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5 ways to publish for policy impact

March 4, 2016


International Policy Institute Fellow Brandon Ray, a UW master's degree candidate in the sciences, wants to better communicate his technical field to educate the public.

“We academics have to be more nimble and versatile in navigating a career,” said Jackson School Associate Professor Kristian Coates Ulrichsen to a group of students and faculty gathered for his talk on “How To Write For Maximum Policy Impact” hosted on Feb. 26 by the International Policy Institute.

Ulrichsen, a Ph.D. who is also a Rice University Baker Institute Fellow for the Middle East and an associate fellow at Chatham House in the United Kingdom, among other academic appointments, writes policy briefs, Op-Eds and publishes across social media platforms and online magazines, newspapers and journals.

In addition, he is a consultant on policy in the Middle East, taking on assignments from think tanks and governments to multinational companies.

“The world of academic fellowships for life and the traditional path of gaining academic tenure are over,” he noted. “Students and faculty need to start publishing online alongside academic journals to keep up with the changing nature of the academic market.”

Writing research for a non-academic audience

Training students and faculty in how to write for a non-academic community is one of the goals of the Jackson School’s International Policy Institute, which is funded by Carnegie Corporation and aims to bridge academia with real-world policymaking.

For International Policy Institute Fellow Brandon Ray, who is completing his master’s degree in atmospheric science at the University of Washington and will begin a master’s degree in international studies in fall 2016 at the Jackson School concurrent with a master’s in marine and environmental affairs, learning how to “more effectively communicate to educate a broader public,” especially as as someone in the sciences, is “a piece no one talks about.”

“We in the science community are very good at social media, for example, for the science community, but it’s not digestible for others,” he said. “I am attending these Institute workshops because I want to know how I can better effectively communicate to the public.”

Ray, who served in the U.S. Navy for ten years, is focusing his area of research expertise on the linkage between climate change and national security.

Top tips  

In his presentation, Ulrichsen shared tips on getting research published for an educated but a non-academic audience, whether in mass media, policy analysis for corporations or social media:

  • Be clear on your audience and its expectations
  • Keep the length short, especially for an online blog or Op-Ed, often 600 words is maximum
  • Be succinct and avoid academic technical jargon
  • Use sub-headings and bullet points as guideposts
  • Suggest recommendations, or explain important consequences about your topic

The group also discussed the need to recognize and balance accepted academic standards for presentation of data and research, which vary across disciplines, with the reality of crafting more public-oriented policy papers and online publication outlets.

There are a number of online forums that are helping academics bridge the gap to the real world, such as The Conversation.

Questions ranged from measurement of impact of publications to how to teach undergraduates who fear they cannot publish because they “do not know enough to be an expert.”

“Writing to Maximize Policy Impact” is part of a series of International Policy Institute training workshops that aim to teach students and faculty to build bridges between academic research and real world impact.


This publication was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.