12.2 Disseminating your findings

Learning Objectives

  • Define dissemination
  • Describe how audience impacts the content and purpose of dissemination
  • Identify the options for formally presenting your work to other scholars
  • Explain the role of stakeholders in dissemination


Dissemination refers to “a planned process that involves consideration of target audiences and the settings in which research findings are to be received and, where appropriate, communicating and interacting with wider policy and…service audiences in ways that will facilitate research uptake in decision-making processes and practice” (Wilson, Petticrew, Calnan, & Natareth, 2010, p. 91).  In other words, dissemination of research findings involves careful planning, thought, consideration of target audiences, and communication with those audiences. Writing up results from your research and having others take notice are two entirely different propositions. In fact, the general rule of thumb is that people will not take notice unless you help and encourage them to do so.


Disseminating your findings successfully requires determining who your audience is, where your audience is, and how to reach them. When considering who your audience is, think about who is likely to take interest in your work. Your audience might include those who do not express enthusiastic interest but might nevertheless benefit from an awareness of your research. Your research participants and those who share some characteristics in common with your participants are likely to have some interest in what you’ve discovered in the course of your research. Other scholars who study similar topics are another obvious audience for your work. Perhaps there are policymakers who should take note of your work. Organizations that do work in an area related to the topic of your research are another possibility. Finally, any and all inquisitive and engaged members of the public represent a possible audience for your work.

Where your audience is should be fairly obvious. You know where your research participants are because you’ve studied them. You can find interested scholars on your campus, at professional conferences, and via publications such as professional organizations’ newsletters and scholarly journals. Policymakers include your state and federal representatives who, at least in theory, should be available to hear a constituent speak on matters of policy interest. Perhaps you’re already aware of organizations that do work in an area related to your research topic, but if not, a simple web search should help you identify possible organizational audiences for your work. Disseminating your findings to the public more generally could take any number of forms: a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, a blog, or even a post or two on your social media channels.

Finally, determining how to reach your audiences will vary according to which audience you wish to reach. Your strategy should be determined by the norms of the audience. For example, scholarly journals provide author submission instructions that clearly define requirements for anyone wishing to disseminate their work via a particular journal. The same is true for newspaper editorials; check your newspaper’s website for details about how to format and submit letters to the editor. If you wish to reach out to your political representatives, a call to their offices or a simple web search should tell you how to do so.

Disseminating findings involves the following three steps:

  • Determine who your audience
  • Identify where your audience
  • Discover how best to reach your audience

Tailoring your message to your audience

Once you are able to articulate with whom to you wish to share your research, you must decide what to share. While you would never alter your actual findings for different audiences, understanding who your audience is will help you frame your research in a way that is most meaningful to that audience. Certainly, the most obvious candidates with whom you’ll share your work are other social scientists. If you are conducting research for a class project, your main “audience” will probably be your professor. Perhaps you’ll also share your work with other students in the class.

What is more challenging, and possibly a little scary, is sharing your research with the wider world. Sharing with professional audiences is designed to bring your work to the attention of other social scientists and academics, but also other social workers or professionals who practice in areas related to your research. If you are sharing with other scientists, they are probably interested in your study’s methods, particularly statistical tests or data analysis frameworks. Sharing your work with this audience will require you to talk about your methods and data in a different way than you would with other audiences.  Professional social workers are more likely to want to hear about the practice and policy implications of your research.



Scholars take extraordinary care not to commit plagiarism. Presenting someone else’s words or ideas as if they are your own is among the most egregious transgressions a scholar can commit. Indeed, plagiarism has ended many careers (Maffly, 2011) [1] and many students’ opportunities to pursue degrees (Go, 2008). [2] Take this very seriously. If you feel a little afraid and paranoid after reading this warning, consider it a good thing— and let it motivate you to take extra care to ensure that you are not plagiarizing the work of others.

Peer-reviewed journal articles

Researchers commonly submit manuscripts to peer-reviewed academic journals.  These journals are commonly read by other researchers, students, and practitioners.  Peer review is a formal process in which other scholars review the work to ensure it is a high quality before publication.  A manuscript may be rejected by a journal after being submitted.  Often, this is an opportunity for the researchers to correct problems with the manuscript or find a journal that is a better fit for their research findings.  Usually, even if a manuscript is accepted for publication, the peer reviewers will request improvements to it before it can be published.  The process of peer review helps improve the quality of journal articles and research.

