Introduction to writing for non-specialists Introduction to writing for non-specialists

Have you thought about writing a non-specialist abstract or synthesis of your research?

While producing a paper or conference presentation think about creating a short document that concisely sums up your research.

This could be a simple PowerPoint slide which covers what your research project aimed to find out, what your research concluded and why this research is significant.

Don’t simply copy your abstract or summary as this will not have been written with a public audience in mind.

Make sure this document does not use specialist language which might alienate your audience.

By summarising your research in this way you will have already begun to think about how you can communicate your research to wider audiences and you will have a document prepared so you have something to start from if you wish to produce content suitable for a mixture of audiences. Writing an accessible summary like this at the time you are still heavily involved in the research will also be easier for you, especially if you have more than one active project, as it will be fresh in your mind at the time of writing. 

Find out more from the NCCPE on Writing for non-specialists

Please also refer to the UEA writing style guide

Policy Briefs Policy Briefs

Framing - Research to Action suggest it is important to focus on actionable policy recommendations, and advise considering these questions to help you break down your work and plan out your policy brief:

  1. Ensure that you have identified your target audience beforehand. Understanding who your audience is and what their job entails is crucial. What is their sphere of influence and what change can they implement?
  2. Be very clear about what the current policy you want to change is.
  3. Set the scene: Identify the shortfalls of the current policy. Where is this policy failing, why and how can your recommendations improve the status quo?
  4. Be aware of how policies are made: remember that government policy actors are interested in making decisions that are practical, cost-effective and socially acceptable.
  5. If you are suggesting change ask yourself: What specifically needs to be changed? How will this change come about? What resources will be needed? Where will these resources come from? What is the overall benefit to both the policy maker and society in general? If your recommendations include these components they are much more likely to garner the required change.
  6. The word actionable suggests that your recommendations should be active. Try using language that is active rather than passive. Words such as use, engage, incorporate etc.
  7. Keep your policy recommendations short. Identify 3 recommendations and elaborate on these. Pick the three that are most practical and relevant for your target audience then focus on presenting these in the most actionable way.
  8. Make sure your research supports your recommendations. This may sound very obvious but policy makers will want to know that the evidence supports your assertions. Where you are providing an opinion, not supported by research, make this very clear.
  9. Ask yourself, is my recommendation viable? Does the recommendation seem feasible?

Structure and Content - Fast Track Impact suggest the following as a layout for Policy Briefs:

On the front page you’ll need:

  • Title - keep it short and powerful - would you personally pick up a policy brief with such a title? You can consider adding a subtitle, if it further explains your main message (again keep it short)
  • Teaser - start with a summary of the brief’s content and its relevance in 2-3 sentences, max 5 lines), state all the main points and repeat them throughout the document
  • Recommendations - in bullet points, perhaps use a side bar or box
  • Picture/photograph - something attractive and positive that describes the research topic well. Make your picture bigger and have less text if possible!

On the next page(s), consider:

  • Overview – give a brief overview and state the problem or objective. Embed your research in an important, current issue and explain how the policy brief contributes to that issues and provides useful answers.
  • Introduction - summarise the issue, explain the context (including the political) to explain why the topic is so important and how your research can help to solve/improve the situation. Pinpoint gaps in current policy, link to crisis points that may be windows of opportunity in which new policies may be looked for. Outline a brief history or background, but only if it is relevant to the theme (otherwise leave it out!).
  • Research findings – these are the answers from your research that help to solve the problem (other findings may be of interest to researchers and might look pretty on a graph, but if they don’t help address the policy issue, cut them out). If possible, present your findings in a more visual, clear style, so people can grasp the idea instantly. Include research evidence from the literature and other sources to support your own findings in plain language. Use sub-headings to break up to blocks of text (keep sections of text and paragraphs as short as possible). Any graphs or other figures should be simple, and be labelled with a short description that’s understood without reading the text
  • Sidebars and boxes – highlight most important evidence in sidebars or boxes, so people can easily skim through the key points if they are in a hurry (remember these are for highlighting important things, not for unimportant things (to policy-makers at least) like definitions)
  • White space and photographs – try and break up your text with plenty of white space and photographs to avoid intimidating readers and making your work more attractive to engage with. If you can, engage a professional designer to help with this. If there’s not enough room to fit everything in that you want, don’t make the font size smaller or cut white space and images – cut down your material (the next stage in the process, the feedback loop, is useful to help with this if you’re struggling to work out what you can cut)
  • Additional sources – more (background) information, more detail on the topic, max 4 further sources, including peer-reviewed material by you and your team

We recommend you refer to the Fast Track article below for useful advice on the distribution of your policy brief.

