Writing for The Conversation Canada

What is The Conversation Canada?

The Conversation is an online platform that publishes journalism written by Canadian scholars.

It specializes in “explanatory journalism”—explaining complex issues in the news or introducing new ideas of public interest and illuminating them with academic expertise.

It’s an ideal outlet for sharing interesting, ongoing research that may not have the urgency or immediacy of a news release, but still relates to issues of public interest.

For example, here are a few of the most popular articles by UBC scholars:

The Conversation publishes under a Creative Commons licence, so any media outlet in the world can republish its articles.

Learn more about The Conversation’s origins.

Why write for The Conversation?

Articles by UBC scholars received approximately 3 million views in the two years following The Conversation’s 2017 launch in Canada—an average of more than 20,000 reads per article.

The Conversation has huge international reach. In addition to Canada, it has editions in Australia, the K., the U.S., Africa, France, Indonesia and Spain. They all share content.

All authors get access to an analytics dashboard that shows you the reach of your articles and can help you demonstrate knowledge mobilization.

Who can write for The Conversation?

Are you currently employed as a researcher or academic with a university? Or, if you’re a student, are you a PhD candidate? Master’s students may write with a professor as a co-author. 

Learn more about author eligibility.

How it works

When you write for The Conversation, you are paired with one of their staff journalists who becomes your editor. These editors have worked at The Canadian Press, The New York Times Magazine, and UBC School of Journalism, among other places. They are excellent at identifying your most newsworthy ideas and helping you turn them into articles that will attract a general audience.

  • You can reference and link to your own scholarship, research and publications.
  • You also get final approval of your edited article before it is published.

How to pitch an idea

The Conversation’s editors send out regular emails looking for experts who can write about specific topics in the news. When you register as an author with The Conversation, you will receive those emails.

If you see an idea you’re able to take on, you enter your pitch on their website. (You must be registered as an author to access the pitching page.)

You can also pitch your own original ideas.

  • Do you know something few other people know? Would it interest the general public, and not just other specialists?
  • Can you translate tricky issues for a broad Canadian and international audience, using plain language?
  • Do you have a “news hook” that makes your article idea particularly timely or relevant now?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you probably have a good idea to pitch.

Pitch first, before you write. In your pitch, make it very clear what you’ll write about. Outline the main points, why it matters, why you’re well-suited to write it, and why now.

How to register

Once you’re signed up, you’ll have access to the pitching page where you can submit ideas and have them reviewed by editors.

  • If they want to pursue it, an editor will contact you and send a brief.
  • They’ll provide a link to your author dashboard.
  • You can write directly into their system and collaborate with editors in real time.

How UBC Media Relations can help

We are happy to help you narrow down your list of ideas, refine a pitch for submission, or provide tips on writing for a non-academic audience.

Just call or send an email to your Faculty Communicator or to the Media Relations Specialist who supports your faculty.

Tips from UBC Scholars

“First off, I’d say go for it. Make the pitch and make clear why it’s timely and/or of interest to a broader audience. That’s been all it took for me.”

—Dr. Kathryn Harrison, Professor, Department of Political Science

“The Conversation gives a bit more flexibility and freedom than other media in terms of what we want to share and how we want to make our points. This is why I like to work with them.”

Dr. Yue Qian, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology

“If you can plan ahead, look at the big events for which your piece has relevance and time it accordingly. This could be a major piece of legislation you know is coming, a new regulation, or a major global event such as annual climate meetings.”

—Dr. Hisham Zerriffi, Associate Professor, Department of Forest Resources Management

“Have a hook. Think about how your work could appeal to the broader audience and how to make it sound more intriguing. My piece about Korea was for Valentine’s Day, when everyone was talking about love. I posed a “counterintuitive” question: Why have young people in South Korea quit dating? This piece was the most read for that month.”

—Dr. Yue Qian, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology

“If you can explain your research finding or idea in such a way that someone who is not in your field understands and gets excited about it, that’s a good sign that you’re onto something you could pitch to The Conversation.”

—Dr. Frances Chen, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology

“Keep a broad audience in mind beyond your academic discipline. Think about which other academics and scholars could benefit from your work, and make explicit connections.”

—Dr. Jiaying Zhao, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology

“Use appropriate references to show sources of evidence. A good way to introduce such references, especially if they are by famous people or involve a famous document, is to mention the name in the text itself (e.g. “As the 1946 Acheson-Lilienthal plan warned…”). You can include sources in the form of hyperlinks, which is common in a lot of online news articles.”

—Dr. M.V. Ramana, Professor, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs

“The Conversation provides a unique opportunity to work with highly skilled editors who understands the world of academics and journalists. Be appreciative of their expertise.”

—Dr. Michelle Stack, Associate Professor, Department of Educational Studies

“The Conversation editors will help, but I find that I have most control of my message when I stick to the word limit and try to write in an accessible manner from the very first submission. This is also true for op-ed submissions to regular print and online newspapers, where you typically don’t even see the edits until it’s published.”

—Dr. Kathryn Harrison, Professor, Department of Political Science