From Academic Scholarship to Popular Op-ed

By Sarah Bunin Benor and Steven M. Cohen

You have spent months (or years) researching and writing a thesis, academic article, or report, and it is finally completed. Mazel tov! Now, how should you get the word out? Based on our experience publishing short articles about Jewish social research, we have a few suggestions.

First, you should submit the full research document to the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at Stanford University or post it on another website so you can link to it in your popular piece. Second, you need to determine your ideal audience so as to decide on the appropriate venue.

Audience determines venue

If your audience is primarily professionals at Jewish nonprofit organizations, one good option is eJewishPhilanthropy (eJP), read by professionals at Jewish Federations, foundations, synagogues, JCCs, startups, and many other communal agencies. eJP also manages a spinoff publication, Jeducationworld, focusing on education. Articles submitted to eJP are usually published within a few days. Their submission guidelines appear here.

If you seek to reach the wider Jewish public (rather than communal professionals), we suggest the following venues: Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), Forward, Mosaic, and Tablet, and especially for articles dealing with Israel, Ha’aretz, Times of Israel, and Jerusalem Post.

If you wish to address the broader public, then you’ll want submit to a general-purpose publication. For the most prestigious, like The New York Times or Washington Post, one ought to get advice or the introduction of a previously published author. Huffington Post is generally reasonably accessible. Another channel is The Conversation, a service that works with researchers to write journalistic-style articles and make them available to hundreds of newspapers.

Effective writing

Proper positioning
Know your field of discourse. Who are you supporting or extending? With whom are you contending? Stake out a position that navigates between challenging and validating conventional wisdom and influential thought leaders.

But no footnotes
Do not include footnotes or parenthetical references. If there are articles available online that you want to cite, feel free to include links to them, as we do in this article. The most important link to include is to your full study (on the BJPA or elsewhere), as in, “My colleagues and I conducted a study of…”

Maintain credibility
If you come to praise something, be sure to establish your credentials of criticism and discernment (“I have often found X programs falling short of their stated objectives. But Y program is truly exceptional…”). If you come to criticize, signal (or state) your interest, experience, or commitment to the ultimate goals. (“As a frequent shul-goer, I have experienced the transformative power of certain prayer experiences. But, unfortunately, the new siddur…”)

Anticipate criticism
Disarm your likely critics by anticipating their arguments and countering them. People opposed to your way of thinking won’t change their minds because they read your brilliant op-ed. But you need to give them very little wiggle room when they try to counter your arguments in print or around their Shabbat tables.

One main point
Your article should focus on one main point. State that main point within the first paragraph or two, and use the rest of the article to demonstrate that point.

Keep it short
The article should not exceed 900 words. To save words, limit quotes and deep analysis. Make each sentence and each paragraph shorter than you would in academic writing.

Include a brief headline to catch the attention of the editor and to influence the published headline. But be forewarned that editors write their own headlines.

Start with a hook, and end with a zinger
You may want to start with a timely hook at the beginning – or an intriguing story – and perhaps relate back to it at the end, as a coda. Among the possibilities are a riddle, a human-interest story, a recent event, a riveting quote.

The concluding paragraph should summarize your findings or your takeaway point without repeating what came before.

Use your persona
You have a distinctive claim to expertise or insight into the topic of your op-ed. Work that into the piece itself (“It was as an undergraduate that I first began to see Palestinians as…”) and/or in the bio (“Dr. Friedberg, who teaches Middle East Studies at State University, served as an intelligence officer in the IDF”).

Be clear
Use clear, concise language that would be easily understood by an educated, non-specialist audience. Technical jargon should be avoided.

Press release
For newsworthy research, write a press release timed to appear a day or two before the op-ed. Here is some information about what a press release could include.

Social media blitz
After your op-ed appears, post it – even a few days in a row – on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. Consider tagging organizations discussed in the research or that might find the research useful, as well as relevant thought leaders such as other researchers, be they likely allies or critics. Don’t hesitate to email your short article directly to people you think might be interested.

If a research article falls in the forest…
The process of writing is generally an individual task (and we say this as two people who frequently collaborate with other authors). But, even though we write by ourselves, most of us seek an audience of readers who are informed, interested, and, ideally, influential. The well-researched article or monograph is one way to reach them. But so too is the short, pointed, and zippy op-ed.

Sarah Bunin Benor is Associate Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (Los Angeles), where she advises masters’ theses in the Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management, as well as the short articles based on that research. She is the author and editor of books and articles about Jewish languages and communities.

Steven M. Cohen is Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at HUC-JIR and Director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ Stanford University. A scholar of contemporary Jewry with numerous books, articles and reports, his op-eds have appeared most recently in Ha’aretz, the Forward, eJewishPhilanthropy, Mosaic, JTA, the Jewish Journal, and the Washington Post.