Publications are part of the core business in political think tanks. The process of writing a blog article, a policy brief or getting a paper published seems to raise a lot of questions. The main challenges for upcoming think tanks are the lack of style-guides, how to recruit and communicate with authors, missing experience with review processes, the best practices on printing and publishing, and finally the publishing process itself (promotion/launches/press conferences).
This document aims to answer all these main questions and as a result help your think tank get your ideas and inputs out there as quickly as possible, while ensuring professionalism and highly qualitative material. The majority of the compiled information derives from foraus guidelines and is based on the knowledge and experience of the community.
A blog is a platform for controversial discussion contributions. The contributions published on a blog reflect the personal opinions of the authors and do not necessarily correspond to the attitude of the association. Therefore, anyone who wants to write a blog post and has knowledgeable information to share, can. You can decide how academic or/and journalistic you want the blog articles to be.
You could ideally set a guide for authors who want to write a blog for your Think Tank.
A Template example:
Check, whether you are able to:
- Come up with a title
- Describe the content in three lines
- Come up with a nice illustration for the post
If yes, go for it!
There are five rules of thumb:
- 1.It is not an academic paper, so keep the style 'journalistic'
- 2.Just like in the news, the most important content comes first
- 3.State your opinion and use quotes purposefully
- 4.Just one keymessage per blog-post
- 5.Max. 800 words, ideally 600-700.
*See below for how to write a Blog Post.
- Allow colleagues to review it
- Email your text and information about you (age, profession, etc. plus portrait) to (name of your Think Tank)
- The editorial staff will contact you and publish the text.
- Post on Social Media & Website - The editorial staff will post the article on their Website, Facebook page, and on Twitter. Also encourage the writer of the Blog to share it on their personal social media pages, in order to enhance the awareness to the maximum.
- Comments on Platforms - Encourage friends, colleges, and generally people to make use of the comment section on the platforms, to enhance the promotion and discussion on the topic.
Writing policy papers/ briefs are the main tasks of a think tank, thus recruiting the right authors for the right topics is crucial. There are several ways to find the right experts to write the publications.
Events: Organising events and workshops to find interested and knowledgeable authors are a great way to start your search.
An example template:
- Policy Lab event:
The target audience would for instance be young practitioners, academics and enthusiasts, who would develop the most innovative and effective policy recommendations.
- 1.Application phase: Where one can state that academics, young enthusiasts and experts can (on the given topics) apply to participate in the Policy Lab event.
- 2.The Kick off: All selected participants join for the first meeting, brainstorming, team building and define the question they will work on during the Policy Lab event.
- 3.During the event: Participants work together with experts on innovative policy proposals and are trained in pitching and receive constructive feedback. Whereas, in the evening there would be opportunities for networking and interdisciplinary exchange.
- 4.Follow Up (up-coming months): the teams are accompanied through the writing, review and publication process by experts and the think tank itself.
Program Leader: Once your think tank has the programs set up and a program leader for each topic; they are supposed to find and recruit authors/ experts on the given question/topic. The main criteria that should count is their knowledge and expertise on the topic and their writing skills.
Launching a paper or policy brief is the most important stage of writing for think tanks, as they want the authors ideas to have the biggest impact possible. Hence, it is important that the Communications Department works closely with the authors. Therefore, the writers should answer the following questions, so you (your think tank) can organise a good launch with an even better impact.
A template for authors: Launch of Publications
What is the core message of my paper?
E.g. 4 ways of how Switzerland's trade policy can be more effectively
How does this messaging fit into the current political context?
What is the supposed goal of the publication?
E.g. Raise awareness, law amendment
Who are my target audiences?
How do I want to reach them? Are there different approaches for different audiences?
Who are the political stakeholders?
Can I meet beforehand with stakeholders to pave the way?
Do I want to have a launch event?
If yes, what kind of event?
E.g. Classic press conference, or something more innovative like flash mob
Is there any particular information that could be suitable for a social media campaign?
E.g. 10 arguments for / against something
- The best communication tools are through email and telephone, since the authors do not necessarily live or work in the same city.
- There are specific ways to communicate with authors in order to keep their motivation up as they do it voluntarily. Here are some tips:
- Have an equal balance between pressure and praise when communicating.
- Write extremely nice and polite emails.
- Take away any administrative tasks; their only task should be to write the content.
- Organise an event 2-4 times a year for all the authors as a reward for their work and contribution. - For instance: foraus organises a retreat twice a year for all authors, program and regional groups, board members, and all interns and workers of their think tank come together for a weekend to meet, have discussions, meetings, and some fun together.
A think tank blog presents a way to share and present new research and events. It can be the central channel to publish opinions and reading lists as well as highlighting new videos, podcasts, and other multimedia produced by the think tank. Another option is to give some researchers/ experts the possibility to keep their own blogs and publish some posts on the think tanks website or blog.
