Why leave your academic papers lying around when you can use them as the basis for an article for popular media? That was the central question at International Perspective’s Writers’ Workshop. Bram Peeters, Senior Editor at Internationale Spectator, talked about how and why you should reuse and convert your academic work. And how to make a little money in the process, of course. (Featured image © Jonathan Kim)
For the second IP event of this academic year, we had the honour to welcome Bram Peeters as our guest speaker. He is senior editor at Internationale Spectator, the international affairs magazine of Dutch think tank Clingendael. He is also an experienced journalist who worked for many projects abroad and received several awards, like the European Young Journalist Award for a series of articles about remarkable border areas in Eastern Europe. In 2013, Peeters made the switch from journalism to academics, when he started with a master’s degree in ‘International Relations in Historical Perspective’ at the University of Utrecht. For his thesis, he analysed different types of Muslim foreign fighters and this resulted in a cum laude graduation.
Popular News Angles
The papers that you have to write at university are not always interesting to a lot of people. Peeters too realised this during his master’s degree, and therefore tried to write his academic papers about topics that could later potentially reach a broader audience. He steered clear from philosophical topics and focussed on what could have more impact in popular media. This, he explained, would also enable him to make some money as freelance journalist later on.
When Peeters was looking for a topic for his master’s thesis, he decided that he wanted to do something around Jihadists, without a doubt a newsworthy subject. Finally, he landed on a cross-case analysis of the different motivations of Muslim foreign fighters in the period of 1980-2014. This would later prove to have been a good move.
Then followed his actual key message: when you are planning to rewrite an academic paper for larger distribution, make sure that you use a popular news angle (or ‘hook’). Writing for popular media means looking for a connection between your academic work and current events. If this means including only a part of your paper, so be it. Using his own thesis as an example, Peeters showed us how a focused angle can in fact make your complicated academic papers appealing to popular news outlets and their readers.
As the discussions surrounding jihadists increased, Peeters managed to play into current affairs. Engaging himself in the discussion about the withdrawal of passports from foreign fighters, he argued against such a move in his journalistic piece. He argued that this would make foreign fighters stateless, which increases the probability that they will participate in other Jihad missions. Drawing from (a part of) his dissertation, Peeters’ arguments not only held significant authority, but also received a lot of attention. NRC Handelsblad and Knack published his piece, and he also published the whole thesis with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism.
Tips & Tricks
In summary, when you have to write an academic paper and want to share it with a broader audience, make sure that you keep the following things in mind. Firstly, choose a topic that is part of a larger debate, for example the refugee crisis. A specific approach could then be that you focus on the voids in national regulation. Besides that, try to figure out if the people around you would be willing to read an article about this specific topic. If not, keep on searching, and always keep an eye on current affairs.
For those who would like to convert an already written academic paper into a news article, for example in our own IP Magazine, don’t be afraid to ‘kill your darlings’. It’s not useful to publish a paper of 50 pages online, a summary of 3 pages is more attractive to a large public. Try to link your paper to current affairs and decide which sections of your paper are worth mentioning in the article. For instance, Bram Peeters’ own article(s) on Jihadists clearly only used a fraction of the research in his original thesis. But the goal of a journalistic article is to be appealing to a wide audience and to have a clear message. Focus on what is newsworthy and appealing to potential readers, forget the rest for now.
In the lead of your article, you might refer to these currents events and use them as an example to introduce the reader to the broader topic of your article. The headline, lead and conclusion are in general the core of the article and enable the reader to quickly estimate if the rest of the article is worth reading.
Finally, as far as ‘selling’ or pitching your articles to (chief-)editors is concerned, it might be useful to read the guidelines that news websites or newspapers demand for articles – for example the length of words and lay-out. If you want to convince someone to publish your article, make sure that you tailor your text to their standards and needs. This will increase your chances of publication significantly.
Practice is Key
Naturally, the key concept for writing a good article is practice. As such, International Perspective can only encourage you to pick up your old papers and start (re)writing. Because after all, writing articles that people actually want to read is important to journalists and academics alike. “No one reads academic papers”, claimed our speaker, but that’s no reason to let knowledge go to waste.
Interested in publishing for International Perspective? Take a look at our Contributor and Guest Contributor vacancies, and be sure to check our submission guidelines as well. Interested in publishing a Dutch article with Internationale Spectator? Read their guidelines, or publish with us and we will help you publish with them as well!