Pitching and writing scientific articles for mainstream media
As a thought leader in your field, you will have made findings and hold opinions on certain topics that will affect the general public. It is not unusual, therefore, to be approached by more mainstream publications than you might be used to, or to have the impulse to pitch an article to a magazine, in order to bring your expertise into a wider conversation. Let’s discuss some things to bear in mind if you find yourself in this situation.
In a lot of ways, the process of publishing in a magazine or online publication is not too dissimilar from submitting papers to academic journals.
You will need to pitch your piece to an editor, who will decide whether what you plan to write is a good fit for the publication, and whether there is an upcoming issue that may be most appropriate for it. This is when many ideas get rejected, not because of their quality but because they may not appear to be consistent with the publication’s values, appeal to their audience or be within that publication’s scope.
It is therefore crucial to pitch your article to the right publication, in the right way. Make sure that your pitch is brief but captivating – you won’t usually be afforded the opportunity to submit a finished article for publication. Instead, you’ll be given a word limit for your article, which you’ll need to meet if your pitch is successful.
Your pitch will often be no longer than a paragraph in an email, so be sure to touch on everything that matters to a publication:
Will it interest their readers?
Is it a good fit for what this publication usually deals with?
Is it novel and interesting?
Style and substance
You may be used to writing academic papers, which, while interesting, tend to use very dry language to communicate research most effectively.
When writing for mainstream media, it is important not only to appeal to your readers’ brains, but also to their emotions. Use more evocative language to trigger a connection between your reader and your piece – this will help to encourage deeper engagement.
It is also important to ensure that your message remains on point and not to get too carried away talking about issues not directly related to the story. Use metaphors, examples, case studies and personal anecdotes to give your piece more dynamism and colour to draw your reader in while also educating them.
Have a voice
Writing for mainstream media is your opportunity to develop your personal writing style, be it humorous, solemn or a mixture of the two. Use this as a vehicle to express your work in the way that you want it to be viewed and be as bold as you feel comfortable with.
This can also be your chance to express opinions – something not often possible in academic writing. Just make sure that the publication you are writing for is happy for you to do this.
Writing for mainstream publications is a real privilege, affording you the opportunity to communicate your ideas more freely than academic writing allows. Just remember to tailor your writing to the publication, and once your pitch is successful have fun with it. Use this opportunity to find your unique voice and cultivate your writing skills by experimenting with it.
Read next (third/final) in series: Scientific writing tips for outreach programmes
Read previous (first) in series: Avoiding common pitfalls in writing about your research to the general public
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