Tag Archives: Topic Series

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From Scholarly Research to Crafting an Op-Ed: A How To for Academics

When your area of scholarly expertise becomes part of a news cycle, you have a chance to jump in and add your perspective to the conversation. You may be burning to refute an argument or clarify a popular opinion or, more ambitiously, change the direction of a longer conversation. However, it can be hard to know how to do just that. Here are a few simple tips to help you get started.

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An excellent way to bring your work and perspective to a broader audience and inform public opinion is to write Op-Eds for mainstream publications. In this post, I’ll give some basic guidelines for writing Op-Eds that effectively present your academic work and link it to the topic of the moment (or longer!).

The challenge for many academics is striking a balance between the complexities of a subject and making it accessible to an intelligent public. Academics are fluent in the language of expertise. We often define this in terms of our discipline, sub-discipline, and methodological practices. But even smart, informed readers cannot be expected to know disciplinary ins-and-outs, (and they may not care).

For example, labor experts who focus on intersectionality may have significance among our tribe, but that can mean very little to readers of the Washington Post. However, if that labor expert can link her specific niche to broader issues of public concern, it will have far more meaning to the average reader. For example, her scholarship can inform issues about gender wage gaps, criminal background checks on hiring practices, and the decline of the black middle class. Those are all issues generally understood and hotly debated in the media.

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Whichever media outlet you pitch a piece to or its subject matter, an Op-Ed should: 1) establish your credibility 2) argue for a compelling point-of-view and 3) consider counter-perspectives.

It should also follow a general structure. The one presented here is recommended by The Op-Ed Project, a great organization that seeks to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world, especially from women. An Op-Ed should have:

  1. Lede: Establishes why and for what this Op-Ed matters, and it needs to be pegged to a news hook;
  2. Thesis: Statement of your argument, either explicit or implied;
  3. Argument: Based on evidence, such as stats, news, reports from credible organizations, expert quotes, scholarship, history, first-hand experience;
  4. “To Be Sure” Paragraph: In which you pre-empt potential critics by acknowledging any obvious counter-arguments;
  5. Conclusion: Have a clear ending, and if you can, circle back to your lede.

Your lede should be brief, to-the-point, and make the connection to the news hook clear. If you are a labor sociologist, it is clear how your argument relates to that a news story on disparities in earnings. At other times, the connection can be less clear, but no less compelling. For example, a labor sociologist could just as easily use a popular movie like The Wolf of Wall Street to discuss gender, sexism and financialization during the 1980s.

In either case, your lede should establish who you are, why you are talking about this topic, and how it relates to a news item of interest. To present who you are and why you are talking to this subject, you should establish your credibility very early on. One way to do this is to lead with your baubles. Consider every title, position, and publication you hold and highlight the ones that best represent you and the relevance for the topic. Each of these signal to editors and a general audience that you are expert. This is analogous to using citations efficiently in an academic article.The primary difference is that general audiences generally do not want a literature review or bibliography. Instead, they need to trust that you know the literature. To establish that; speak to who you are rather than what you know.

The thesis, argument, counter-argument, and conclusion are more self-evident. Just remember to stick to one point, make the connections between each piece of evidence clear for your audience, and do not rely on jargon. A well-crafted Op-Ed, written by an expert who can translate relevant research for a broad public audience is both attractive to a media outlet and a valuable contribution to public intellectual life.

tressie-mcmillan-cottom-bio-headshot~ This blog post was written by Tressie McMillan Cottom (@tressiemcphd),a PhD Candidate in Sociology at Emory University and a PhD Intern at the Microsoft Social Media Collective in Cambridge, MA. She has written Op-Eds for the New York Times (here and here) and is a regular columnist for Slate Magazine. More of her writing can be found on her website here.   

 

Dipping into Analytics: Maximizing and Measuring the Reach of Your Online Scholarly Content

Being a scholar means keeping track of your productivity – all those articles, conference presentations and books we work so hard to create. With the proliferation of digital technologies, scholars can have an impact in lots of ways and there are new ways to track this impact, but it can be confusing and overwhelming at first.

In this post we’re going to offer you a brief introduction to the mechanics of maximizing the impact of the kinds of digital media tools we’ve already covered in this series, like Twitter, blogging and podcasting.

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An important part of taking your scholarly identity online is minding the details. When we create print documents, we routinely perform familiar tasks that make the work appear more polished and professional, like formatting the cover page or setting the margins. Yet the online equivalents of these activities are too often brushed aside for expediency. Who has time to add tags and tinker with all those settings?

