Monthly Archives: October 2021

‘Dumbing down and watering down?’: Translating research for different audiences

Jo Josephidou is Programme lead for Early Childhood at the Open University

One criticism of educational research is that it can be  ‘inaccessible in esoteric journals and in opaque language’ (Pring, 2010: 158); if it excludes then the potential impact on practice is hindered.  If we want to access as wide an audience as possible for our work, how can we translate it for a variety of readers without dumbing down or watering down?

Accessible E-reports

One practice is to produce an accessible E-report, yet this solution can be problematic. In a recent report, Where are the babies?, my co-author and I struggled to get the language completely right for the diverse range of people possibly interested in the findings. This range included early years practitioners varying in qualifications from level 2 (GCSE) through to postgraduate study, Ofsted or professional networks. The danger of excluding, dumbing down or patronising was very real, and the drafting process took many attempts to get the language ‘just right’. Co-writing added another layer of challenge as my co-author and I found we were making very different assumptions about our imagined reader.

The beauty of the blog

Blogs are also an approved way to disseminate research work. However translating  research into a blog post, is a mere first step; you then have to secure a readership.  You may spend hours drafting the perfect post only to watch your stats increase by a miserable one or two every day. It’s hard to work out why some posts are more popular than others. Even if you manage to attract a large audience for a particular post, you’re never satisfied. Where are the comments? Where is the passionate debate you were looking to provoke? The beauty of the blog, once you accept you will not change the world with a single post, is that it can be a political act of self-care. You are writing because you have something to say,  not because you want to engage in the ego bolstering behaviours that academics  may feel under pressure to adopt.

Pleased to meet you!

We need to consider the diverse conversations we could join as academics. These conversations will allow us to share our research in a way that is useful to our audience and useful to us by offering feedback on whether key recommendations do indeed translate into practice. Being introduced to these conversations is dependent on the relationships we can build with interested parties; we benefit from being supported and mentored by those who can facilitate this engagement, remembering to support and mentor others in turn. In our case, introductions to  Early Childhood Outdoors and the BERA Nature, Outdoor and Learning SIG gave us the opportunity to present the work at  free practitioner seminars  like this.

So how do you take an inclusive approach to disseminating your research without feeling you are ‘watering down’ or ‘dumbing down’?

Jo Josephidou is a lecturer in Early Childhood who joined the Open University in September 2019. Her PhD focused on appropriate pedagogies with young children and how practitioner gender may impact on these.  Currently, Jo is working collaboratively on a piece of research which focuses on babies’ and toddlers’ opportunities to engage with the outdoor environment and nature. If you would like to read the peer reviewed articles that inform this post, please see:


The Thorny Issue of the Research Interview: What did they actually mean?


For any researcher grappling with the complexities of a qualitative study, the process of generating and analysing interview data is a thorny one. Most of us are not discourse or language specialists, yet we are completely dependent on the vehicle of language to receive, process and communicate our work. My recently completed EdD thesis addressed a number of important considerations that are imperative for us to address. Here is just one.

Given that the purpose of an interview is to generate data focused on the respondent, the biggest question must surely be; “What did they actually say?”

Let’s pause and unpack that for a moment. What do we mean by ‘the respondent said’?

 Do we mean the literal words used? To what extent are we assuming alignment between the researcher and respondent in the definitions and meaning attributed to each word? Would they, or we, use the same word to convey the same meaning with all audiences and in all contexts? Possibly not – so how do we know which meaning is being attributed in the interview with us?

Do we mean just the words that were spoken? What about the role of silence; short gaps, reflective pauses, pained pauses (the role of silence is fascinating!). What assumptions do we make about longer pauses – is the respondent buying thinking time or stuck for an answer? How does that affect how we respond – e.g. we smile patiently or move the conversation on – how is our response to the silence shaping the data which comes after it?

Do we mean just verbal transactions? In which case what about the arm gestures, winks, smiles, pointed fingers, folded arms? Do those non-verbal cues align or contradict with the words that are being spoken?

What about utterances? We all use features such as ‘um’ and ‘you know’ to subconsciously buy thinking time or to infer audience agreement for example. How do those utterances shape our perception of the respondent during data generation, affect our follow up questions and fix our lens for when we later analyse the interview data?

Furthermore, we can bound our data and analysis by date, time, location, audience and context. But to what extent should we also bound by mood, weather, temperature, and the myriad of other influencing factors that we know affect human behaviours and thus what is said?

Which version of ‘what they said’ are we using as the basis for our analysis?

As researchers focused on a particular subject or topic, we are at risk of treating the transcript as a vehicle of single truth when conveying insight into our given area of study. We must be mindful of this – drawing on the ways that discourse analysis can shine a light on otherwise unseen elements of the data. We must, as Cruickshank (2012), argues, not allow the transcript to become the focus rather than the subject matter itself.

Dr Fiona Aubrey-Smith, Director, One Life Learning Strategic Education Consultancy and Associate Lecturer (E313 and EE831), The Open University

EdD Thesis “An exploration of the relationship between teachers’ pedagogical stance and the use of ICT in their classroom practice.” Publications and Presentations at

Twitter: @FionaAS