Policy, Policy, campaigns & research

KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid

Our Senior Researcher here at DSC, Dean Renshaw, talks about the impact of keeping your research simple.

Researchers! I have a question for you: Who’s the biggest influence on how you work? Maybe it was someone you worked with when you were just starting out in your career, who taught you all the tips and tricks to succeed. Maybe it wasn’t a single person, but the generations of researchers who have gone before and like Newton, you too wanted to see further by standing on the shoulders of giants.

For me, it’s Larry King. When I’ve told that to other people, they usually respond in one of two ways. The first is ‘But he’s not a researcher’. The second, and most common in this country, is ‘Who?’. Larry King was a TV and radio host and if you don’t know the name you’ve probably seen him or parodies of him before. But why is he an influence on how I conduct research?

He asked simple questions. And he was proud of it. “What happened? That’s the simplest question in the world. Why’d you do this? What happened? I don’t know more law than a lawyer. I don’t know more politics than a politician.”

If you’re a researcher in this sector, simplicity is the most powerful tool you have. You may be a wizard in the dark arts of complex statistics, or you may be one of the best in the world at creating beautiful charts and graphs, but if you can’t explain things in simple terms, then you have a problem. And let’s face it, as researchers we’ve all committed the sin of writing like a researcher. There are plenty of research reports around that are hard to read and boring; we don’t need any more.

For our research to have an impact, everyone needs to be able to understand it. At DSC, our research work has helped people access grants that have changed lives and our reports are used to inform policies which make the case for funding programmes that affect real people. One of the most important things we like to stress in our work is that we like to produce our research in a simple, clear and accessible way. We take the complex, and make it simple, accessible and above all- useful!

But it’s not easy. You have to silence that insecure little voice in your head that makes you want to show off just how much you know. You have to find a way of turning complicated methods and processes into something that most people can understand. It’s difficult, but it’s a skill just like any other, and the more you practise the better you’ll get at it. The next time you’re editing a report or presentation, keep asking yourself: am I writing like a researcher, or am I writing like a communicator? You may even want to ask yourself WWLKD – what would Larry King do?

If you want to find out more about research at DSC, or if you have a project that we can help with, email our friendly team at research@dsc.org.uk and we’ll get back in touch. If you want to improve your writing and editing skills, take a look at our Writing for Impact and Editing for Impact courses.