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Take the time. Simple actions like using thoughtful titles and headers in your blog posts, assigning tags or keywords, and summarizing your posts into 2-3 sentence abstracts can enhance the visibility of your content in search engines and improve the look of your posts when they are shared on social media. If you use WordPress for your blog, many of these functions are provided by easy-to-use plugins, so you don’t have to become a web designer or metadata expert to benefit from these techniques. But there are some basic principles to remember as you create content on the web to help you connect with your audience—and ensure that they can find you.

What is SEO and what does it have to do with academic blogging?

SEO stands for search engine optimization, and the basic premise is that understanding how search engines index and retrieve materials on the web allows us to structure our work so that it has a better chance of showing up in search results.

If you’re blogging on a self-hosted WordPress site, I highly recommend using the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin, which installs a simple set of menus on your dashboard so you can easily customize the most important components of your post’s metadata (the data about the post that helps web crawlers identify the main topics of your post). Regardless of what platform you choose, the following tips will help you flag the most important keywords to search engines and improve your chances of getting your posts included in search results.

  • Choose your title carefully. We all love being creative, but if your post is about unsafe working conditions, include those words in the title. It helps in search engine retrieval and in social media sharing.
  • Use html headers (h2, h3, etc.) when breaking up blog posts and make them meaningful. Descriptive headers allow readers to scan through quickly, and search engines will place greater weight on the keywords used there when indexing your post.
  • Get to know your meta tags. Meta tags include descriptive information about your web page. You know that snippet that appears in Google’s search results? That’s controlled by your site’s meta tags, so it pays to pay attention to them.

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Optimize your posts for sharing on Twitter and Facebook

If you use Twitter to share links, as many academics do, you’ve likely noticed that some websites include a preview of the content directly within the tweet. Likewise, Facebook includes an image and summary content whenever a link is shared. As authors on the web, we have control over what is displayed in these areas, but it means taking a few minutes to check the details of our posts.

Librarian Eric Phetteplace has written an excellent introduction to using Twitter Cards and Facebook’s OpenGraph Metadata Protocol to enhance the way a site appears when it is shared on these platforms. Facebook’s OpenGraph Debugger tool provides a preview of what a link will look like when it’s shared on someone’s timeline, and will flag any errors in the metadata for that site.

Measuring your reach with analytics

To see how visitors to your blog are interacting with your posts, most platforms provide basic data and will distinguish between page views and unique visitors. Many will also tell you what search terms brought people to your post, and what site or social media service linked, or referred, them to your site.

To drill further down into detailed metrics, Google Analytics stands alone for in-depth analysis, but it can get rather complicated quickly. Google offers free resources (online courses and tutorials) for learning and implementing Google Analytics on your website, including a Setup Checklist that goes over the details for getting started with the service.

Altmetrics tools like Impact Story and Plum Analytics can capture the reach of work outside the traditional formats of academic articles and books, including blog posts, datasets, and slides, and will measure stats from social media sites as well.

Bottom line: don’t let the immediacy of digital publishing platforms lead you to neglect the mundane tasks that lead to polished publications. Your audience depends on it.

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This post was written by Roxanne Shirazi (@RoxanneShiraziMaster of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) student and an adjunct librarian at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is also a Founding Editor of the dh+lib blog.

Launching Media Skills for Academics Topic Series

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Summer is typically the time when academics use to delve into research, writing, and brushing up on skills.

We’re here to help with a new series on digital media skills for academics. Beginning this week and continuing through July, we’ll feature posts on how to use Twitter, Blogging, Op-Eds, Podcasts, Digital Research and Analytics.

In the digital era, media skills are increasingly important for scholars to build an audience for their research. Here at JustPublics@365, we think hybrid training – in traditional academic research and digital media skills – is crucial for fostering collaborations between scholars, activists, and journalists in ways that further social justice.

Previously, we’ve hosted discussions here about the ways in which scholarly communication is changing. Building on these conversations, our latest series deepens and expands the work of our successful MediaCamp workshops. We’ll be offering some of these workshops at the August meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco.

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This is also a good time to remind you about some of our other resources and skills guides we have put together, such as:

We encourage you to use and share all of these resources and check back with us for more!

Concluding Our Topic Series on East Harlem

IMG_0537-470x260Listening to peoples’ stories is a powerful way to understand how inequality affects people in their everyday lives. For example, gentrification in a low income neighborhood like East Harlem impacts a person’s ability to find affordable housing, education policies such as opening charter schools affect young people at local public schools, and lack of digital access limits economic opportunities.

In this topic series on East Harlem, we have explored a number of social issues impacting the neighborhood and have featured the voices of local residents, activists, journalists and scholars.

