Communications Toolkit for Academics

Blogs and Op-eds

Once you have crafted your messages it is now up to you to spread those messages. Unlike having your story published by a reporter, which may not always be as in-depth or accurate as you might expect, one of the best ways to control the conversation and tell your story is to write about it yourself. Two ways you can accomplish this are through a blog or op-ed. 

Blogs

What are they?

A blog is published by an individual or a small group that consists of regular entries – or “posts” – displayed in reverse chronological order, similar to a diary or a journal. They are usually written in an informal tone and typically contain a comments section.

Blogs are an effective communications tool, and are one of the fastest growing ways in which many people learn about science and research. They are an instrument for education and outreach, and can be used to provide commentary on news and current events, or to recap lectures, research and fieldwork.

Why have a blog?

When used correctly, blogs can establish your online presence and can potentially amplify your voice in your field. At a minimum, they can also serve as an opportunity to refine your writing and communications skills.

The lines between traditional news media websites and personal blogs are becoming increasingly blurred. Many newspapers and individual reporters now have their own blogs, and news organizations will publish material written on personal blogs. A blog can be thought of as your own personal newspaper column. As the creator of the blog, you have complete control over the content you create and publish, and you serve as the editor. You write about what you want to, when you want to.

Blogs can be a valuable addition to your work and your professional presence, especially when housed on your website for visitors to view. A blog can help you address misinterpretations of your work and respond to bad press about your research or your field in general. Blog pieces can be submitted as op-eds and can be shared on other websites or via social media.

Challenges and downsides to blogs

The quality and success of a blog comes down to the effort and time you put into it. This means that a successful blog can also be time consuming. If you rarely update or add content to your blog, it will likely have few visitors and you may begin to question why you are doing it at all. But, as the creator and editor, your entries to a blog can be as easy and quick as you wish them to be.

Open comments sections can invite dissent of your blog entries, which can descend into arguments and unruliness. Moderation of your blog’s comments section can become an additional task, but a comments section can also serve as a forum for explanation, debate, dialogue and the sharing of differing perspectives.

Where to start?

Spartan Ideas 

MSU Libraries curates blogs from around the MSU community to reshare with the general public on a website called Spartan Ideas.

Posts change on a daily basis so check it out for ideas on what you might want to write about or to get a feel for different styles of blogs. Once you've started your own blog, you have the option to be included in the website. 

Top Science Blogs

Take a look at some of the top science blogs for inspiration, to compare with what your own ideas for your blog’s content might be.

LongView 
From the Lab Bench 
MSU Hyenas 

Blogging Resources

The Open Notebook 

Op-Eds

What are they?

Op-eds are written pieces that share a personal viewpoint or knowledge on a current topic in print or online publications. The term op-ed originates from where these articles are typically positioned in a printed newspaper opposite the editorial page. 

Why write one?

Op-eds present an opportunity to establish you as a public voice in your field and a go-to expert on a given topic. If the op-ed is placed in national media, it has the potential to introduce you to national and international audiences, including decision makers and other leading experts. If published, an op-ed can amplify the impact of your work in tangible ways, such as shifting the national or international conversation regarding your topic of interest, or influencing public policy. Op-eds are a means of starting or entering a conversation on a current topic that is or should be of interest to a broad audience.

Tips for writing an op-ed

Most op-eds run between 700 and 1,200 words and are sharply focused on a newsworthy topic in which the author has expertise, personal experience or a unique perspective.

Timing is important. Editors will only accept op-ed pitches for a very short window of time after a story unfolds or a newsworthy event occurs. The public’s interest in a topic passes quickly, and the time for submitting an op-ed passes with it.

Simplify the topic you are writing about, particularly if it is about a complex, scientific issue. You are trying to appeal to as broad of an audience and as many people as possible, most of whom will not have your level of expertise on the topic.

  • Avoid jargon and highly technical language if possible.
  • Get to your main point quickly, very early in the piece, in order to draw the interest of your readers, and then back it up with a strong, clearly written argument. Refer to the message box to develop your points.
  • Use a less formal tone than you typically use in academic writing.

Tips for pitching an op-ed

CABS can help you pitch your op-ed to the appropriate outlets.

In an email to the specific editor of your targeted publication:

  • Describe your op-ed idea in a few clearly-written sentences, highlighting your unique point of view and conveying your expertise.
  • Briefly explain your credentials.
  • Paste the op-ed in its entirety below your pitch.
  • Include your contact information.
Blogs
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