Monday, 6 July 2015

Writing for The Conversation (Tseen Khoo)


Misha Ketchell (Managing Editor, The Conversation) at the podium
Photo by Jason Murphy
We all hear about research outreach and engagement, but what does it actually look like in practice?

On Wed 17 June, the newly appointed Chair of Public Scholarship Professor Chris Mackie facilitated the 'Writing for The Conversation' session, an afternoon of presenters who spoke about their experiences with writing for the public.

Chris has written about his public scholarship role for The RED Alert before, and he said, "The 'Writing for The Conversation' event provided a great example of cross-University collaboration to attain the right result".

The Graduate Research School RED team organised the session with Chris, and it featured keynote speaker Misha Ketchell (Managing Editor, The Conversation), and engaging and expert speakers from ARCSHS (Jayne Lucke) and La Trobe Asia (Nick Bisley).

After the event, Chris said, "Misha's talk was excellent and hit just the right note. I have had very positive feedback from participants."


Being someone who has been associated with online media platforms such as Crikey for a long time, Misha is in a great position to offer in-depth and sophisticated perspectives on the changing media landscape that researchers have to negotiate.

For me, the key points from the event are:
  • Gone are the days when your work and its findings must be mediated by a journalist or interviewer.
  • These days, you can be the content creator and disseminator; it's a DIY profile age. Take advantage of this!
The problem now lies in gaining an audience and, it must be said, 'skilling up' in the necessary communication and engagement processes.

Misha pointed out that that's what a platform like The Conversation does for academics: it boosts their ability to reach informed and interested audiences.  The Conversation also offers  helpful editorial staff and a process for the writer that facilitates the appropriate style and address for an article that will have broad appeal.

For academics new to the research communications game, The Conversation's subject editors work closely with you to ensure that you present your research to the world engagingly and as you want it to be. One of the key issues that such a process addresses is researchers' fear of being misquoted or misrepresented.

If you haven't seen the inside workings of writing and submitting a Conversation article, I can advocate for the text assessor that's embedded in the interface where you compose your article. The text assessor tells you whether your writing is easy to read (or not!). It does this by gauging the length of sentences and paragraphs, as well as word types. Sometimes, an academic's idea of plain English may not be widely shared!

'Writing for The Conversation' panel (L to R): Jayne Lucke (Director, ARCSHS), Nick Bisley (Director, La Trobe Asia), Chris Mackie (Chair, Public Scholarship)
Photo by Jason Murphy
Jayne Lucke, Director of ARCSHS and one of the panel speakers, is the "Facts of Life" column writer for The Conversation. 

"Writing for The Conversation is a lot of fun," she says. "It’s a great way to reach a wide audience, as well as learn how to write concisely and quickly to articulate an interesting idea for people outside your field. You get quick feedback through reader comments, and have the opportunity to enter into discussions about the issues they raise."

The event was held at the John Scott Meeting House Chamber. All regional campuses were invited to participate via video-conferencing, and it was great to welcome colleagues from Bendigo and Mildura to the event.

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