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How to pitch story ideas to The Conversation

How to pitch story ideas to The Conversation
Let's be clear: what do you want to say? Why should I want to hear it? Pixelbliss/Shutterstock

While much of The Conversation’s content comes from editors identifying stories to cover and finding relevant experts to write them, we also welcome pitches – ideas for stories as yet unwritten – from academics. You are the experts, so we’re always happy to hear your ideas.

But please read these six important points first to help your pitches stand the best chance of being commissioned.

 

[For more guidance, why not look at our self-paced, online training courses, which include how to write for and pitch to The Conversation.]

 

1. Who can write for The Conversation

The Conversation works only with academics and researchers with positions at universities and other qualifying research institutes. This is a fairly narrow definition of “academic” and “researcher”, and inevitably it means that we miss out on the expertise found in NGOs or charities, in business and industry research, government research agencies, and among independent or unaffiliated researchers. Of course this is no comment on the expertise of those outside of academia, it is simply that our model is tightly circumscribed to the higher education/research sector in this way. Please don’t be offended if we decline to commission you on this basis, and this applies to possible co-authors too.

 

2. Pitches, the membership and international editions

Any academic or researcher with a position at a university or qualifying research institute anywhere in the world is eligible to write. However, The Conversation is a membership organisation, so while we do sometimes commission academics at institutions outside the network, our editors spend most of their time working with researchers from our member institutions.

You may not have realised but The Conversation is not one single organisation but ten separate editions across the world, with separate editorial teams generating content for their audiences. Here at the UK-based edition, we chiefly commission content from academics at universities in the UK, Ireland, and northern Europe.

Researchers from elsewhere in the world may find a more natural home with our colleagues in:

  • Africa (South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal)
  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Francophone Canada
  • France
  • Indonesia
  • New Zealand
  • Spain
  • US

You can use the switcher in the top left corner of the site to change the edition you’re reading, which also governs which edition you are pitching to.

 

3. What do we publish, and who is it for?

Our audience is made up of readers from all over the world. Around 80% of our readers are from outside the UK and Ireland, drawn chiefly from across the Anglosphere, and also India, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and beyond. You should not imagine that your reader is necessarily in Britain (nor even that English is their first language).

We publish pieces of interest to the general reader. This means that our readers, drawn from across the general public, may be policymakers, researchers, teachers, CEOs or managing directors, doctors or healthcare workers, military strategists or students, but our pieces should not be written with policymakers in mind, nor other specialist researchers, nor CEOs or managing directors, nor clinicians or military strategists.

Our pieces need to balance the requirements of communicating the insight, perspective and expertise of our authors, who come from a specialist background, to our readers, who may not. This is an important point: an otherwise interesting subject may feel less interesting if framed as “guidance for policymakers” or of something that might only be of interest or use to “practitioners” in a particular field, or if described using cryptic jargon.

The majority of what we publish is expert insight or analysis of current affairs. We try to find experts who can provide our readers with a deeper or broader understanding of what’s happening in the world, current events, emerging themes, or pressing issues. This will inevitably mean the author will refer to research (theirs or that of others) – drawing upon that expertise is what we’re all about.

But while we are interested in hearing about new research (once it has come through peer-review, but preferably before it is published), there will be much research that simply doesn’t have the crossover appeal for a general audience. Please remember: many subjects are academically interesting, but not necessarily interesting to non-academics.

 

4. What a pitch should be

A pitch is simply a clear, concise summary of the main point you wish to make, the main fact or insight you wish to share, the new finding or conclusion or implication that you have established – and why our readers would be interested. Get straight to the point! Our pieces are around 800 words so you need to make your point swiftly and clearly, and the same applies for your pitch.

Before you pitch anything to us, please read the site. Get a sense for what sort of stories we cover and how we cover them. Search for keywords and topics relevant to your field, or the article you have in mind. We probably won’t publish something very similar to what we already have. Look for the gaps: what have we missed?

Your pitch should neatly capture what you want to say in a nutshell, and tell the editor what crossover appeal it has that would indicate why our readers would find this interesting and want to read on. Make sure you’re pitching a specific story, not just a broad topic. And please explain what your connection is to the topic: why are you the person to write this? What related research or background in this field do you have?

 

5. How not to write a pitch

Paste your abstract into the box. Write chronologically, starting at the beginning of time only getting to the point or new thing you wish to share thousands of words later. Pitch a broad topic without further explanation (“cancer research”) rather than something specific (“our new study reveals the hitherto unknown role of a particular protein in tumour formation”). Ensure every third word is a multi-syllabic piece of jargon understood only by a few hundred people worldwide. Use unusual or jarring words that seem out of place to describe everyday things for which there already exist everyday words. Use the passive voice exhaustively, or refer to yourself in the third person. Not clearly understand what you want to say, nor why the reader would want to read it.

 

6. Expectation management: we receive a lot of pitches

According to HESA figures from 2021 there are 234,000 academics in the UK. But here at The Conversation’s UK edition there are only around 25 editors. So let’s be upfront about it: this imbalance means a great many of your pitches will not be commissioned. There are too many of you, and too few of us (and too few hours in the day).

Please don’t be disheartened or offended if your pitch is not commissioned. It is no comment on the quality of your work or research. It may be editors felt it didn’t have the crossover appeal for our audience. Potentially it may suit another audience better – you should take the idea to your university press office. Or it may be a perfectly good pitch, but someone else has already been commissioned to write something similar; or perhaps we’ve already covered it; or perhaps the subject in the news that you wished to write about was too long ago, and is no longer news (until next time).

Don’t take it to heart; come up with other ideas, try again another time.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for your interest in The Conversation.

Pitch an idea to the editors

The Conversation