Last page:

  • Brief summary statement, concluding with take home message
  • Policy recommendations – clear recommendations aimed at specific policy sector(s) and specific live policy issues, in bullet points, stating why these options are recommended
  • Authors contact details – including current position, associated institute and funder (remember the credibility issue), Twitter accounts (for key project staff and the project itself if this account exists), websites etc.
  • Acknowledgements
  • Citations – cite in footnotes, if needed



Research to Action guide to writing effective policy briefs

United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization guidance on preparing policy briefs

Fast Track Impact – How to make a policy brief that has real impact


Writing for Popular Press Writing for Popular Press

The Conversation

The University of East Anglia is now a member of The Conversation UK - - a news website with analysis written by academics from the university and research sectors. It is hoped that the initiative will help raise the profile of UEA researchers and their work, and for researchers themselves to engage with a wider audience.

The Conversation covers topics such as politics and society, arts and culture, education, health and medicine, science and technology, business and economy. To date more than 7,500 academics from universities across the UK have produced articles for the site, including some from UEA.

Academics are paired with a professional journalist who helps them to write an engaging, public-facing article. Nothing is published without the academic’s approval of the final version, meaning they retain control over what they say.

The article is then published under a Creative Commons license, meaning that other news organisations are allowed to republish it.  Content regularly appears in The Guardian, The Independent, i, CNN, the BBC, and new media sites like Quartz, Mashable and IFL Science. The Conversation’s UK-commissioned content is read by between 10 and 15 million people per month both through the site and via republishing.

Please contact the Communications Team if you would like advice from UEA on writing for The Conversation.

Writing for Industry Writing for Industry

We have two teams within Research and Innovation that can support you in your relationships with Industry; the Consultancy Team and the Intellectual Property Team.

What UEA Consulting Ltd can do

UEA's expert knowledge base can deliver practical, independent, business focussed solutions that can provide answers to specific technical problems or issues and result in improvements to business systems. By working with business to develop mutual understanding and benefit we can create opportunity, employment and wealth, improve quality of life and increase sustainability.

In addition to UEA Consulting Ltd, there are some specialised consulting companies that also operate at the University; the Adapt Commercial Ltd operates a consultancy that is focused towards reducing carbon emissions, and Dev-Co has arisen from the School of Development Studies.

What are the benefits?

  • Technical expertise - an academic or a small interdisciplinary team can provide in-depth expert knowledge and advice.
  • Bespoke management development and training - providing a tailored programme for your staff to explore organisational problems.
  • Expert witnesses - Our academics can act as expert witnesses in a range of areas.
  • Membership of scientific advisory boards and non-executive directors - providing strategic, technical or scientific direction.

Next steps?

If you are interested in finding out more information about the consultancy service we offer, please contact Sue Johnson on +44 (0)1603 591578.


Intellectual Property

The term Intellectual Property (IP) describes the outputs of creative endeavour in literary, artistic, industrial and scientific fields which can be protected under legislation. In the university context Intellectual Property is generated whenever staff and/or students produce papers and teaching materials or carry out research. Intellectual Property is a tangible asset that can be traded in the same way as any other commodity.

Types of Intellectual Property Right (IPR)

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) describe the rights which protect your ideas and give legal recognition to the ownership of intellectual property. Some rights are automatic, but others require steps to be taken in order to be afforded IP protection.

There are five main types of Intellectual Property Right:

  • patents
  • confidential information/know-how
  • copyright
  • design rights
  • trade marks

For more information, please email, visit the IP portal page

If you are unsure who to contact, please contact your Project Officer in the first instance