Every scientist should write for The Conversation

Last month, I wrote a piece for the news organization “The Conversation” featuring a publication in my lab. The story was picked up by about two-dozen other news organizations including CBS and Scientific American. Our publication gained a lot of traction as a result.

The Conversation is a non-profit organization that helps academics write news articles. Any academic can sign up and pitch an idea for a story. If selected, you’ll be matched with a professional journalist who will help you edit and curate your story. The Conversation then pushes your published story out to other news organizations.

I haven’t published many papers, but thanks to some shameless self-promotion, my manuscripts tend to have high Altmetric scores. I also spent 10 weeks working as a science journalist, so I appreciate the power of a good science story.

Some part of any research project can make a good story. And telling a good story about your research has a lot of benefits. For one, voters and policy makers can better appreciate why funding your research is important if you get it out there and make it interesting.

But non-scientists aren’t the only ones who like a good story.

Once upon a time, there were a small number of academic journals that published hard copy issues each month. If you wanted other scientists to read (and cite) your manuscripts, all you had to do was get them into one of those journals.

Now there are hundreds of journals of various impacts and purposes. Most people don’t subscribe to regular issues. So how can you make sure your manuscript isn’t lost in a sea of online literature? Promotion.

There are two simple ways any scientist can easily promote their work: working with your institution to issue a press release and writing a piece for The Conversation. I recently wrote about press releases here. After my first experience with The Conversation, I can’t recommend it enough.

Even if you’re not sure you want to do any writing for the conversation, it’s a good idea to sign up. It’s simple, and they may commission you to write something or comment on an issue that comes up in your area of expertise.

Once you are signed up you can pitch a story in a simple online form. Once accepted, you’ll be connected with an editor.

My experience started with a short phone call in which I told the editor my ideas, and she provided me with feedback. Then I was given access to a web page where I could write and submit a draft. The editor then gave me several comments and made a few changes. After I incorporated her suggestions, she shared the draft with a second editor for a few final comments. I incorporated those changes and was then given the opportunity to approve the draft. Only once my co-author and I both approved the draft was it published.

The editor also worked with us to find an appropriate picture. We were even given control over the headline (which is not the case for many journalists). The whole process was very transparent.

We published The Conversation story and issued the press release on the same day the paper was published. (Ideally you’d want to issue the press release under embargo at least a few days earlier).

Our Conversation article has had over 40,000 reads. Because of the article, I was also invited to participate in a radio program called The Academic Minute. As a result of the press release, my PI was contacted about a speaking engagement and invited to contribute to a story for a tech magazine.

Together the Conversation article and the press release helped bring the Altmetric score for our publication to over 120, making it one of the most popular Trends in Biotechnology papers by that metric.

As an author for the conversation, I also get access to some other cool tools. I can see who’s tweeting about our article and get notifications about comments. I can also see who else at my institution is writing articles, and how my institution stacks up against others in terms of readership. (btw Colorado State is killing it)

In short, writing about your research for The Conversation is a no-brainer. It’s relatively easy to do, helps non-scientists appreciate your research, and brings your publications to the attention of other scientists.

If you’ve never heard of The Conversation before, visit the website now and sign up. If you’re aware of The Conversation, but on the fence, sign up and pitch an idea. If you want to write something, but have no idea where to even start, shoot me an email. Your science deserves to get media attention. It just may need a little extra help.




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