The Blog should be linked to other digital media tools, for instance; the website, Facebook, Twitter, etc., so that a post would immediately be updated on all services.
You want to write a blog? Great! Then forget everything you learned about writing at university. Nested sentences are forbidden here, as are nominal constructions. Instead you have to write in an understandable and concise way. The whole thing is an article, not a university dissertation.
Max. 3500 characters, including spaces: Better short and crisp than long and boring.
The title should be short and draw the readers attention to the text. By a provocative, surprising statement or by catchwords like "crisis", " mess", "ban".
The title makes it clear what the blog post is about. For title and lead: short words, no abbreviations. No economic commissions, OSCE decisions or similar word monstrosities. Verbs bring a title to life. The title can be separated by a colon, question mark or exclamation mark.
- Nothing has been understood, nothing has been learned: the Federal Council wants to continue with the Bilateral Agreements.
- First us, then the Flood? Switzerland neglects their climate change duties
- Biodiversity Decline – Are We Heading Towards The Forever Silent Spring?
The lead at the beginning of the text should summarise what the blog is about and intend to encourage the reader to read on. For example, the lead leaves a question open, points out a contradiction or ends with a "cliffhanger" - so the reader wants to experience the resolution.
Length - max. 200 characters including spaces.
- Switzerland will continue to come under international pressure with regard to its banking secrecy. There are plenty of proposals to save it. Unfortunately, they are all useless.
- As the Belt and Road Initiative becomes a reality, its scope and depth requires China to formulate a clear set of foreign policy principles. The Beijing Consensus has served as an umbrella term encompassing a variety of plans, frameworks and ideas originating from the Chinese leadership. However, does this ‘China model’ really form a comprehensive entity?
In addition, each text should contain bold subheadings. They serve as a breather. Also it applies here: short and clear, leave it open-ended and refer to something that comes in the next section. This should occur approximately every 500 characters.
- Names - always first and last name, even if quoted repeatedly
- Direct speech is better than indirect speech; for long quotes alternate between direct and indirect speech
- Known abbreviations like EU and UN can be used without further explanation. Otherwise, the word must be written out the first time, then the abbreviation in brackets. For example: "The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has decided to ... -" . However, it's not nice if there are too many of them.
Author line and Disclaimer
Each text should contain two references to the author (s): first and last name(s) at the beginning, as well as at the end of the text (as an italic footer). This footer contains last and first name, age, brief information on education/occupation, place of residence, function at the think tank and other information that contributes to the relevance of the text.
Hans Beispiel (28) is a lawyer and lives in Winterthur, Switzerland. He is involved with foraus in the Working Group on Human Rights.
Sabine Muster (29), is a political scientist and lives in Basel, Switzerland. She is a guest on the foraus blog. She is a research assistant at the IHEID in Geneva and is primarily concerned with Switzerland's relations with the UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon.
Below these author footnotes there is always a disclaimer with the following content:
The foraus blog is a forum that is made available to both foraus members and guest authors. The contributions published here are personal statements of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editors or the association.
Your blog should include 2-3 main arguments. As with news, the most important thing first. The central idea and the issue, should be at the beginning. Not everything has to be explained right away, that's what the text is for. But it should be clear what the article is about. Then, the text needs a guiding theme, a lead to the topic: it should lead from A to B in a comprehensible way. Delete secondary thoughts (possibly use them in another blog entry). Moreover, the blog should include a concrete policy recommendations
Tips: already formulate the lead before writing the article. Then you will clearly know what you want to write about. Moreover, it is great to end the blog with a provocative idea or question in order to start a discussion.
The text should meet journalistic criteria, i.e. it should be appealing to read. It is not a matter of writing a scientific paper. If you don't succeed, think about it: In what way would I inform my colleagues about it? You wouldn't tell them about the "tax minimisation practice of companies", but rather about "companies that want to pay taxes as low as possible".
- Short and clear: short sentences and try to explain complicated facts with simple words.
- Be provocative
- Write lively and descriptively (but avoid overused metaphors)
- No technical terms
- No active passive
- Personal opinion is important - the blog is an opinion. Also sharp criticism and controversy are okay, the entry should initiate in the best case a discussion.
A catchy text also needs a catchy picture. It should:
- Be OpenSource or be provided by someone named (don't just copy it from the web)
- Not just any picture for the sake of having a picture in it; but it should attract the eye and draw attention to the text (articles with good pictures are read much earlier)
- Match the text and title: No text-image scissors
- Better to display a few and large things/persons instead of many and small things.
*Note - the picture should also be placed on Facebook: a picture with many small details is therefore rather unsuitable.
