Getting your work seen and understood outside academia

The Economic History Society (EHS) is committed to communicating the research findings and expert analysis of its members to the wider world. Before the 2017 EHS annual conference, Judy Stephenson sent this advice to her colleagues.

University Building

The aims of the Economic History Society are to promote the study of economic and social history – and so we support our members in getting their work seen and cited by people who will use it well.

The EHS has contacts with journalists and policy-makers who are interested in accurate and original historical research in economics fields.

They range from respected broadsheet newspapers to TV presenters, editors of the highest impact blogs, and analysts at respected thinktanks.

Surprisingly we frequently find it difficult to get researchers – established and new – to engage with the process.

They tell us this is because they think that media involvement will reduce the academic impact of their work, make them seem populist or appear to court publicity. Mostly it is because they are terrified of being misinterpreted, put on the spot or misused by a media representative or journalist and they do not know how to manage the process to make sure this will not happen. Happily, we can tell you that…

These fears are utterly unfounded. In fact, they are stopping your work getting exposure that academic employers and editors value.

Here are our top 10 tips for making sure that the people who need to know about your work can get hold of it and interpret it easily. The EHS public engagement committee are also on hand to advise if need be.

Top Ten Tips

1) Be on Twitter. All the historians and economists who matter are, and they are all having a great time chatting about the things you want to talk about. If you are on Twitter you are readily contactable and people can clearly see from your profile who you are and what you research. We recommend you make your Twitter account professional content only or have a separate one for personal stuff. Follow us on @EcHistSoc. As you are a member of the Society, we will ruthlessly plug you, retweet you and support you.

2) If you don’t have a blog, use ours. It gets better impact and reposting figures than you can establish quickly and we will help you post and give you advice on doing it well.

3) If you do have a blog – send us your links and content so we can get you exposure, and we want to know about it.

4) If you are asked to give media details for the conference, you are being offered the opportunity for your work to be discussed with the top journalists and commentators in the English language in your field. If you don’t want this you need to justify yourself to your funders, bosses, supervisors or therapist. So get filling out the form.

5) There are only five things we need to know, or you really need to get out there. Use them as a ways to structure your blog post:

  • What is the topical or current issue that your research relates to? And for whom?
  • Why is your finding important/useful?
  • What was your methodology?
  • Any good visuals or charts that illustrate the big findings.
  • Something funny, unusual or interesting for the lay reader (least important).

6) When you are speaking at a conference use Twitter and blog posts to get attention. ‘Today I’m at #EHS2017 showing monetary policy in eighth century France was expansionist’ or similar gets attention. If it is linked to a blog post with more details, you get attention and interest for your work from both journalists and academic colleagues.

7) Stay in touch. If you want publicity, it’s hard to drum it up at the last minute. Your press release is unlikely to be read by people with 600 emails a day in their inbox unless they have some idea who you are. So, cultivate relationships. Journalists are interested in real empirical research, and they plan ideas and content over many years.

8) If you are talking to a journalist for the first time DON’T PANIC.

  • Ask for questions via email beforehand – they will be happy to send these.
  • Ask what their story or angle is and why they are interested.
  • Answer questions directly but don’t be afraid to give them the data that you want to.
  • Call us if you feel you are out of your depth.
  • Watch Sarah Connor's (FT) advice here! 

9) No newspaper or media outlet can pre-empt an academic journal. They are just not technical or detailed enough. You are not giving up your place in the Economic History Review by talking to the Guardian, quite the opposite.

10) The three quick actions to get your paper/conference participation noticed:

  • Tweet your activity, findings, headline.
  • Link to blog post.
  • Tweet responses and ideas to start conversations.

See you at the annual conference. We are @EcHistSoc

Judy Stephenson is Lecturer in Economics and Finance of the Built Environment at the UCL The Bartlett School of Construction & Project Management, and a member of the EHS public engagement committee. For the LSE Impact Blog, she reported on a one-day event in the summer of 2016 on the role of news and media in communicating research findings.

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