This page offers a variety of general pointers for political
scientists interested in engaging in the public arena.
Why should I engage? There are many
reasons to engage, including:
- Informing public understanding of critical issues and
contributing to policy discussions
Helping others understand what political
scientists do and appreciate the importance of the
Promoting an interest in political science
among students and fostering the next generation
How should I engage? There are numerous
ways to take your research to different audiences. These
are just a few:
- Speaking to elementary or secondary school classes
- Briefing a local, state, or national policymaker
- Writing op-eds
- Giving interviews to the media
- Writing a blog entry
How much should I engage? It's not all or
nothing. While some scholars have a regular presence in the
media, policy communities, Twittersphere, or blogosphere,
others contribute through less frequent but equally
important ways. From an occasional blog posting to a weekly
radio show and everything in between, you can decide the
frequency and pace that works best for you.
How does engagement contribute to professional
Public engagement brings many
benefits for professional development. The skills you gain
when communicating to the public can:
- Make you a better speaker and sharpen communication
skills in the classroom, in job interviews, in book and
funding proposals, and in professional meetings
- Help you satisfy criteria for certain funding
- Help you develop more professional contacts
Developing a message to convey your research in clear and
concise ways, accessible to non-specialists, allows you to
communicate effectively in a wide array of forums. Having a
message--or suite of messages--connected to your research
helps you respond quickly to media requests, speak smoothly
under pressure, and ensure you say what you really mean to
For any given research issue you’d like to take into
the public arena, plan ahead and consider the following:
What is your core point? Start with
the bottom line and build your message out from there.
Keep your message brief and consider limiting
supporting points to two or three items.
What are the key words you must use, and what
are the plain-English equivalents?
Look for a
jargon-free alternative or a short way of explaining a
difficult concept rather than packing your message with
Why should we care? Why does your
message matter and why should it matter to your
listeners? Know your audience and consider how your
research relates to them.
Liaising with the Media
Be prepared to act quickly: Reporters
have tight deadlines. Be prepared to respond quickly
when a reporter contacts you, but find out if you can
call the reporter back. Use any available time to
finalize your message, address questions you
anticipate, and understand your audience.
Stay on message: Remember the core
messages you want to convey and ensure you get them
across. During an interview, use language that
highlights key points you want to emphasize: "The most
important thing to remember about this issue is..."
Check yourself: You usually won't be
able to see an article before it is published but you
can ask to have your quotes read back to you after an
Prepare: View clips of the program and
understand the interviewer's style. Record yourself in
advance to see how you look and sound on camera.
Know the camera rules: Look at the
interviewer, not the camera.
Review the style rules: Wear colors
and patterns that won't take attention away from what
you have to say. View our
for more information.
Know the template: Op-eds are short
(often around 700 words) and follow a general outline.
An array of online resources covers the basics of how
to construct your piece, from developing a compelling
lead sentence (the “lede”) to supporting
your argument and driving home your
point. View our
for more information.
Plan: While op-eds should be timely,
there are ways you can plan ahead for your piece by
identifying key anniversaries and news developments in
the works, and by preparing core text you can deploy in
different contexts as news unfolds.
Op-eds can have a
powerful influence locally or nationally. Think broadly
about the right venue and don't give up if you don't
successfully place your first piece.
Be concise: Your time may be limited.
Know your core message and ensure you get it across up
Have an action plan: Know how you want
to respond if a policymaker asks you for your
Leave a message: Leave behind a 1-2
page document with your key points, easy-to-read graphs
or illustrations, and your contact information.
Have a strategy: Plan ahead to build a
web presence you can sustain by developing a calendar
of how often you want to blog, Tweet, or post.
Use key words: Strategically worded
blog titles and hashtags can draw more readers to your
Cross-pollinate your work: Make it
easy for journalists and practitioners to find you by
maintaining a homepage and by using social media to
highlight your work. Tweet out information on your new
academic article and write a blog entry on your
Interested in learning more? Join one of APSA’s Communications Training