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This image says "Try DIY" (with a t-shirt image) "or Go with a Pro" (with a suit jacket image).

Research Communication: Should I Try to DIY?

My husband and I have been homeowners for a little more than a decade now. At the beginning, we tried to do many projects ourselves. Sometimes it went fine. Paint a small, square room? Fine. Repaint that same room a few months later (after I’d rethought bright orange walls)? Also fine.* Dig some holes in the front yard and drop in flowers? No problem.

Then came the Saturday when my husband attempted to install a new storm door. It took the entire, beautiful, sunny day. It also involved an unsightly patch job when, on his first attempt, my husband installed the door handle in the wrong place. Oops!

At the end of that day, with both of us highly irritated, we adjusted our DIY parameters. We would no longer do a task ourselves if a professional could do it ten times as fast with better results. Nine years and two houses later, we’ve stuck to that pledge, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re still married. :)

If scientists had to do every task on a research study, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of quality, ethical studies out there. Attorneys manage contracts and patents. Translators allow us to increase the linguistic and cultural diversity of our participant pools. Physicians and nurses deliver and oversee patient care in medical studies. The list goes on.

However, research communication often tends to be DIY. Despite (typically) having little training in communication or design, scientists often plot their own graphs, write their own reports, and develop their own presentations and posters. Sometimes the final product is fine. But sometimes it’s like our storm door…a ton of time spent on a product that doesn’t look as good as it could have.

Research communication professionals have specialized training and expertise. You don’t need them in all communication situations, just like you don’t need an electrician to change a light bulb or a carpenter to hang a picture. But, when the stakes are high and the work is complex, communication specialists can help you develop high-quality products that accomplish your goals.

We’ve created a chart to help you decide whether your research communication product could be a DIY or whether it would benefit from professional support. Click the image below to view, download, or print the chart!

This is a 1-page handout. The title is "Research Communication: When Do I Need a Professional?" The first paragraph says, "Scientists often create their own communication products. They plot their own graphs, write their own reports, and develop their own presentations. In some situations, do-it-yourself works well. In others, it may help to call in a professional who has training and expertise in design and communication. The chart below (and accompanying examples) can help you decide whether to TRY DIY or GO WITH A PRO." Then there is a table with two columns and four rows. The first column is labeled "Try DIY." The second column is labeled "Go with a Pro." Row 1: Stakes. Try DIY: Little potential risk or reward. Example: Presentation for preschool career day. Go with a Pro: Big potential gains and losses. Example: Oral contract proposal for 5 million dollars in funding. Row 2: Complexity. Try DIY: Simple graph or chart. Basic icons. Example: Bar chart or line graph depicting two variables. Go with a Pro: Complex graph or chart. Intricate illustration. Example: Single data visualization incorporating many variables. Row 3: Size, Number & Reach of Products. Try DIY: Brief/small product. One-time product. Small audience. Example: Paragraph in faculty newsletter. Go with a Pro: Long/large product. Series of related products. Large audience. Example: One-hour keynote address for one thousand people. Row 4: Resources. Try DIY: Limited financial resources. Sufficient labor resources. Example: Have graduate research assistants with availability. Go with a Pro: Sufficient financial resources. Limited labor resources. Example: Have a well-funded research project with small or overextended staff. Below the chart there is text that reads: Data Soapbox is a research communication firm that helps our clients improve health and well-being. To learn more about working with us, visit

*Although slightly less fine than the first time. There may have been some grumbling.

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