On Thursday, April 19, the Futures Initiative welcomed Tanya Domi to lead a workshop on writing for the public. I was particularly excited about this session because I think that writing for the public is something that can really drive engagement with research and help shape policy, but it’s not always easy to know where to start. The speed, clarity, and confidence required to successfully write and publish op-eds or other forms of public writing can sometimes be anathema to scholars, whose work tends to be slow, meticulous, and nuanced. But writing for the public is an act of translation much like teaching; it’s a way of taking something that is highly complex and finding ways to meaningfully communicate to a different audience.
Tanya discussed how important it is for scholars to publish their work in this way—even more so for women and people of color, whose voices tend to be far less present in mainstream media outlets. Since opinion pieces can shape policy, public discourse, and more, it’s essential to have a more diverse representation of voices in those spaces. As a way to get started, Tanya suggested writing letters to the editor. At just 150-200 words, they require much less time to write than op-eds, and they are easier to place. The key is speed; following a publication’s guidelines, try to submit a letter no more than 24 hours after the piece you’re responding to was published. Check the publication’s website for instructions (including word limit and where to submit), then follow those instructions to the letter.
When your research connects meaningfully with what’s happening in the news and you want to write something more extended (600-1,200 words, depending on the publication), an op-ed can be the way to go. Even if your topic is evergreen, you’ll still want a strong connection to something timely. Your thesis should be in the lede, and you want to make your point as clearly as possible; this is not the place to bring out every subtlety and counterargument, and definitely not the place to use any jargon. Personal connections or emotional appeals can be effective. You might end with a call to action or possible solution, if it makes sense to do so.
Above all, try! It takes time to build up a portfolio of work. Seek feedback, as this is a particular genre of writing that requires craft and practice, just like any other. The world needs your voice!
About the Workshop
No matter what your field of research, you have expertise that is valuable to public discourse. But how do you connect with a broader audience? In this hands-on workshop, Tanya Domi, Director of Media Relations at the Graduate Center, will teach strategies for getting your ideas published in mainstream media outlets. Learn how to connect your research to the news and get started with op-eds, letters to the editor, and more.
Tanya Domi, Director of Media Relations, The Graduate Center
Tanya Domi is a multi-skilled public affairs professional who has worked for more than 20 years in the United States and abroad, with a particular expertise in the Balkans. In her day job, Domi works as the Director of Media Relations and Spokesperson at the Graduate Center, CUNY where she is responsible for promoting the scholarship and research of a highly distinguished faculty in the humanities and social sciences.
Domi also teaches international relations and human rights in the Western Balkans in the department of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and has been a faculty affiliate of the Harriman Institute since 2008. Since 1991, she has worked in public policy roles with respect to post-conflict development in the areas of media development, human rights, democracy development, economic development, human trafficking in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia.
Domi has been published in numerous popular media outlets, including The New York Times, The Atlantic Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, CNN.com, Al Jazeera America, The New Civil Rights Movement, Balkan Insight, Radio Free Europe, among many others.