Skip to Content
 

Tools and Tips for Engagement

<span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span><span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span><span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span><span c<span id="selection-marker-1" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span>lass="redactor-invisible-space"></span><span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span><span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span><span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span><span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span><span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span><span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span><span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span><span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span><span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span><span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span><span class="redactor-invisible-space"></span>

This page offers a variety of general pointers for political scientists interested in engaging in the public arena. 

Public Engagement Basics

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 discipline   
  • Promoting an interest in political science among students and fostering the next generation of scholars

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 development? 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 opportunities
  • Help you develop more professional contacts

Making Your Message

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 say.

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 specialized terminology.
  • 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.

Conveying Your Message

Liaising with the Media

Print 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 interview.

TV

  • 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 resources page for more information.

Op-Eds

  • 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  resources page  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.
  • Pitch: 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.

Briefing Policymakers

  • Be concise: Your time may be limited. Know your core message and ensure you get it across up front.
  • Have an action plan: Know how you want to respond if a policymaker asks you for your recommendation.
  • Leave a message: Leave behind a 1-2 page document with your key points, easy-to-read graphs or illustrations, and your contact information.

Social Media

  • 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 work.
  • 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 findings.

Interested in learning more? Join one of APSA’s Communications Training Workshops!

American Political Science Association
1527 New Hampshire Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036-1206
(202) 483-2512 • Fax: +1 (202) 483-2657

Scroll Up