Picture this: You’re sitting through a conference talk. The speaker is friendly and confident. Their figures are sleek, with plenty of results. Their research methods are elegant. But at the end, you’re still asking yourself, “So… what’s the key, new insight they found?” The whole point of the presentation got lost.

Yikes. If you’re like me, you’ve been in that situation before, both as the speaker and as the attendee. It’s a terrible feeling to realize people missed the main point of your research paper or presentation. It’s why you’re telling them about your work!

Often, the problem is that we hide our key take-aways as we try to squeeze in more qualifiers, be more precise, or just use more words. Sometimes, amidst all the details and verbosity, we barely mention the main point at all. The last thing you want is your audience struggling to grasp the point of what they just read or heard.

We should just cut to the chase. That’s not to say the ancillary information should be discarded. But we should try to place our main message on its own pedestal. That pedestal could be several things: The first sentence of your conclusion or a presentation slide that briefly summarizes your research finding(s). The goal is to make sure the audience knows what they learned thanks to your scholarship.

How might we do this effectively? One asset is concision. Clear writing is concise. Short sentences are also more memorable. To this end, the most straightforward advice is to cut the word count to the bare minimum. For example, why not replace ‘In light of the fact that’ with a simple ‘Because’?

Another strategy is to make sure your main point is contained in its own sentence in the paper or presentation (ideally the topic sentence of a paragraph or slide). The limitations of your work, the assumptions you make, and the future research directions are all crucial to mention. But the main conclusion can get lost in the shuffle if it’s not carefully separated from all of those other aspects. A succinct statement of your main point, placed strategically in your research paper or conference talk, will assure your audience isn’t left asking the dreaded question, “So…what new thing did you find?”

Repetition is another way to ensure your audience remembers the important stuff; it’s particularly useful in longer presentations like a thesis defense. Even if you clearly and concisely lay out the key points throughout the talk, it doesn’t hurt to cluster those points into a single slide near the end.

Let’s face it: people don’t catch everything you say. And when people quickly skim your papers, they’re likely skipping sentences and even paragraphs. If they don’t catch that main point, they’re unlikely to cite your paper or tell others about your research talk. That’s why it’s so important to make your point clearly, concisely, and compellingly.

Notes From a Writer's Desk: Making Your Key Points Clear

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