Beginning with the aftermath of the tragic gas explosion in March, we highlighted the community conversation held at the CUNY School of Public Health that brought together volunteer first responders, city officials, activists, and researchers to talk about emergency response and plan for better preparedness in the future. The disaster, and the stories we gathered from participants at the event, highlighted a community that is unique and tightly-knit.

rainbowPS191-470x140However, this cohesiveness is threatened by changes brought on by disinvestment giving way to gentrification. East Harlem (aka El Barrio) is a primarily low-income, Latino neighborhood and has one of the highest concentrations of public housing in the city, yet its landscape is rapidly changing as higher-end chain stores open on 125th Street and luxury condos crowd out affordable housing.

Gathering the perspectives of people who are directly affected, rather than interpret a situation for them, is vital to understanding these issues. East Harlem resident, activist, and filmmaker Andrew Padilla emphasizes this point in an article he wrote about a Fox News journalist who contacted him. The reporter, Soni Sangha, seemed determined to frame the story of gentrification in Latino neighborhoods like East Harlem as being “taken back” by wealthier Latinos returning to the area, implying that this form of “gente-fication” benefited the community rather than displaced residents. Padilla countered that perspective, sharing his experience interviewing people in the community and offered a more contextual explanation. Ultimately however, the article didn’t include the perspectives of East Harlem residents, which was a disservice to the community and readers alike.

spirit_app_blogWe highlighted two documentaries, “Whose Barrio?” by Ed Morales and Laura Rivera, and “El Barrio Tours: Gentrification in East Harlem” by Andrew Padilla, which explore the significant impact of gentrification on the neighborhood.

We also profiled a number of scholars-activist and journalists working in the area, calling attention to these concerns, and working to address disparities.

Jeff Mays is a journalist who covers the neighborhood and spoke with us about how people have been impacted by the explosion. Even now, three months later, several of the nearly 100 families displaced by the disaster remain homeless and are having difficulty finding affordable housing in their community. Businesses are slowly recovering, but suffered great losses.

CUNY School of Public Health Professor Lynn Roberts addresses the intersection of race, class and gender and its influence on health disparities and models of community organizing for social justice.

BarrioEdProj.v.blue_.1090-332x205Educator-scholar-activist Edwin Mayorga recently worked with two young people from East Harlem to explore public education in the neighborhood and connected with community members using digital media to tell their stories.

And finally, we co-sponsored a symposium on drug policy reform, held at the New York Academy of Medicine. Many of the speakers focused on the intersections of race, poverty, and incarceration. Punitive drug laws and high rates of incarceration disproportionately impact low income, minority neighborhoods like East Harlem. CUNY Professor Harry Levine’s research reveals racial patterns in Marijuana arrests. As we wrote earlier, the data tell a story that whites use marijuana at higher rates, yet blacks and Latinos in neighborhoods like East Harlem are arrested for marijuana at much higher rates.

This collection of East Harlem stories exemplifies JustPublics@365’s approach to bring together scholars, activists and journalists to highlight social justice issues. By bringing together a diverse range of people with ties to East Harlem, we have offered a few of the many voices working to make the neighborhood a more just place for all its residents.

(Thanks to Edwin Mayorga and eastharlemmurals.com for images)

Where Are We Now? Stop-and-Frisk

This week, JustPublics@365 continues our month-long exploration of stop-and-frisk, the controversial set of policing practices that, as the NYCLU has noted, has resulted in the questioning of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding black and Latino New Yorkers.

In previous weeks, we have measured the effects of stop-and-frisk, interviewed leading activists working for changes in stop-and-frisk policies, and offered a comprehensive interactive timeline of important events related to stop-and-frisk.

This week, we pause to consider the state of stop-and-frisk in New York City in the shadow of an important mayoral race and recent legislation. We’ll take stock of things with the help of journalists covering the issue and politicians taking stands on it. As we do so, we’ll be sharing resources that you can explore for more information and providing visualizations of stop-and-frisk practices.

We hope you’ll join in this week as we continue to explore this important issue. Please help share this work through social media and please consider entering the conversation by leaving comments on our posts.

Get Involved
Do you have a personal story that you want to share related to stop-and frisk? JustPublics@365 is collecting digital stories related to stop-and-frisk and we would love to hear your voice. If you are interested, please contact Morgane Richardson at justpublics365@gmail.com with the subject line, “Stop-and-Frisk Digital Storytelling.”

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This post is part of the Monthly Social Justice Topic Series on stop-and-friskIf you have any questions, research that you would like to share related to Stop-and-Frisk or are interested in being interviewed for the series, please contact Morgane Richardson at justpublics365@gmail.com with the subject line, “Stop-and-Frisk Series.”