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Public Writing: Public Writing

About Public Writing

Public writing is an important aspect of public and community-engaged scholarship. Public writing serves to connect research, critique, and inquiry with communities and people outside of classrooms or university environments. 

Public writing brings complex ideas to broad audiences in a way that can inform and enrich public discourse. Scholars translate research and analysis into language that can reach and engage new audiences through public writing.

Getting Started With Public Writing

Public writing involves engagement with audiences and communities, writing with purpose and goals, writing with inclusive language, and looking ahead to the ongoing impact of your writing. The following prompts can help you get started with public writing:

Engagement with audiences and communities
The core of public writing is sharing your scholarship and ideas with other people. Consider carefully who you are writing for and how you can best communicate with your audiences through your writing. 

  • Prompts:
    • Who is your audience and what communities are you hoping to reach?
    • What key elements of your ideas, arguments, and research will resonate with the interests and concerns of your audience?
    • Imagine your audience has never heard of the concepts you are presenting or disagrees with your conclusions. Why would they want to read what you are writing? How will you capture their attention, then keep them reading?
    • How can you write to be clearly understood? Can you translate academic language, jargon, and complex ideas or research into everyday speech? Jargon is typically only understood by specialists in a field and will undermine the effectiveness of your writing.   

Purpose, goals, and impact
Public writing typically has a specific purpose. It might be to inform, persuade, build community, or engage with others. Clarify the reasons for your writing and refer to these often as you compose.

  • Prompts:
    • Why are you writing this? What is your purpose?
    • What are the three most important things you would like readers to take away from your writing? 
    • What evidence can you include to support your arguments? Can you quote other prominent public voices to help make your points?
    • What kind of impact do you want this writing to have?
    • What constitutes effective public writing in your field, and how can you apply those criteria to your own work?

Inclusion and Anti-Oppression
Public writing can be a powerful platform, and you have the opportunity to be inclusive with your language choices. Inclusive and anti-oppressive writing will connect you with broader publics and will enhance the relevance of your arguments, while working against racism, sexism, ableism, and other forms of oppression.

  • Prompts:
    • Am I using inclusive language in my writing? Do I need to learn more?
    • Who am I excluding from my audience if I'm not intentionally using inclusive language?
    • How can I use anti-oppressive language to strengthen my arguments and broaden the reach and impact of my writing?
    • What questions do I have about inclusive and anti-oppressive language? Who can I ask for another perspective?

Public afterlife
Public writing often has an “afterlife” after you have made it available in the public sphere. It may be discussed, reused, or repurposed in ways that you will not control. This is a characteristic of all public and social discourse, of course, but it is important to keep in mind as you are writing, reviewing, and publishing.

  • Prompts:
    • Will you need to adjust your writing so you will be comfortable with these longer-term public responses?
    • How will you feel if others comment on or share your writing?
    • Will you want to link to your public writing in your portfolio or resume? Does that change how you think about your writing?
    • How do you want others to use or cite your work? Consider adding a preferred citation and/or a Creative Commons license.
    • How will you know if you have written something effective or impactful? How will you evaluate and learn from your public writing experience?

Where to Share Public Writing?

You can share your public writing through your own websites or blog, social media platforms, mainstream information sources such as newspapers or magazines, or a combination of these. Some specific ideas:

  • Newspaper editorial or opinion feature
  • Article in a popular magazine
  • Post on your blog or website
  • University or community organization communication channels like newsletters or email updates
  • Consider creating video, audio, or images to accompany or highlight your writing
  • Spread the word about your writing through social media and other forums

Guide Credit and License

"Public Writing Guide" by Denise Hattwig, Dr. Julie Shayne, Alyssa Berger, and Kat Wyly (2022) is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.