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  • Oriana Skylar Mastro

Using RAs Part II: Op-eds!

Thanks to online publications, there are endless opportunities for think-tankers and academics to share their research and viewpoints on important policy topics.

The problem is the world does not respect your schedule when deciding that something newsworthy and relevant to your research will occur. More often than not, you have to write something really fast, but you also want to say something useful and new.

This is where RAs come in again. Yay! I write a good deal of commentary (here are some examples), and I follow this strategy.

1) Ask your RA to put together a policy topic overview memo. This memo includes both the facts of the situation and what other people have had to say about it. When I'm not sure what I want to address in particular, I start here. And then I skim through all the sources they've sent me. Below is an example of the template I use.


Policy Topic Overview Example
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Download DOCX • 25KB


2) Once you’ve narrowed down your topic, you can then ask your RA to write a memo on more specific topics. For this commentary on North Korea, I asked my RAs for memos on the possible succession scenarios and how COVID was impacting US military readiness.


3) Then I hammer out the commentary. I use comment boxes in word to ask my RAs to put in specific sources sometimes and even ask them to add a sentence or two about different topics. Again for the same North Korea memo, I'm pretty sure I asked my RA to write a few paragraphs about the current situation that I then edited down to the intro. I often do this because I hate writing intro paragraphs. Also, quickly writing a draft of the piece and sending it to my RAs with queries of where to fill in with more details facilitates my writing flow. I don't get caught up looking for a particular statistic or argument. It's pretty embarrassing, but to give you a sense of what I'm talking about, here is an early draft of this commentary with my RA queries.



Messy Korea Draft
.docx
Download DOCX • 31KB

Again, you may have the time to do everything yourself. In the case of this Foreign Policy op-ed, I had given birth seven weeks earlier. COVID had hit – and my 22-month-old was at home too. So I was trying to take care of both of them and put out some publications. I ended up writing three pieces on the North Korean succession crises and doing numerous podcasts and other media (see this blogpost on how RAs can help you prep for media interviews). I couldn’t have done this without some help. Again, a good RA is worth their weight in gold if you know how to use them!

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