- Brainstorming an idea within the programs under the direction of the programme leader
- Compose a team of authors (1-4 people)
- Develop a concept with a formulated proposal including policy relevance, the structure of the paper, the target group of the paper, an approximate schedule of the paper and the division of work among the authors (see template below)
Output: Concept Proposal
Communication: The concept proposal should first be checked and commented by your program leader (period 1-2 weeks) and then by your managing director (period 1-2 weeks). Subsequently, the concept proposal is sent by the program leader to the community management for information.
At the beginning of each discussion paper, we generate a concept proposal. Then, this is reviewed and commented on by the program leader and managing director. The length should not exceed 2-3 pages.
- 2.Policy Question - What problem should the paper address?
- 3.Policy Relevance - Why is this problem important? (e.g. national and/or international political context and relevant developments); Who are the main stakeholders? (Which stakeholders and/or experts do you plan to contact for this paper?)
- 4.Plan for Analysis - What is the proposed solution (rough) and what arguments lead to it? To what extent and by whom can the proposal be implemented / accepted?
- 5.Target Audience
- 6.Timetable : 6.1 - Deadline for the first draft / 6.2 - Deadline for External & Internal Review Process/ 6.3 - Planned Publication (Is there a specific date/occasion/political context when a publication makes sense?)
- 7.Distribution of Work within the team of Authors - (allocation of responsibilities)
Here We Go! On the basis of the concept proposal and taking into account the feedback from your team.
- Regular exchange with the programme management; there is also the possibility of further optional feedback through the managing director
- Meeting with experts in the field
- The text is written without format in a text program (Word)
- Citation key: footnotes with a uniform citation method
Word Count: (5000-6500 words)
- 1.Title page with title and subtitle
- 2.Executive Summary (400-600 words) in the native language of your think tank and/or English; main arguments of the text and recommendations for action
- 3.Presentation of the authorship (short bio and photo of the authors)
- 4.Imprint: Acknowledgements and disclaimer
- 5.Table of Contents
- 6.Introduction: Context to the main arguments; why is the topic/idea important; what is the problem of the status quo; to whom is the paper addressed (target audience)?
- 7.Analysis: Basics of the text; then background and development of arguments; thus discuss and layout data and supporting material
- 8.Conclusions: Summary of text and findings; recommendations for action (may already appear in the text); short-term and long-term consequences; and next steps
Word Count: (1500-2500 words)
- 1.Title page with title and subtitle
- 2.Executive Summary (200-300 words) in the native language of your think tank and/or English; main arguments and recommendations for action
- 3.Presentation of the authorship (short bio and photo of the authors)
- 4.Imprint: Acknowledgements and disclaimer
- 5.Table of Contents
- 6.Introduction: Context; on what is the Policy Brief based?
- 7.Analysis: Background information; new elements in the debate/topic
- 8.Conclude with: Recommendations for action
Citation: Usage of Footnotes (organise it - clear and clean)
For quality assurance purposes, an internal and an external review should be carried out. The aim of this process is to revise and improve (e.g. increase policy relevance) the paper on the basis of constructive feedback.
The first version of the paper should be reviewed by 2-3 external experts. This external review should be organised by the authorship. A good balance between academic and practical expertise is required. The main criterion of this review is to have qualitative and coherent content.
Output: Taking into account the feedback from the external reviewers, a second version of the paper is created. It should be clear to what extent points from the reviews were included or rejected.
Communication: Before the review - The authors should send the proposal of the selected expert to the Board and engagement manager, which can make suggestions if necessary. After the review: The 2nd version of the paper will be sent to the engagement manager and the Board.
The Board and Management then coordinates the internal review based on the 2nd version of the paper. The review criteria includes: checking for language errors, viewing that the paper is argumentatively coherent, clearly themed, and policy relevant, as well as having concrete recommendations. At the same time, the timetable for the publication should be updated in cooperation with the office.
→ The paper can be sent to the authors with suggestions for improvements if necessary (i.e. there is a 4th version).
Output: Taking into account the internal review, a 3rd or 4th version of the paper is produced.
Communication: The 3rd / 4th version of the paper is sent to the Board and Management.
Before Publishing: The administrative office should agree with the incorporation of the reviews and the end product; the paper with the recommendation for publication is submitted to the full executive Board. Where the criteria for publication will be reviewed; the policy relevance, concrete recommendations available, timing, and sufficient internal resources/capacity.
Communication: The director and management informs the entire executive board. Without the veto of any member, the board gives authors, managing director, project leader, and communication manager the green light for the publication.
- Developing communication and media strategy
- Formatting the paper (incl. creation of graphics)
- Translating the Executive Summary/Discussion Paper (if necessary)
- Presenting the paper and presence in the media
Output: The final version of the Discussion Paper/ Policy Brief (incl. Formats and Graphics).
The fun begins after the Publication! It is Promotion time!
