Academics report the results of their research by writing journal articles, books (or contributions to books), by giving presentations and lectures at conferences, and through their contact with other academics. These academic publications come to the notice of other academics and researchers, as well as students, who use the information in the publications for their own research or studies. Research results documented in publications can be refuted or confirmed by repeating the research, and new research builds on these results.
This involves the standard communication process, with a sender (the publishing researcher), a message (the published research results), a recipient (the reader, listener) and even a medium (book, journal, lecture). This is the process of scholarly or academic communication.
We can make a distinction between formal scholarly communication (such as articles, book contributions, books and conference contributions, as mentioned above) and informal scholarly communication. The latter involves informal contact between academics when they discuss their research during conferences or at work, or in e-mails and letters.
Whenever possible, the products of formal scholarly communication are kept and made available to others in academic libraries, archives and databases. This enables academics to keep up to date with – and make contributions to – progress in knowledge and science. This process takes place when previous publications are cited in references in new publications.
The term ‘scholarly/academic communication’ refers to communication within the academic world, i.e. communication between academics and between academics and their students (knowledge transfer). The related term ‘science communication’ is used to describe the process whereby academics communicate with the general public via general and public media This is known as the ‘popularization’ of science, or ‘outreach’. In the academic world, this work is regarded as increasingly important. The societal relevance of academic research is becoming more and more important in the allocation of research funding (‘knowledge valorization’), so it is also important to communicate research results to the public.
It is not only academics themselves who communicate with the public about their research; there is also a professional field of science journalism, exhibitions and museums about science (e.g. Nemo in Amsterdam) and the production of media devoted to communicating with the public about science. You should also note that the terms ‘science communication’ and ‘scholarly/academic communication’ are often used interchangeably.
Human movement scientist Prof. Bert Otten (left) talking about Dutch gymnast, Olympic gold medalist and RUG student Epke Zonderland in the Dutch television programme De Wereld Leert Door (‘The World Keeps on Learning’). Right: presenter and science journalist Diederik Jekel.