Formal presentations

Getting your work published in a journal is challenging and time-consuming, as journals receive many submissions but have limited room to publish. Researchers often seek to supplement their publications with formal presentations, which, while adhering to stringent standards, are more accessible and have more opportunities to share research. For researchers, presenting your research is an excellent way to get feedback on your work. Professional social workers often make presentations to their peers to prepare for more formal writing and publishing of their work. Presentations might be formal talks, either individually or as part of a panel at a professional conference; less formal roundtable discussions, another common professional conference format; or posters that are displayed in a specially designated area.



Presentations to stakeholders

While it is important to let academics and scientists know about the results of your research, it is important to identify stakeholders who would also benefit from knowing the results of your study. Stakeholders are individuals or groups who have an interest in the outcome of the study you conduct. Instead of the formal presentations or journal articles you may use to engage academics or fellow researchers, stakeholders will expect a presentation that is engaging, understandable, and immediately relevant to their lives and practice. Informal presentations are no less rigorous than formal presentations, but they do not follow a strict format.

Disseminating to the general public

While there are a seemingly infinite number of informal audiences, there is one more that is worth mentioning—the general public.  Part of our job as social workers is to shine a light towards areas of social injustice and raise the consciousness of the public as a whole. Researchers commonly share their results with popular media outlets to reach a broader audience with their study’s conclusions. Unfortunately, journalism about scientific results can sometimes overstate the degree of certainty researchers have in their conclusions. Consequently, it’s important to review the journalistic standards at the media outlet and reporter you approach by examining their previous work and clarifying the degree of control over the final product you will have.


Reports written for public consumption differ from those written for scholarly consumption. As noted elsewhere in this chapter, knowing your audience is crucial when preparing a report of your research. What are they likely to want to hear about? What portions of the research do you feel are crucial to share, regardless of the audience? What level of knowledge do they have about your topic? Answering these questions will help you determine how to shape any written reports you plan to produce. In fact, some outlets answer these questions for you, as in the case of newspaper editorials where rules of style, presentation, and length will dictate the shape of your written report.


Whoever your audience, don’t forget what it is that you are reporting: social scientific evidence. Take seriously your role as a social scientist and your place among peers in your discipline. Present your findings as clearly and as honestly as you possibly can; pay appropriate homage to the scholars who have come before you, even while you raise questions about their work; and aim to engage your readers in a discussion about your work and about avenues for further inquiry. Even if you won’t ever meet your readers face-to-face, imagine what they might ask you upon reading your report, imagine your response, and provide some of those details in your written report.


Key Takeaways

  • Disseminating findings takes planning and careful consideration of your audiences.
  • The dissemination process includes determining the who, where, and how of reaching your audiences.
  • Plagiarism is among the most egregious academic transgressions a scholar can commit.
  • In formal presentations, include your research question, methodological approach, major findings, and a few final takeaways.
  • Reports for public consumption usually contain fewer details than reports for scholarly consumption.
  • Keep your role and obligations as a social scientist in mind as you write research reports.



  • Dissemination- “a planned process that involves consideration of target audiences and the settings in which research findings are to be received and, where appropriate, communicating and interacting with wider policy and…service audiences in ways that will facilitate research uptake in decision-making processes and practice” (Wilson, Petticrew, Calnan, & Natareth, 2010, p. 91)
  • Plagiarism- presenting someone else’s words or ideas as if they are your own


Image attributions

microphone by Skitterphoto CC-0

woman man teamwork by rawpixel CC-0

audience by MariSmithPix CC-0

feedback by surdumihail CC-0


  1. As just a single example, take note of this story about the pattern of plagiarism that cost a University of Utah scholar his job.
  2. As a single example (of many) of the consequences for students committing plagiarism, see this article about two students kicked off semester at sea for plagiarism.


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Foundations of Social Work Research Copyright © 2020 by Rebecca L. Mauldin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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