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Public Communication: Introduction

“Public communications mean any material that is communicated to the public, either directly or through the media in print, broadcast or electronic form.”

Memorandum of Understanding

Public communications such as magazine articles, blogs, wikis etc, are used to de-mystify the complexity of academic research and make it more accessible for public audiences. 

What are Public Communications?

Simply put, they are pieces of work aimed at communicating your disciplinary knowledge to a public audience rather than an academic one.  

The format you use will depend on the target audience, where you want your work to be published and how you wish it to be presented. This will also affect the style, structure and your use of language. 

Public communications must be accessible and readable for a wide audience and written in a clear and concise way, making academic knowledge and research more easily understood. 

You may be experienced and comfortable with writing essays and reports, but to write for the public you’ll need to learn new skills and techniques as the formats used for public communications will differ from the academic writing you’re used to. 

Man reading a touch-screen tablet in a coffee shop

Academic Writing vs. Public Communications 

Before jumping into your writing, it can be useful to appreciate the differences and similarities between academic writing and public communications.

The table below compares the two. This is a very rough guide but it serves as a starting point.

It is also worth noting that when you are producing a public communications piece as a university assessment, it will inevitably have some differences to those you would produce for actual public consumption - mostly in terms of citations and referencing.

Academic Writing

Public Communication

Uses formal language with no contractions or colloquialisms  Uses more informal language depending on the format (some will be more formal) but must still have a professional tone.
Generally has recognised structure such as for essays or reports Has more variety of structure. Different types will have recognised and expected elements but these are usually used with more flexibility
Essays usually have no visual elements, Reports may use formal visuals as evidence (charts, photographs etc). Nearly all will use a variety of visual elements, these include those used to break up text and add emphasis as well as more standard images.
Demonstrates critical approaches to a topic. Generally argumentative and persuasive. Informs, educates, persuades, calls to action
Uses standard grammatical English with fully formed sentences and conservative punctuation. Uses PEEL paragraph structure. Uses literary devices such as short snappy sentences/paragraphs and engaging punctuation including exclamation marks!
Uses disciplinary language which may include complex terms. Avoids complex terms, disciplinary jargon and simplifies language
Avoids similes and metaphors. Use similes and metaphors to help readers visualise the writer’s points alongside images.
All sources are cited within the text and referenced at the end of the document. All sources are still cited and referenced somewhere (this is still academic work), though this may be in an accompanying document.
Professional tone  Professional tone - it is still a piece of academic work