Websites can play a powerful role in communicating research, combining colour, sound, movement, words, pictures, connection, access, history and engagement with information – all in one package.
Since they exploded on the communication scene in the 1990s, the internet and the websites it hosts have communicated research stories to wider audiences with more functions as they have come online.
From the early days, the most important role of the website has been to Inform, be this through text and photos, and later via video, audio and data files.
Web pages provide information about specific topics in ‘digestible’ and engaging pieces, to intended groups including key influencers, policy makers and funding agencies.
Web publishing programs and designers can now provide a number of software tools that enhance the communication value of websites. These added tools can:
- Influence, particularly through video and audio content added to the site;
- Promote, particularly in association with social media as well as traditional broadcast media;
- Engage, with the addition of email forms, contact numbers and addresses, and links to various social media platforms used by various audiences;
- Translate, through access to translation programs, or by translating major items and navigation into relevant languages – see the NAFRI website here;
- Access, using ‘Alt-T’ background text and artificial intelligence to assist in communication with people with disabilities;
- Archive text, press clippings, radio and television stories, research articles, audio stories, educational videos and other communication items produced during a research project; and,
- Find the information archived in a large site using a search engine.
As with other media, however, websites require careful consideration and planning in order to develop a sound and effective information tool.
While websites are good for gathering and presenting files in one place, you need to know that your intended audience has the appropriate device, online bandwidth, required access and necessary user skills to access the story (or stories) on the site.
In accounting for the various devices now used in the online world, the website owner should ensure that the site:
- is appropriately laid out for mobile and tablet devices as well as computer screens; and,
- has the communication features that will be needed by, and are available to, its main users;
- has sufficient storage available, particularly where large video and other data files are stored on the site.
Planning your website should take place at the same time as you undertake all other communication planning – at the start of a research project or study.
Part of this planning should also include consideration of responsibility for website maintenance and its further development. Staff and skills as well as funds should be allocated for at least the duration of the project to achieve this, particularly for the all-important completion of a research project.