Equitable Research Communication Guidelines

Mar 11 2020

This product has been revised to better frame the five existing guidelines for equity in research communications. We also provide guidance for researchers that centers equitable research communications in their work. Note: The original author has not contributed to these revisions, but the revising authors, Shantai Peckoo and Jenita Parekh, worked closely with the original author on the initial version.

Why is it important to embed a racial and ethnic equity lens in our research communications?

Research findings communicate information—directly or indirectly—about community circumstances and can have policy, programmatic, and funding implications for these communities. Even the most thoughtfully conducted research can be harmful if communicated poorly and misinterpreted, as a result. By more accurately reflecting the life experiences of children and youth of color and providing contextual information about these children and youth, equitable communication of research findings often results in more grounded, effective, and nuanced research. This document details five guidelines for equitable research communication that researchers should consider.

1. Consider the study population to be a primary audience of the research.

Researchers typically focus on other researchers as their primary audience, as reflected in journal articles and academic conference presentations or posters. Researchers should expand the scope of whom they deem their audience by considering the population in the study to be their primary audience, as this is generally the population most directly impacted by findings. Researchers can employ several strategies when centering their population as a primary audience. First, they should present their findings in plain language, which frees findings—the most critical information to convey—from academic jargon that is only understood by researchers in the field. Additionally, researchers should partner with community stakeholders and participants to determine the best media for presenting their findings. Researchers should have several conversations with participants to understand how the community wants the data to be shared and where it should be shared. For example, if a researcher is working with parents to learn more about children’s consumption of television, the researcher should speak to these parents to understand how they prefer to hear key findings about the study. For example, these parents may wish to participate in data interpretation or see fact sheets in their clinic that summarize how children consume media.

2. Say what you mean.

When communicating research findings, precisely define the population rather than using euphemisms. Researchers should ask themselves who the research is talking about and whether the language used renders some groups invisible. For example, using the term “people of color” is not appropriate if the researcher is only referring to Black and Latino populations because “people of color” encompasses all populations of color, including, for example, Asian Americans and Native Americans. While it is considered best practice in research not to generalize findings beyond the study population, researchers sometimes make shortcuts to communicate their findings. If a study population only included Black families living in poverty, describing findings using only race erases the experiences of Black families with higher incomes. Saying what you mean may reveal limitations in the data you are using. For example, the data may only include whether participants identify as “Latino,” rather than specifying country of origin. If unable to add details about the target population because of the way the data were collected, researchers should share those limitations when reporting findings.

3. Use person-centered language.

Person-centered language avoids labeling people using stigmatizing, or temporary, circumstances that they would not use to refer to themselves. Broadly, it’s important to engage and elevate the voices of community stakeholders when deciding what language is respectful to that community. Sometimes people prefer identity-first language, especially if they consider the characteristic part of their identities; additionally, some communities may disagree on appropriate language. For example, according to the National Association of the Deaf, some people with hearing loss would prefer to be called “deaf,” while others may prefer “hard-of-hearing.”[1] When there is no clear agreement on respectful language, researchers should ask their participants to identify their personal preferences to ensure that participants are represented appropriately. Researchers can use more than one term but should explain the rationale for doing so. If someone prefers identity-first language, it’s appropriate to respect that preference.

4. Do not assume differences by race, ethnicity, or other groupings.

The foundation of racial equity in research guidance is the understanding that there are no biological differences between socially constructed racial groups. We may inadvertently reify socially constructed categories, stereotypes, and common misconceptions through our research, depending on how we make or suggest comparisons. Many of the differences we see by race are due to different circumstances—i.e., structural and historical discrimination that has resulted in other differences (e.g., income and access to opportunities). Researchers should avoid framing their work under an assumption that there will be differences by groups in the absence of discrimination. When there are differences, they should approach those with curiosity and a healthy level of skepticism (e.g., ask, “Is this truly a difference, beyond errors in measurement tools or underrepresentation? Have we controlled for other variables that could be producing this difference?”). Further, when describing the justification and benefit of replicating studies with multiple populations, it’s important to not assume that differences will be present, unless the literature supports this assumption.

5. Acknowledge intersectionality and within-group differences.

Researchers should be careful about treating marginalized groups as monolithic. There is not one singular Black experience, one female experience, or one LGBTQIA experience. While it can be challenging to examine within-group differences if the sample size is small, it’s important to acknowledge that just as much variation exists within marginalized groups as within majority groups. It’s also important to acknowledge overlap between groups: Everyone has multiple identities that may impact their experiences simultaneously. For example, if a researcher conducted a study on women’s risk of experiencing violence and only focused on one aspect of identity at a time, they might miss the experiences of transgender Black women.

6. Include context on structural inequity early.

Including structural context is particularly important when highlighting negative findings about marginalized groups. Structural context can include key policies, relationships, current and past access to resources, and more. Researchers often include this kind of important context toward the end of their discussion, but we recommend including it throughout—particularly in the summary and introduction, so that findings are not taken out of context if someone skims. When reviewing, ask, “Did we provide the reader with sufficient context to interpret this finding? How could this finding be misinterpreted?” Researchers should also share whether any information could have added context but was not measured or available. For example, if reporting on differences by race, a researcher who didn’t have enough information to control for income should share that limitation with the reader.

Adapted from the following resources:

Child Trends. (2019, September 17). Gross, E. Equitable Research Reporting [Webinar]. In Professional Development and Child Care and Early Childhood Education Policy and Research Analysis Workforce Workgroup Series.

Guzman, L., Ramos-Olazagasti, M., & Gross, E. (2018). “La Familia – The state of Latino children and families in the United States: Racial and Ethnic Equity.” Presentation given at University of Maryland University College. Bethesda, MD: National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families.

Child Trends. (2019). Andrews, K., Parekh, J., & Peckoo, S. How to Embed a Racial and Ethnic Equity Perspective in Research: Practical guidance for the research process (Working Paper). Retrieved from: https://cms.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/RacialEthnicEquityPerspective_ChildTrends_October2019.pdf

Much has been written about bringing an equity perspective to communications. See below for an additional resource by Child Trends on this topic:

Reaching and Engaging with Hispanic Communities: A Research-Informed Communications Guide for Nonprofits, Policymakers, and Funders


[1] National Association of the Deaf. (n.d.) Community and culture—Frequently asked questions. https://www.nad.org/resources/american-sign-language/community-and-culture-frequently-asked-questions/#:~:text=Overwhelmingly%2C%20deaf%20and%20hard%20of,the%20NAD%20is%20no%20exception.