Pitch Perfect

BLOG: Heidelberg Laureate Forum

Laureates of mathematics and computer science meet the next generation
Heidelberg Laureate Forum
Susan D’Agostino, Associate Editor of the Bulletin of Atomic Science
Susan D’Agostino

It may not be your forte, but communicating your research results is an important part of the scientific process. In order to help young researchers improve their skills in this domain, the 8th Heidelberg Laureate Forum included an interactive session titled, “Pitch Your Science News and Opinion Stories to News and Magazine Editors.” This session was hosted by Susan D’Agostino, Associate Editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a media organization that focuses on man-made threats to human existence, and the panel included Bill Andrews (Senior Editor at Quanta Magazine), Tom Edgar (Editor at Math Horizons), John Mecklin (Editor in Chief at Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists), and Amy Nordrum (Commissioning Editor at MIT Technology Review). Each sharing their tips and insights on how to successfully pitch your stories to science publishers. 

A pitch is a one-page letter that you submit to an editor at a publication that explains 1) what the story is you want to tell and 2) why you are a good person to write this story. Below are some of the most important things to consider when writing your pitch according to the panel:

    • John Mecklin (Editor in Chief at Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists),
      John Mecklin
      John Mecklin highlighted the importance of you first sentence, both in your story and in the pitch. Additionally, he warned of the danger of acronyms, calling them “poisonous ants that will bite readers in their eyeballs.” You need to remember that most editors know nothing about your specific subfield, and so you need to make sure that your story is accessible and gives enough context that someone without much background in your field can understand it.

    • Tom Edgar (Editor at Math Horizons)
      Tom Edgar
      Tom Edgar said that frequently the mathematicians he works with are not clear on page limits and word counts. It is important to make sure you have a clear ending in mind for your article when you pitch it to a publisher. You can’t just go on and on, your story needs a decisive ending.

    • Amy Nordrum, Commissioning Editor at MIT Technology Review
      Amy Nordrum
      Amy Nordrum stressed the importance of being specific. A pitch that is vague in terms of language and focus will be subpar. You have to think about what kind of readers will be reading the publication you are pitching to and tailor your approach to fit that. You must also clearly convey why the thing you are highlighting will matter to the readers of the publication.


  • Bill Andrews (Senior Editor at Quanta Magazine)
    Bill Andrews
    Bill Andrews said to make sure that your story is in fact a story. Just explaining something that is cool is not a story – a story needs to go someplace and have a clear beginning and ending. Also, even if your day job isn’t as a writer, you still need to make sure your pitch is well-written. If you have typos and poor grammar an editor will be less interested in your pitch.

    To close, Susan D’Agostino echoed the advice of Nordrum and encouraged all the participants to regularly read the publications you are interested in pitching to. Aside from learning something new, you will also learn what kinds of stories the publisher likes and can tailor your pitch to be similar.

During the session, the young researchers were also split into breakout groups to give their pitches to the editors and get feedback on how to improve them. I won’t spoil those pitches here, but it sounds like the young researchers will be publishing some interesting articles in the future!

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Khari Douglas is the Senior Program Associate for Engagement for the Computing Community Consortium (CCC), a standing committee within the Computing Research Association (CRA). In this role, Khari interacts with members of the computing research community and policy makers to organize visioning workshops and coordinate outreach activities. He is also the host and producer of the Catalyzing Computing podcast.

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