Making papers accessible to a general audience

OA research story: Cicely Marston

Logo from the sixteen18 project blog

In January 2017, we revealed the top 10 most popular Open Access (OA) articles published in 2016 across our Open and Open Select journals.

Open Access research can be read by anyone, anywhere, immediately on publication. This allows articles published OA to work up quite a storm (like the above-mentioned articles did last year – being shared via social media, blogged about, and picked up by news outlets).

We wanted to touch base with the authors behind these articles – not only to say a big congratulations, but also to hear more about the background to their research, the impact it made, and how they shared their work to help make it go far and wide.

We spoke to Cicely Marston, co-author of ‘Oral Sex, Young People, and Gendered Narratives of Reciprocity’ in The Journal of Sex Research which gained an impressive 6,770 downloads and an Altmetric score of 164.* From creating a project blog to starring on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, Cicely promotes her research widely and it continues to spark great interest from the general public and reach audiences outside of academia.


While the topic area of our paper is of general interest, I think our project has been particularly successful because we worked hard to make our work accessible.

“Our aim was to produce high quality papers, published in the best academic journals, that were methodologically and theoretically sound, but were still readable for non-specialists and available to all.”

This was partly a political position: we did not want to interview young people about their lives and then produce outputs that would be entirely meaningless to them, their families, or those who wish to improve young people’s situation.

“We avoided heavy use of sociological jargon”

We avoided heavy use of sociological jargon and tried to express complex concepts using plain language, balancing this with the need to produce academically rigorous work. We also created a project blog which we used as a noticeboard so participants could see what outputs we had produced without having to be on a mailing list. 

“We drew up press releases with our institutional press offices”

To publicize our paper, we drew up press releases with our institutional press offices (here and here), which were circulated to media and our institutions’ networks, and posted on our institutions’ social media platforms as well as our personal social networks.

“The paper quickly received attention in international online and print media, and was picked up by Vice a few months later”

The paper quickly received attention in international online and print media, and was picked up by Vice a few months later, in an article published in multiple languages which triggered a second wave of interest. All of this coverage presumably helped publicize our paper.

Our paper probably also benefited from existing interest in the project generated by earlier papers (including a very popular one). We have reported on the project as a whole outside of traditional academic journals, for instance via my twitter account, and in various articles for The Conversation, some of which were then reposted to popular websites, including The Washington Post and IFL Science here and here.

“In future we would look to be more active in pitching articles as part of a more extensive media strategy”

These articles were mostly commissioned, but in future we would look to be more active in pitching articles as part of a more extensive media strategy because the key ideas from the papers are far more accessible to a general audience in this way and the only article I did pitch and write was by far the most wide-reaching.

*Data is correct as of January 3, 2017.


Cicely Marston is Associate Professor in Social Science at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine where she conducts interdisciplinary research on sexual and reproductive health, particularly of young people, and community participation in health. She holds an undergraduate degree in Human Sciences from Oxford University, and from LSHTM a Medical Demography MSc, and an interdisciplinary PhD and postdoc in young people’s sexual behaviour, participatory health promotion, and behaviour change, with fieldwork in Mexico City. She spent some time at Imperial College London conducting research and running a Public Health MSc, returning to LSHTM in 2005. She is Chair of the LSHTM MSc Ethics Committee and co-lead of the ‘A’ (adolescents and young people) Theme of the MARCH centre.