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29 June 2023

The Inverted Pyramid is a powerful approach that can change the way we consume and share research.

Traditionally, research articles and papers follow a linear structure, with the most important information buried deep within lengthy introductions and methodologies. While this structure may serve its purpose in the close circle of academia, it can be a significant barrier for those seeking to explore and comprehend complex scientific knowledge.

radar on a white background

“Inspired by journalistic writing techniques, the inverted pyramid flips the traditional approach on its head by presenting the most critical information first, followed by supporting details in descending order of importance.”

The Inverted Pyramid

The scientists and researchers we work with often want to reach a wider audience. However, the format they use to publish their research findings, the research paper, is not fit for this purpose. Often, papers are never cited or even read by their peers. This 2018 study found that as many as 12% of Medical Sciences and a whopping 70% of Arts & Humanities papers don’t ever get cited at all.

Now, there are many reasons why research papers have to be written a certain way, but we won’t get into them quite yet. The issue is that most people, including us, do not have the skills to read the results of most research, even public-funded research.

That’s where the concept of “Inverted Pyramids” comes into play. Inspired by journalistic writing techniques, the inverted pyramid flips the traditional approach on its head by presenting the most critical information first, followed by supporting details in descending order of importance. To be sure, there are several ways research can be made more accessible, but if we could systematically rewrite research papers by employing the inverted pyramid structure, we would already achieve a multitude of benefits, including:

Making research accessible to all: the inverted pyramid

Making research accessible to all: the inverted pyramid

Enhancing accessibility

Placing key findings and conclusions at the forefront is a simple trick that ensures that individuals with limited time or specific areas of interest can quickly grasp the main takeaways without wading through extensive texts. You know this if you ever had to go through hundreds of research papers. Attention span top-up, anyone?

By enhancing accessibility, we can also break down barriers and ensure that research is not limited to an exclusive circle of experts. Making research more accessible empowers individuals from diverse backgrounds to engage with and benefit from scientific knowledge, fostering collaboration and innovation and, ultimately, driving positive change in various domains. Accessibility promotes a more inclusive and equitable research landscape where all can share and utilise knowledge.

Fostering multidisciplinary collaboration

Making research findings accessible encourage interdisciplinary engagement, allowing researchers from different fields to connect and contribute their expertise and unique perspectives. This diversity of perspectives can lead to new insights and a broader understanding of complex problems. But collaborations don’t have to stop at the researchers’ doorsteps. Knowledge exchange, or the process that brings together academic staff, users of research, businesses and wider groups and communities, can be encouraged through the dissemination and accessibility of knowledge and create more opportunities for innovation.

Promoting scientific outreach

By making research more approachable, we can bridge the gap between academia and the wider community. Engaging the public with clear, concise, and easily digestible information encourages interest, appreciation, and even potential breakthroughs beyond traditional research circles. Citizen science, another topic dear to us, is a wonderful example of what can be achieved by including the public. Zoe Health, for example, a health science company that was founded on the belief that digital technologies can enable human research at an unprecedented depth and scale, uses data-driven research from individuals in order to tackle global health issues like Covid or diabetes. Other citizen scientists include amateur mycologists, who demonstrated how fungi could be used to “save the world” by cleaning polluted soil, replacing toxic insecticides and even treating viruses.

Facilitating data-driven decision making

Policymakers, industry professionals, and decision-makers often rely on research to inform their actions. By presenting the most vital information first, decision-makers can quickly grasp the core results without immediately delving into the research’s intricacies. This allows them to make informed decisions efficiently, especially when time is limited.

With the Inverted Pyramid, data visualisations, such as charts, graphs, and infographics, come first and enhance the accessibility of research findings. Visual representations of data can make complex information easier to understand and interpret. Decision-makers can quickly grasp trends, patterns, and relationships, enabling them to derive insights and make data-driven decisions more effectively.

Data Transfer

There are many other ways to make research accessible, engaging design being one of them (and the subject of another post).

Imagine a world where groundbreaking discoveries and valuable insights are readily accessible to everyone, regardless of background or expertise. A pyramid turned upside down can help carry the weight of progress.

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