Essay 3: Engaging the public

Assigned: Tuesday, September 20

First draft due: Tuesday, September 27 (printed, in class)

Final draft due: Tuesday, October 4 (online, 12:01 am)


While in college, you’re often asked to write in very specific formats about equally esoteric topics. However, being able to communicate with a broad, public audience is a skill that will serve you well beyond your required course work. Taking an academic or specialized subject and making it engaging to the general public is an imperative task if we want our work to have meaningful and widespread impact. This is particularly true in biodiversity conservation, a field wherein non-governmental organizations often rely heavily on public support (both popularly and monetarily) to continue their programs. In this essay, you’ll learn how to engage with the public by writing a popular news article about a conservation initiative.


Assignment prompt:

Your goal is to craft a news article that gets the public excited about a promising new example of biodiversity conservation. This article should be written for publication in The New Yorker, which often has longer articles and is celebrated for its writing quality and rigorous fact-checking.

First, choose a contemporary conservation initiative or management program that is ongoing in sub-Saharan Africa. Very likely, your first step in making this selection will be to peruse various governmental and non-governmental websites (IUCN, Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF, African Wildlife Foundation, USAID, and many others) to see what campaigns they are actively pursuing. Because you will be using this topic for essays 3, 4, and 5, it will be beneficial to select a robust, more longstanding initiative because this will provide more content for progressive analysis.

Next, because the actual organization completing the work will likely not supply very much explicit information on their website, you’ll need to do some background research to give your public audience a comprehensive understanding of the issue. Your article should cover the following topics with primary sources:

  1. Where is the initiative taking place? What issue is being addressed?
  2. Why? How long has it been a problem?
  3. Who is completing the work? How many different parties are involved? What are their roles?
  4. What is the ecological context? Describe the biotic and abiotic environment (savanna? subtropical forest? species involved?), and how it functions in this issue.
  5. What is the historical context? Have there been other projects in this location? What is the status of conservation in the region?
  6. Are there any problems that have been overcome? Why is this exciting?
  7. What has been achieved thus far? Why is this exciting?
  8. What is left to be done? What should the public expect in the future? Why should they care?

(Note: this is not necessarily the order in which you need to write your article. These are just points to cover.)

Once you’ve done this background research, think about how to best capture the public’s attention. How can you structure your article to ensure that it is engaging for a broad audience?

Given what we’ve covered so far this semester, you may feel inclined to be strongly critical from a postcolonial studies perspective. Resist this urge. As a journalist with integrity, it is your duty to present all sides of the issue. However, for the purposes of this assignment, your criticism should be structured in a way that is not simply an indictment of a conservation campaign bound to failure. You should write from the point of view of someone who believes in its success, and who wants the public to trust in this as well.

Format: 5-6 pages, double-spaced, 12-point Calibri font, 1” margins

Submission: as with your previous work, upload your essay as a Word document to the course website with the filename: “lastname_essay3.doc.”