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Writing for The Conversation & Beyond - opinion, commentary & explainers for broad audiences


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Presented to faculty and trainees of the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, August 2018
Adapted from a presentation developed with Elyse Aurbach and Brian Zikmund-Fisher

Published in: Health & Medicine
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Writing for The Conversation & Beyond - opinion, commentary & explainers for broad audiences

  1. 1. Writing for The Conversation and beyond Opinion, commentary & explainer pieces for broad audiences
  2. 2. Do you have something to say? • Call attention to problems & opportunities • Coalesce knowledge on topic in the news • Call for action – or a stop to something • Warn of potential impacts of a policy, activity – or inaction • Share new knowledge in a different way • Explain something that everyday people, or professionals, need to understand
  3. 3. Who’s going to hear you? 2017 Digital Future Report Center for the Digital Future – USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism Percentage of American internet users: 92% Average hours per week online: 23.6 Average hours per week online at home: 17.6 Internet users who go online on a mobile phone: 82% Hours online at work (weekly): 14.3 Hours actively using the internet at work (weekly): 10.1
  4. 4. They need help focusing their attention! You can help.
  5. 5. Where can you express your professional opinion? Academic journals • Faster turnaround than research papers • Can introduce limited new data • Comment on state of field or impact of new policy or practice development • Recent alternative: journal-run blogs such as Health Affairs, BMJ Opinion or AJMC News media organizations • Traditional print-first newspapers & magazines • Top-tier (NY Times, Washington Post, WSJ) • Specialty (Modern Healthcare) • Regional (Detroit Free Press, Detroit News) • Online-only outlets • With editors: • National (STAT News, Politico) • Regional media (Bridge Magazine) • The Conversation • Self-published: • Medium • LinkedIn
  6. 6. Choosing to publish in a non-academic outlet Advantages Known “brands” among policymakers/advocates/public High “Google visibility” for discovery by current and future web searchers Some sites allow free re-publishing with conditions Usually no paywall Disadvantages Top-tier outlets get vast numbers of submissions, very difficult to be selected Media outlets hold copyright so usually unable to re-publish Open commenting – you must decide if you want to engage How to cite in CV?
  7. 7. Types of commentaries
  8. 8. Timely: Reactive Timely: Proactive Timeless Today Next Week Next Month Next Year Last Month Last Week Commentary, context or information related to a current or recent event
  9. 9. Timely: Reactive Timely: Proactive Timeless Today Next Week Next Month Next Year Last Month Last Week Push ideas into public awareness related to brand-new or upcoming event* *The timing can be ‘pegged’ to the publication of your own work or a major report you’re involved with.
  10. 10. Timely: Reactive Timely: Proactive Timeless Today Next Week Next Month Next Year Last Month Last Week Commentary, explanation & analysis that is always relevant* Something people will find interesting any day *Timeless pieces can suddenly become timely due to current events!
  11. 11. • Central message: A deliberate attempt to focus attention on a single take-away idea • Gives context, content and significance. • Focuses on YOUR goal in writing, and YOUR AUDIENCE’S goal in reading • Can shift depending on the type of article WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?
  12. 12. Central Message Supporting Idea Supporting Idea Supporting Idea
  13. 13. “Academic rigor, journalistic flair”
  14. 14. Journalistic Staff Academics Foundations Universities Traditional & Social Media
  15. 15. What is The Conversation? What they DO want: What they DON’T want: Going beyond your expertise A pre-written piece Self-promotion (You must reference/link to work of others as well as yourself) Political spin ~1000 words - written after approval of topic by editor Research-based evidence Broad audience appeal Informed opinion, commentary, or explainers
  16. 16. Why Choose The Conversation? Broad potential audience Major media outlet republishing No paywall, CC licensing Help from professional editors Cloud-based editing interface Attractive pages and imagery Credibility of journalistic site Trackable metrics Moderated comments Optimized for social sharing
  17. 17. The Conversation’s Publishing Process Idea Pitch Refine Green Light Write Edit Publish Share You & colleagues You You & section editor Section editor You & colleagues You, colleagues, & section editor via cloud The Conversation staff Everyone!
  18. 18. After You Publish* *The Conversation can agree to not publish piece until a set date/time, for instance if a paper is coming out or a piece of legislation is being considered. Republishing The Conversation US: 1 million users/month Republishing by media: 7 million users/month Timely Topics Social media & reposting Individuals and institutions share via web and social media Article can be shared again or edited & reposted when the topic is timely again.
  19. 19. 16,159 reads 12 republishings
  20. 20. 15,000+ reads 25 republishings
  21. 21. 28,237 reads
  22. 22. 7,364 reads 20 republishings
  23. 23. Ways to structure your piece A.B.T. 1. 2. 3.
  24. 24. … And … But … Therefore … What we know What we don’t know What we must do What we learned that we expected What we learned that was surprising What the are the implications
  25. 25. • Timely (Reactive/Proactive) • A: What just happened / is happening • B: What THE READER doesn’t know that’s relevant • T: Implications for what the reader should think or do • Timeless: • A: What we know • B: What we don’t know • T: Why it’s important
  26. 26. Momentum Tension LowHigh Life is normal Equilibrium is disrupted All is lost Science saves the day A better equilibrium is reached “The Swoop”
  27. 27. “big picture” context so what? supporting details aims, methods, results payoff/(positive) impact “The Hourglass”
  28. 28. Concluding thoughts on commentaries • Great way to extend reach of your academic work & practice innovation  Policymakers  Funders  Non-academic professional colleagues  Public support • Build on professional expertise & personal experience, frame with relevant evidence • Be on the lookout for relevant changes in policy or practice as “hooks” for novel commentary to showcase your insights • Dissemination of the piece after publication is crucial
  29. 29. Links to major opinion section submission guides & forms The Conversation - New York Times - Washington Post - USA Today opinion - Wall Street Journal - STAT First Opinion Politico Opinion - / Modern Healthcare opinion - / Detroit Free Press - Detroit News - Bridge Michigan - Crain’s Detroit Business -
  30. 30. Additional Slides
  31. 31. “Covers timely, relevant topics in health care and medicine in brief, accessible style.” 1200 word limit,1 table or figure 1-3 authors, <5 references 2-3 month turnaround, can be much faster Cited in PubMed, often peer reviewed
  32. 32. “May address virtually any important topic in medicine, public health, research, discovery, prevention, ethics, health policy, or health law” 1200 word limit w/o table or figure, 1000 words w/ table or figure 1-3 authors, <7 references 2-3 month turnaround, can be much faster Cited in PubMed, may be peer reviewed
  33. 33. “Structured like essays or op-eds, with a strong, clear explanation of the issue and key themes upfront…discuss how your work may be relevant to policymakers as well as researchers.” <2000 words, references embedded w/ hyperlinks Rapid review & editing by Health Affairs staff Not peer reviewed, not cited in PubMed