Why academic writing doesn’t work for the media

The appetite for academic research in the media is huge. Studies and statistics lend credibility to comment pieces and provide great insight into current trends. But it’s not quite as straight forward as throwing dissertations at journalists!

Writing for Experts

Academic research papers are written primarily for an audience of other academics so they don’t shy away from complex, in depth explanation. Authors generally adopt a direct, formal tone because they are addressing their peers who already have an understanding of the topic at hand and more importantly, a pre-existing curiosity…

…In other words, the writing style itself doesn’t need to generate interest when readers are already attentive. Unsurprisingly, this works perfectly within peer review circles and the academic community but not for mass media.

Writing for Everyone

Most people want to pick up a newspaper (or scroll through a news site) and relax. This doesn’t translate to ‘they only want to read sensationalist fluff’. The readership of the Financial Times or The Economist, for example, are largely educated professionals who like to engage with stories that make them think. What they don’t want is to feel like getting to the end of an article is hard work!

When adapting academic writing to suit the media, the idea isn’t to dumb down exciting research, but to make it accessible. There’s an important distinction to be made between keeping your readership interested and being patronising, but it’s not as hard as it sounds to walk that line. Using common sense is enough.

Consider; who is going to read this article? How much can be assumed about their prior knowledge?

My top tips for making sure content stays engaging are:

  • Keep the tone conversational
  • Utilise headlines and subheadings
  • Link research to current cultural trends or news stories

If you’d like our help in adapting academic writing to suit popular media channels or if you’d be interested in engaging with BlueSky PR for communications advice please get in touch via email or via telephone on +44(0)1582 790 704. We look forward to hearing from you.


Author: Charlotte Skeggs

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