Why all Researchers Should be Using Canva - an easy graphic design tool for Impact

Canva is pretty much the ultimate research and science communication tool, and I am constantly shocked at how many academics and PhD students don’t know about it! This is the sort of thing that your supervisor probably won't know about, but it really is a hidden secret weapon in the research world.

This platform is basically a really simple graphic design tool that helps non-designers create beautiful images and documents. The whole idea is that there are millions of templates for logos, social media posts, infographics, reports, flyers, resumes, brochures and more- all designed by fancy designers. All you need to do is change the text, and switch out the pictures, and you have a beautifully designed, engaging, visual tool to communicate your research to a wider range of audiences. I've been using Canva for a few years now, and honestly don't think I could get my research 'out there' without it.

Yes, this post contains affiliate links – I’m trying this out as a side-project income stream (and will let you know if it works!) – using these links also get you a better deal if you choose to sign up for Canva pro, and of course, they help me too- it's win-win. But please also know that this blog post comes from a place of actual, genuine love for this very clever platform.

So here are my favourite ways to use Canva in my research, and some examples of what I’ve used.

1. Create a Logo for your research project

I’ve been ‘branding’ my research projects for a while now, and it’s so effective in driving recruitment, and communicating the outcomes of the project. Developing a catchy name, and using a logo just takes your project to the next level, but it can cost around $1500 AUD for these services. While I recommend getting a branding expert and a graphic designer if and when you have the funds, most of the time, we need the logo before we have the money to pay for it. Enter Canva. There are hundreds of templates on there, and you can change the text, colours, and layout of the logo to suit you, save it as a PNG file and then put it on everything! Suddenly, your project looks way more developed than it is, and can compete in a crowded market. All for free. Even if you start with something and change it later when you have funds, it’s better than nothing- and having something already that you did yourself can make it easier to communicate with your designer (when you eventually get one) about what you want.

I've done a lot of these- the below were designed on Canva, and the Well Researched logo was created on the logomaker app!

2. Social media images for recruitment and knowledge translation

Research recruitment is HARD. So hard. Whenever I get an email from a colleague asking to circulate a survey, I go to Canva, develop an image or two, and send it on to them, or use that to post on social media. According to some marketing industry research, posts with images get 2.3 times more engagement on Facebook, and adding images to your Tweet results in 150% more retweets than text alone. Visuals matter, and Canva makes it very easy to just tweak a template using the hundreds of thousands of free images to create the visuals that you need. Even better if you can add your logo from point 1 as well!

Social media images are also important for knowledge translation - where you communicate the findings and learning from your research to the general public. You might choose to do this through your own social media channels, or use existing, established networks with a highly engaged following around your topic (much easier- see my Well Researched printable social media guide). Sending someone with this sort of reach a word document with your research might work, but sending them sample text that they could use, with accompanying images makes it much easier for them.

Here are some examples of the types of Canva images that I have used for research recruitment and knowledge translation. Hot tip- any images with celebrities and quotes get really high engagement!

3. Conference Presentations

After attending university and conferences for well over 20 years all up, I'm pretty much over powerpoint! Canva presentation templates look and work so much better, and encourage you to be more creative with how you convey information. My latest paper presented at the (virtual) 2020 International Conference on Eating

Disorders was created on Canva. You can present directly from Canva, but I ended up having to convert to powerpoint in order to present within the virtual platform that the conference was using. This was seamless, with no formatting issues, and you can also download to video, JPEG, PNG or PDF.

4. Conference Posters

Conference posters can also be really boring. Often overloaded with information, with graphs as the only pictures- it just isn't helpful in allowing you to digest large amounts of material in a short period of time. I made this one for our Embrace project many years ago, and I would definitely do things differently now, but here it is anyway as an example of a more engaging approach using a Canva template. You can also print directly from Canva and have your poster delivered to you in a range of sizes, though I haven't personally tried that.

5. Infographics

We've long known about the knowledge translation power of a good infographic- but these can be really expensive- upwards of $5000 for a designer to develop one for you. If you don't have that sort of grant funding lying around, you can use the range of templates on Canva to develop your own.

Infographics can really vary depending on the audience that you are communicating to, and the nature of the information that you are trying to communicate, and it can take a while to switch your brain into infographic thinking mode. There are a range of resources available to help you, like this informative video.

One of the best ways to learn is just to look at other infographics to get an idea of what works, and to look through the Canva templates to see what might be possible for you to make.

6. E-books and Report Templates

Have you ever developed a great booklet or report for an industry partner, with great content, but you know that they will be expecting something a bit prettier than your word document? Canva has a range of e-book and report templates that you can use to impress your partners easily.

7. CV's

Most academic CV's are pages and pages of publications and presentations listed in a word document, but it doesn't have to be this way. I've recently redesigned my CV using Canva and I love how quickly and easily it communicates, but also demonstrates some of the skills that I have in communicating complex information.

So there you have it. My top hints for using Canva for researchers. It’s the ultimate science communication tool- mostly, because it doesn’t look too sciency! Why not sign up for a free trial today to see how this can enhance your work.

I'd love to know if there are other ways that you are using Canva for research impact!

Join the Well researched closed, private Facebook group to chat about this and all things impact.

Dr Zali Yager is an Associate Professor in Health and Physical Education, and the founder of two side projects: Body Confident Collective, and Well Researched. Email me at zali.yager@gmail.com to provide feedback and talk more.

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