FABBS Public Scholarship Series Wraps with Op-Eds and Policy Briefs

June 15, 2021

FABBS, in collaboration with the Scholars Strategy Network, continued our June Series on Public Scholarship with presentations about strategies and opportunities to elevate research findings.

The session Drafting a Policy Brief was led by Joanna Ten-Kate: Scholars Strategy Network, Policy Associate (bio here). The interactive session led by Ms. Ten-Kate addressed how to choose a target audience, provided advice on writing for different audiences, and defined the components of a policy brief. Reiterating a key takeaway from Connecting with Congressional Offices, Ms. Ten-Kate emphasized the importance of relationship-building and explained that generating a conversation with a civic leader should be the first priority when writing policy briefs.

With the goal of relationship-building, Ms. Ten-Kate suggested that researchers target a specific audience based on shared priorities and interests. One strategy researchers can use in determining the right audience for their policy brief is identifying which agencies carry out policies in their area of knowledge. Ms. Ten-Kate recommended that, regardless of the specific audience, researchers avoid dense, lengthy documents, the use of jargon, and reference lists. Policy briefs should be one to two pages, links should be embedded within the text, and section titles should be utilized. With reader accessibility at the forefront of policy brief drafting, Ms. Ten-Kate suggested that researchers ask non-professionals, such as friends and family, if the brief is easy to understand. She also stated that policy briefs can be sent to the Scholars Strategy Network for expert opinions.

Ms. Ten-Kate described the components of a policy brief. The values-based introduction is comprised of a brief statement about the underlying values that make an issue matter. Researchers can compose this introduction by asking themselves what values matter most to their audience. Context provides a concise description of the challenges or opportunities within an issue to generate interest and a sense of urgency. The solution tells policymakers how to address the issue, and the corresponding action component identifies a specific action the policymaker can take. The inclusion of graphics, data, and stories helps capture the audience’s attention, and embedded links throughout the policy brief direct the audience to further information.

The final session, Writing and Placing an Op-ed, was a hands-on training session for scholars interested in communicating their research to a broader public. Dominik Doemer, the Director of Communications at the Scholars Strategy Network (bio here), led the informative and interactive session.

Mr. Doemer opened by explaining the purposes of op-eds: reaching stakeholders and policymakers, directing attention to relevant research, reframing a narrative in the media, producing sharable content, and building a public brand. For an op-ed to effectively fulfill one of these purposes, the writer must first consider the central message of their piece and determine their audience based on the topic of discussion.

Once the writer has confirmed the topic, purpose, target audience, and key message of their op-ed, they should craft a timely hook. Mr. Doemer explained that an op-ed could be written prior to and in anticipation of, an important event, such as a Supreme Court decision.

Mr. Doemer explained that public audiences are less receptive to op-eds when they include dense, dry writing, rely entirely on quantitative data, and contain technical jargon. He then discussed the importance of incorporating powerful narratives and personal stories into op-eds. Narratives and unique, individual experiences add an element of a human connection to the writer’s persuasion, establish credibility beyond the academic realm, make the content interesting to non-experts, and diversify the writer’s perspective.

Mr. Doemer concluded with a few general tips for op-eds. Op-eds should be around 750 words and include an attention-catching headline written by the author. Writers should avoid in-text citations and opt for embedded hyperlinks. Punchy language and powerful topic sentences engage the public and effectively convey research to lay audiences.

FABBS would like to thank the Scholars Strategy Network and our excellent speakers for their participation in the June Public Scholarship series. FABBS aims to build upon the conversations from the last five weeks and continue developing resources for our members interested in the advancement of public scholarship. Recordings and slides from the June Public Scholarship webinars are here.


Public Scholarship, Scholars Strategy Network, SSN, Workshop