Aiming Beyond Academic Journals: Where to share your research and what to consider.

Last week, I wrote about making your research more accessible to decision makers. I wanted to follow-up on this post and briefly cover three common mediums of public dissemination, at least among the academic circles that I am apart of: (1) Newspaper/Magazine articles; (2) Blogs; and (3) Policy Briefs. More about each outlet below:

Newspaper/Magazine articles: Publishing an article in a well-known magazine or newspaper is often a coveted achievement because of the level of exposure your research will receive. This will require careful and concise language, ranging between 700 to 1,000 words depending on the outlet. You will also need to come up with attention-grabbing headlines, and immediately open the article with your main message.

Carefully paying attention to your favorite articles is a great way to see this in practice. For example, here’s an article headline from the Washington Post that gets straight to the point: Antarctic ice loss has tripled in a decade. If that continues, we are in serious trouble. And this is the first sentence: “Antarctica’s ice sheet is melting at a rapidly increasing rate, now pouring more than 200 billion tons of ice into the ocean annually and raising sea levels a half-millimeter every year, a team of 80 scientists reported Wednesday.” The empirical study informing this Washington Post article is much more complicated. It focuses more on methods and the specifics of the researchers’ quantitative findings. The empirical article, as written, may not be well understood by non-technical audiences, but the findings and potential implications can still be highlighted such that any reader can understand what these scientists found and why it matters.

Note: op-eds are not the same as articles. They are about 750 words or less and they are based on your opinion; see this link and this link for tips on writing op-eds.

Blog Posts: Blogs are a great way of making your research accessible to niche audiences, and your article should be tailored according to their specific interests. However, make sure that your writing can still be easily understood by audiences who are unfamiliar with the general theme of the blog, keeping in mind that you want to increase readership. Posts should also be short, typically 500 to 800 words. Try to make the language conversational, meaning that you try to write like you speak, but be concise. Lastly, it’s always helpful to include visuals, such as photos or graphics. Graphics should be clearly explained or self-explanatory.

The topics and language featured in personal blogs is less strict, but I recommend writing professionally and cautiously, regardless. You never know who may read your blog and be offended, which may get you fired, set barriers for subsequent employment, and/or discredit you among important groups or decision makers.

My blog, for example, shares what I learn. I explain why I started this blog here. The benefit of sharing what I learn is that it forces me to clearly explain a topic or skill, which reinforces my learning and may help others who wish to learn the same thing. Plus, it invites feedback, which will help me to improve. I highly recommend it! Also, I have a running list of some of my favorite blogs here.

Policy Briefs: Policy briefs are typically aimed at policymakers or advocacy groups who are interested in a specific topic. These can be bit longer, typically 4 pages or less and between 1,500 to 2,000 words. It should provide a concise overview of a specific issue and recommendations for action. Make sure the recommendation is supported by credible research and identify who should perform this recommended action. Implications and recommendations should also be made in the introduction of the policy brief. For example, here’s a policy brief by PRB: Enhancing Family Planning Equity for Inclusive Economic Growth and Development. The implications and recommendations are highlighted in the last sentence of the first paragraph: “Lack of economic opportunity can produce multigenerational cycles of poverty, threaten social cohesion and stability, and even reduce economic competitiveness, but countries can achieve inclusive growth by implementing strategies that promote “broad-based expansion of economic opportunity and prosperity.” You can see that PRB clearly outlined what was at stake and also made a clear call to action. I recommend reviewing more policy briefs to see other examples.

 

The main takeaway is that when you look to share your research in different public outlet, make sure to consider the general format associated with publishing in through that medium. The format is very different from what I have a learned in grad school. It will definitely take a lot practice, but as an additional incentive, this kind of writing, especially the policy brief, is great for grants!

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on tips for effective communication for non-technical audiences!

Links to more resources:

UNC Writing Center: What is a policy brief

The Guardian on News Writing

Books by Craig Storti on Communicating Across Cultures

Inside Higher Ed: Communicating Research to a General Audience

 

 

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US Fertility Heat Map DIY

US Fertility Heat Map DIY

The US fertility heat maps that I made a couple of weeks ago received a lot of attention and one of the questions I’ve been asked is how I produced it, which I describe in this post.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I simply followed the directions specified in this article, but I limited the UN data to the US. Overall, I think the article does a good job of explaining how they created their heat map in Tableau. The reason why I remade the heat map in R is because I was just frustrated with the process of trying to embed the visualization into WordPress. Both Tableau and WordPress charge you to embed visualizations in a format that is aesthetically pleasing. Luckily, recreating the heat map in R was extremely easy and just as pretty, at least in my opinion. Here’s how I did it:

First, download the data from the UN website–limit the data to the US only. Alternatively, I’ve linked to the (formatted) data on my OSF account, which also provides access to my code.

Now type the following in Rstudio:


#load libraries:
#if you need to install first, type: install.packages("package_name",dependencies=TRUE)
library(tidyverse)
library(viridis)

#set your working directory to the folder your data is stored in
setwd("C:/Users/Stella/Documents/blog/US birth Map")
#if you don't know what directory is currently set to, type: getwd()

#now import your data
us_fertility<-read.csv("USBirthscsv.csv", header=TRUE) #change the file name if you did not use the data I provided (osf.io/h9ta2)

#limit to relevant data
dta% select(Year, January:December)

#gather (i.e., "aggregate") data of interest, in preparation for graphing
dta%
arrange(Year)

#orderring the data by most frequent incidence of births
dta %>%
group_by(Year) %>%
mutate(rank=dense_rank(desc(births)))

#plot the data
plot<- ggplot(bb2, aes(x =fct_rev(Month),
y = Year,
fill=rank)) +
scale_x_discrete(name="Months", labels=c("Jan", "Feb", "Mar",
"Apr", "May","Jun",
"Jul", "Aug", "Sep",
"Oct", "Nov", "Dec")) +
scale_fill_viridis(name = "Births", option="magma") + #optional command to change the colors of the heat map
geom_tile(colour = "White", size = 0.4) +
labs(title = "Heat Map of US Births",
subtitle = "Frequency of Births from 1969-2014",
x = "Month",
y = "Year",
caption = "Source: UN Data") +
theme_tufte()

plot+ aes(x=fct_inorder(Month))

#if you want to save the graph
dev.copy(png, "births.png")
dev.off()

 
And that’s it! Simple, right?!