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3 tips for interdisciplinary writing

Advice from winner of the Critical Policy Studies prize

Writing across disciplines can bring breadth to your research, and potentially extend its reach to a wider audience. But what are the key things to consider when using a range of approaches, to make sure you still create a coherent end result?

Erik Aarden, winner of this year’s early stage career researcher prize for Critical Policy Studies, offers his top tips on what to think about when writing a winning article with an interdisciplinary approach.


From Erik Aarden

Many of the issues that form interesting topics of research are located at the intersection of different disciplines. For example, I am trained in science and technology studies (STS), but much of my research on medical innovation brings together topics that also motivate medical researchers and public policy scholars. As a result, there is much to gain from writing for diverse and interdisciplinary audiences. Here are some of my thoughts on how to make insights of interest beyond the borders of one’s own field:


1. State a clear problem

It is important to keep in mind that the problems that motivate research in your discipline are not necessarily those that interest a wider audience. I have therefore found it useful to think about my research in terms of broader public problems. For example, the question how genetic technologies affect health care access is one for which I found receptive audiences in various disciplines.

2. Don’t be afraid of theory

My second suggestion may seem counterintuitive, since particular theoretical traditions or controversies are often very discipline-specific. Nevertheless, it helps to clearly locate your own perspective in a particular intellectual tradition and it can support your attempt to bring novel insights to a different field. Of course, readers of (for example) medical journals are probably not interested in a detailed exegesis on a particular school of thought – but present your materials through a broader framework, and they may just begin to see things differently.

3. Know your strengths

When publishing in other disciplines, there is the possibility that our audience is more knowledgeable about certain aspects of the problem. One of the things I thus find most challenging is to be taken seriously in terms of what I have to say, while avoiding being ‘exposed’ as a clueless outsider. I therefore try to strike the right balance between trust in the expertise of my audience and in my own. For example, in my prize-winning paper, I try to avoid questioning health policy scholars’ expertise on the intricacies of health policy making, but do think I have something helpful to say about the particularities of novel technologies for health care access.

Erik Aarden is a postdoc at the Department of Science and Technology Studies of the University of Vienna, Austria. He obtained his PhD from Maastricht University, the Netherlands in 2010 with a study of the integration of genetic diagnostics in three European health care systems and has since continued (mostly comparative) research on the intersection between biomedicine, political institutions and social justice. He has previously been a postdoc at RWTH Aachen University, Germany and a Marie Curie fellow in Maastricht and at Harvard University, US. An article on the basis of his doctoral research was recently awarded the Critical Policy Studies Early Career Stage Researcher Prize.