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Academic writers tackle social issues

Social IssuesWhether the discussion is about changes to our global climate or our cultural climate, the dominance of uninformed opinions can aggravate those of us who want to see the need for evidence derived from empirical research.

Academic writing for social good supports efforts for change to improve the well-being of people in our communities or around the world. While we might hope that all academic writing has potential to benefit society, the kinds of writing we are considering here have an intentional purpose. In a TAA webinar offered last year, Lynn Wilson and I discussed four ways that scholars and researchers can frame their writing. (View the recording here.) Let’s look at each one.

Informing. At the most basic level, we write to inform our readers about our research findings and insights.  To get our message through, we need to craft it in a way that is appropriate to our readers and share it through a medium that will reach them. This might mean writing for professional publications, newspapers, blogs or social media, newsletters or email lists in addition to our typical peer-reviewed journals.

Science of Parenting, a friendly Iowa State University blog, is an example. The introduction states:

At Science of Parenting, we believe in the power of parents who, when armed with trustworthy information, are better able to make decisions about what is best for their children and their family. Therefore, we offer parents access to current research around child-rearing…

Busy parents can access easy-to-read posts with usable information, and if interested, click through to see the original research.

Organizing. Academics can use their writing to find and engage with interested parties who want to work together for change, or to offer practical steps for accomplishing research or other joint efforts.

Nyströmet al published an article, “Collaborative and partnership research for improvement of health and social services: Researcher’s experiences from 20 projects,” that explores essentials for success in projects that need people to work together acrosslevels in the healthcare system (Nyström, Karltun, Keller, & Andersson Gäre, 2018). Conclusions point to the importance of involving researchers and practitioners interdisciplinary, collaborative and partnership research.Wardenaar (2014) wrote and published online a PhD dissertation: Organizing Collaborative Research:The dynamics and long-term effects of multi-actor research programs.Wardenaar’s dissertation explores ways climate researchers have collaborated, and offers approaches interested researchers can adopt when conducting studies on complex, multidisciplinary issues.

Advocating. Sometimes research is conducted in order to identify or develop new approaches to deal with the problem at hand.Once we have determined what those approaches are, we need to articulate and support positions and recommendations that emerge from research evidence.

One example is the article “More than support to court: Rape victims and specialist sexual violence services” (Hester & Lilley, 2017). The authors describe their findings about roles for service providers. They take a further step to advocate for continued funding for such services: “this important work could easily be lost in the current climate of local service commissioning, to the great detriment of victims/survivors of sexual violence…Commissioners thus need to be made aware of the actual roles and input provided by voluntary sector sexual violence services. Otherwise, statutory services [such as the UK National Health Service] will have a much more limited focus, with much poorer support for victims/survivors as a result.” (p.313, 326).

Proposing new solutions, policies, or practices is another purpose for academic writing.

Hester and Lilley (2017) used their research as the basis for policy proposals aimed at preventing sexual violence. They contributed one of the publications included in the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention Action against violence against women and domestic violence.

In order to work toward goals that extend beyond our doors, we need to think through our roles and positions as researchers and writers. We need to be careful about potential bias, or misuse of power. We also need to think about our own professional constraints, such as tenure or promotion expectations, and try to satisfy those requirements. Nevertheless, the contribution we can make has the potential to make a real difference! 

For more about Research for Social Good, see the October series on SAGE MethodSpace!


Hester, M., & Lilley, S.-J. (2017). More than support to court: Rape victims and specialist sexual violence services. International Review of Victimology, 24(3), 313-328. doi:10.1177/0269758017742717

Nyström, M. E., Karltun, J., Keller, C., & Andersson Gäre, B. (2018). Collaborative and partnership research for improvement of health and social services: Researcher’s experiences from 20 projects. Health Research Policy and Systems, 16(1), 46. doi:10.1186/s12961-018-0322-0

Janet SalmonsJanet Salmons is an independent scholar and writer through Vision2Lead. She is the Methods Guru for SAGE Publications blog community, Methodspace, and the author of six textbooks. Current books are the forthcoming Learning to Collaborate, Collaborating to Learn from Stylus, and Doing Qualitative Research Online (2016) from SAGE.