- Newsletters are the perfect place to promote your Blogs and Publications, since they are send out internally and externally. They are ideally send to all members, program groups, and every person who signs up for it. The newsletter has a wide diverse audience.
- The newsletter should be edited to include the newest publications, blog posts, and events.
- 1.The NL should be short and visually pleasing
- 2.Begin with a short summary, an edito with the most important information
- 3.Information on the community of your TT, incl. short summaries on each publication, news, and events
- 4.A visual link to all the Blog posts
- 5.Your think tank in the Media
- 6.Hyperlinks to all the Publications
- 7.A calendar with all your upcoming events
- Op-eds or (a) column(s) in a national or local newspaper allows the think tank to share an idea or debate with minimal impedance from journalists or media editors. It can be an influential method in reaching a broad audience and support in developing the medias agenda, which can have an abundant impact on the agenda of the public.
- The op-eds are supposed to encompass a wide but rather informed or/and educated audience. Their knowledge of an issue or their stance on it can and will heavily rely on the publication itself; thus taking this into account when conducting them.
- All around these are short (most likely shorter than an opinion or blog entry) pieces that set forward an informed assessment in an interesting and 'punchy' manner. Publications and the media would generally want op-eds/columns that can provoke a discussion or a response from their audience. Hence, not every publication is suitable for doing op-ed as their promotion.
- Personal, yet formal emails that are sent to journalists and stakeholders, which include the significant up-coming events and publications.
- However, only particular events and publication should be send to specific journalists and stakeholders that would potentially be interested in them. You should not spam them with every publication and event that you know, they won't be interested in. Strategically choose the right people.
- This is a good way to be active and stay in contact with news outlets/journalists. It is highly important to have a network of journalists. Networking with the media personnel is very beneficial to promoting your publications and think tank; particularly because you need to have connections with the media to get "mentioning". To learn more about networking, click here.
- A press release is used to let the media know about a new project, new publication, or an upcoming event that is newsworthy.
- The Press releases are targeted at the media, thus should respond to their needs: e.g. sent it in the right format, to the right people, at the right time, etc. (an example of a format is shown below).
- Press releases should be formatted to carry the centre’s brand but arranged according to what the media is used to. They should focus on newsworthy information and not just announce things that while interesting for the organisation may not be relevant for the media. They must start with the news and then follow with background information or/and more details.
- It is beneficial to have a Press Release section on your website, with all the press releases and conferences, so journalists can have easy access to them.
- 1.Title: best 1 line, no longer than 2 lines
- 2.Location: Where the activity of the announced statement was (for publications same address as on print doc)
- 3.Length: Ideally not be longer than 1-1.5 pages
- 4.Lead: the text needs to respond to the 6 W’s: Who, what, when, where, why and how. Most importantly, all information giving in the lead text needs to be picked up in the Text below. No longer than 5 lines.
- 5.Body: More information on the 6 W’s. Start with the most important information first. For longer texts use subtitles.
- 6.Conclude with: The list of authors or person responsible for the content, the contact information of the Program leader and the Director, as well as the think tanks location and contact information.
- Most people have Social Media now a days, from every day people to most organisations all over the world have at least one social media account. Therefore, in order to promote your think tank and your publications , you should first create social media accounts such as, twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. It is the best way to reach the widest audience, in a fast and inexpensive manner.
- You should preferably have a little strategy behind posting your publications and blogs. Take into consideration the time, date, day, and prominently the caption when posting on each account.
- Blogs are opinion peaces on specific topics and not academic papers, therefore, there are best shared on social media, where people have the ability to comment and share their opinion and stance on the topic, which allows you to promote your think tank. Yet, blogs are not the essential paper of think tanks, thus posting them once on social media and sharing them in your newsletter is most suitable.
- Publications (Discussion papers & Policy Briefs) should be promoted and shared with high priority and need the right strategy in order to be successful. They should be posted on all social media accounts and should be re-shared continually (depending on the current events and if suitable).
- Regional groups are often the main actors in promoting publications with various kinds of events in their region. Depending on the publication, the specific regional groups organise events that would suitably promote the paper. In the beginning of starting your think tank, you might not have regional groups up and running. So, you can certainly decide on organising your own event, for more information on how to organise events, click here.
- Press conferences can be a great way to promote your publication, since it generates a lot of attention, when mentioned in the digital or/and print media.
- Once you have established a network with media outlets, you can organise Press conferences for your publication. However, you need to strategically see what publication journalists would be interested in. It should be a current ongoing hot topic that is related to the political situation and stance.
- There are several types of press conferences you can have, which also depends on the topic of your publication. For example; if the topic of your publication is on migration (a highly sensitive and current topic), you can organise an exclusive breakfast with important stakeholders and journalists on the publication and increase your relationship with them. As a result, there could be a possible mention in the media, which can boost your publication.