Making Our Knowledge More Accessible
When I returned from maternity leave 12 months ago, I felt off-balance as I tried to navigate how my new role as “mama” fit with my existing role as “professor”. Unsure where to turn, I ended up finding comfort in reading academic literature. I spent weeks immersed in journal articles on work-family conflict, enrichment, identity transitions, and exhaustion.
I feel extremely lucky that I had access to these academic articles. They helped me wrap my head around what I was experiencing. But, I was also frustrated knowing that most people didn’t have the same access as I did. Most journal articles are housed behind paid firewalls and are written with a deluge of academic lingo. They are inaccessible to the average person.
Based on all of the reading I had done when transitioning out of maternity leave, I wrote an article that later got published in Psychology Today, which shared some of the lessons about exhaustion that I found particularly helpful. However, beyond this initial article, this experience reignited my passion for making sure that the research we do and the knowledge we hold as professors are more accessible to everyone.
Over the last year, I have worked towards sharing my knowledge and research more broadly through a number of articles with Psychology Today and Organizational Dynamics. Here are some lessons I have learned in the process:
Selecting a Compelling Topic
I think about selecting a topic to write about as a Venn diagram: one circle is my expertise and the other circle is the topics that I think will interest the publication’s audience – which I assess through knowing as much as possible about the publication, running ideas by practitioners, and being up to date on topics that are receiving interest in the press. The sweet spot is where these two circles intersect.
I have also realized there is great value in writing about something that is counterintuitive. I wrote an online article for Psychology Today that was later adapted for the print version of the magazine. When I asked the editor why she chose this particular article, she explained that the article provided a unique and novel perspective. I’ve similarly noticed that some of my articles that garner the most views are those that encourage the reader to think about things in a new way.
As Simple as Possible but Not Simpler
Albert Einstein famously said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” As academics, we often thrive on complexity. But, there is great power in being able to concisely summarize what you are trying to say. For example, my Psychology Today articles are capped at 1000 words. This is a big change from my academic articles, where I recently had difficulty trimming the text of a manuscript to meet a 30-page limit.
Kevin McSpadden published an article in Time that was aptly titled, “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span than a Goldfish”, highlighting that our increasingly digital lifestyles have shortened people’s focus to a mere eight seconds. Making things as simple as possible can help you keep your reader engaged. I’ll leave it at that before I lose your attention.
Find Synergies with Your Existing Work
One of the topics that I research and write about is exhaustion/burnout. So, it is no surprise to me that many of us are overwhelmed by the idea of adding another writing project to our desks.
Nelson Grenados suggested in a prior CAR Newsletter that you should “milk your work” through developing projects that serve multiple outcomes. I couldn’t agree more. I try to make sure that there are synergies with everything that I do. For example, once my research is published in a traditional academic journal, I translate the message for a practitioner journal or a popular-press article. Similarly, I have a speaking engagement coming up at a company on the topic of burnout amongst women leaders. To make sure I’m up to date on the latest research, I am preparing by writing an article for Psychology Today on the topic.
Use Your Own “Peer-Reviewers”
I originally thought I would be relieved to not have to deal with the peer-review process when writing popular-press articles. However, I was surprised at how much I missed having other experts provide their perspectives prior to publication. So, I began seeking out my own “peer-reviewers” for my non-peer-reviewed articles. My husband is often the first reviewer and then friends or colleagues who I think can provide valuable insights. Our PR team has also provided some excellent feedback on drafts of articles.
Because the “peer-reviewer” feedback tends to focus on content, I have also found that copy editors are really helpful for fine-tuning my writing. I’ve used copy editors for some academic writing, but I think they are even more of a necessity for popular-press and practitioner articles. I am always happy with how the editing takes what I have written to the next level.
Looking back on the last year, I have learned a lot about making my research more accessible, and I am still learning every day. I am grateful for the opportunity to share with you.
About the Author
Jaclyn Margolis, PhD
Associate Professor of Applied Behavioral Science | Pepperdine Graziadio Business School