Know Your Audience

Posted on March 19, 2007

Different approaches are required when speaking to policymakers and journalists, states Laurence Steinberg (bio).


There is a difference between communicating with policymakers and communicating with journalists. Perhaps the first one is that the audiences are different. Communicating with journalists is not about communicating with journalists, it’s about communicating with the public. The journalist is just the mouthpiece that gets your work to the public, but the ultimate audience that you're aiming for there is the average newspaper reader or television viewer or radio listener.

When you’re communicating with policymakers, you have a much more narrow audience that you're dealing with. You have people who are used to getting their information in very, very brief summaries. I mean, most policymakers don't read anything that's more than a couple pages long. And so, you really have to work very hard at getting a kind of policy document that goes along with the research and so you send the study knowing that the person’s not going to read the study. Maybe somebody on that person's staff might read the study. But that person at best is going to read the executive summary, and so you have to write a good executive summary that comes with it.

And you have to, when you're dealing with a journalist, for the most part, you're going to be talking about how this research affects people and what people might do differently now that they know that the research is there. With a policymaker, you have to figure out what's the policy issue that this person is interested in? What is going on in this person's state at this time, or what's going on in Congress at this time, and you need to frame it so that there's a box that the policymaker can put it in.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher in March 2006.


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