — shorter, more compact stories; punchier headlines; and contemporary typefaces. The refresh is designed to present the research in a more contemporary, compelling, and engaging way.

The publication’s new look coincides with a broader strategic research marketing plan that also includes a revamped monthly electronic newsletter and a new website (www.rh.gatech.edu) with videos, real-time updates, and shareable features. And it includes the launch of a digital e-zine, through Georgia Tech’s app on the Apple storefront, for smartphones and tablets.

It also serves to highlight what Executive Vice President for Research Stephen E. Cross has identified as the core goals for his unit: to pursue transformative research, strengthen collaborative partnerships, and enhance the societal and economic impact of those findings.

“I see this as more than just a magazine redesign. It’s a rethinking of how we talk about and how we share research that comes out of Georgia Tech,” said Cross.

The changes follow several months of study, focus group research, and planning centered on what Research Horizons readers like, how to increase the publication’s appeal, and how to make it more attractive and useful to subscribers, according to Kirk Englehardt, Georgia Tech’s director of research communications.

One of those changes is the addition of an indexed list of Georgia Tech’s research contacts to the back of the magazine — something readers surveyed said they wanted.

Another change is story length. While still comprehensive in scope, the stories are shorter and range from 1,500 to 3,000 words — versus 8,000 to 10,000 per article — Englehardt said.

The magazine, which has a circulation of about 20,000, also reflects a greater emphasis on a broader mix of stories from Georgia Tech’s 12 core research areas. To help them focus on research of specific interest to them, website visitors can view a list of stories from each core research area.

“We try to balance different technology areas — the feature stories include life sciences, military technology, technology transfer, and robotics,” said John Toon, Research Horizons’ editor. “There’s a pretty good cross section of what Georgia Tech is all about.”

That underscores a strategic decision to broaden the magazine’s focus to appeal to business and industry, in addition to the federal government sponsors of Georgia Tech research, the original catalysts for Research Horizon’s creation in 1983.

Indeed, when Cross began overseeing research in 2010, one of his goals was to expand the scope of the work done by faculty to address the needs of business and industry, as well as government agencies such as the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Energy, and the National Institutes of Health.

“What we set out to do was try to create a magazine that would address both groups: industrial companies that needed research and development to solve problems, and the traditional base of federal government sponsors,” said Toon.

Some of the magazine’s new section headings, “Exhibit A” and “Front Office,” for example, are designed to reflect those efforts to appeal to the industrial audience. The idea is to give industry research executives a “sneak peek” at what’s next.

The magazine’s longevity is a testament to Georgia Tech’s commitment to research and to its understanding that sharing those stories is important, said Mark Hodges, a senior research associate at the Georgia Tech Research Institute and the magazine’s first editor.

“The main reason behind this was the realization that research was becoming a bigger part of Georgia Tech,” Hodges said of the original magazine launch. “And this publication was part of increasing Georgia Tech’s profile.”

Here’s how you can connect with Georgia Tech: 

  • Subscribe and have Research Horizons Magazine delivered to your home or office free of charge in the U.S. (Contact us here for international subscriptions.)
  • Get each new issue of Research Horizons sent to your iPad by downloading the Georgia Tech app.
  • Subscribe to one of Georgia Tech’s research area-specific Georgia RSS feeds.
  • Download a PDF of the first ‘new’ issue of Research Horizons magazine.

(This piece was originally posted to my LinkedIn blog November 19, 2014)

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