Online how-to blogging resources usually focus heavily on writing topical posts with the intent of monetization through ads and affiliate links. These guidelines are frequently ill-suited for scientists who wish to raise awareness or communicate research results. The video below from Future Earth provides science-specific recommendations for blogging that focus on creating engaging content for the general public. Below are my notes from the video, provided with the hope that they summarize the content for quick reading and comprehension.
What is a blog?
- A collection of short, informal, sometimes controversial, and sometimes deeply personal online stories
- One goal of a science blog is to entice a reader to download the scientific paper describing the research
Why blogs are important
- 50% of papers are only ready by their authors and journal editors
- Only 10% are cited
- Blogs can widen readership
- Stories create common ground between scientists and people
- Make an impact beyond academia (make new connections)
Types of blogs
- Pros: broad audience, high readership, editing assistance available, less time consuming
- Cons: you may not publish everything you want to write about
- Pros: It's all about you, integrate with the rest of your profile and current publications, blog about other cool stuff, can cross-publish on an institutional blog
- Cons: time-intensive, need something to say
- If personal, need a new blog post every week or every other week to keep it fresh
- Need to develop a voice and give opinions on issues
- Blog with another researcher and invite guest bloggers
- Examples of collaborative blogs come from research departments; write about your favorite topic in the research field
- PLOS journal has a blog
- Potential audiences: Policymakers, the general public, potential students, collaborators
- Many science blogs write for the intelligent non-expert/undergraduate student: someone who is familiar with basic scientific concepts but not familiar with the intricacies of the subject you are writing about
- Writing clearly and concisely allows you to target a broad audience
- If people want additional detail, they can read the research papers you link to
- Know why your audience will care about the science you are writing about
- Audience will evolve; adjust tone as the audience changes over time
What's your story
- Write what you care about
- Figure out how to have a unique voice in the cacophony of blogs
Finding your science stories
Published research (news or analysis)
- News: cover a research article the way the mainstream news would
- Analysis: cover a new research paper and discuss why the findings are significant and how the results would change policy
Comment on the latest developments in your field
- Cover a development in the media or society that relates to your research area
- Connect your writing with something that is happening now, such as a current event
Human stories from the field or lab
- Present exciting stories and lessons learned while conducting research
- Blogs on a particular session that presents the main findings
- Reflect on the relevance of the global context
Tips and reflections
- Reflections on a graduate research project
- Tips about research
- Monitoring the space where conversations are occurring on social media is a great way to find stories
- Follow topical hashtags on social media for story ideas
- Mostly relevant at conferences
- Try to write about published research as much as possible
- Make it clear whether the research is published (e.g., In forthcoming research, we have found...)
- If someone else's unpublished research, check with the presenter first. It is usually fine as long as you are not publishing data. Most people are okay with it but check with the author or principal investigator first.
Angle/Focus of blog article
- How is this product better than its predecessor
- Are experts predicting it will change the market? If so, how?
- What do users have to say about it?
- Apply these questions to science blogging
How journalists write news
- The first paragraph
- The most crucial info
- 30 words long, 1-2 sentences
- Gives all the information you need: who, what, where, why, how
- This structure allows readers to stop reading at any point in the story
- May include a hook such as a provocative quote or question
- Written this way to accommodate short attention spans; and allows people to explore the topic only to the depth that they want
- Cater to interested readers or those that want to get the information and leave Examples
- Hard news style
- Feature style
- The crucial info
- Include the argument, controversy, story issue
- Include evidence background, details, logic, etc.
- Include quotes, photos, videos, and audio that support, refute, or expand the topic
- Extra info
- Interesting/related items
- May include extra context in blogs, columns, and other editorials; the assessment of the journalist
Academics vs. Science Bloggers
- A long and descriptive title
- Short, snappy title
- Main finding or anecdote in the lead paragraph
- Why is it significant - essential to have it toward the beginning of a science blog post to understand the importance
- Introduction (refs hyperlinked)
- Brief methods
- Results (refs hyperlinked)
- Why is it significant? What does it mean for the research field?
- What's next?
How academics write examples
Subjective well-being and income empirical patterns in the rural developing world
A commonality in the economics of happiness literature is that absolute income matters more for the subjective well-being at low-income levels
How science bloggers write examples
Money buys happiness? A new study says to think again about those assumptions
Conventional wisdom has long held that for people who have the least, money matters much more than it does for people who are better off. But there is some dissension in the ranks. Economist Arild Angelsen believes that it is a dangerously outdated concept.
DO Tips for blog writing
- Tell a story as if you were telling a friend over coffee; be human; write conversationally
- Source facts and figures (hyperlink to reputable sources)
- Use striking and unusual images
- Keep paragraphs short
- Use proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar
- Know your audience
- Use quotes (get them right!)
- If you mention a fact, hyperlink to a credible source (other research papers, fact sheets, databases)
- Linking allows the reader to go deeper and make connections
- Can suggest related reading at the end of the story
- Don't overdo it; one hyperlink every few paragraphs is enough
- Hyperlinking the text is better than footnotes; footnotes are too academic and may put readers off
- Use strong images
- Use shallow depth of field; not grainy; bright colors
- Conference photos are rarely interesting; use sporadically
- Sources: Flickr; Wikimedia commons; images should use creative commons license
Keep paragraphs short
- Online readers tend to skip large blocks of text
- 1-2-3-4-5 rule: Make sure your paragraph contains one idea, expressed in 2-3 short sentences, taking 4-5 lines on the page
- Try not to go over 800 words for your blog post unless it is an investigative piece or feature
Tips for getting quotes
- Determine what kind of quotes you are looking for: Why is the work significant/important (often found in the discussion part of the paper)
- What if the researcher doesn’t mention the importance/significance?: Call them and ask them. If at a conference, ask them after their presentation. Feel free to ask them for an interview during lunch if you need more info.
- What if the researchers use a lot of jargon in their answers?: You can paraphrase or edit the quote
DON'T tips for blog writing
- Document the entire event if blogging at a conference
- Use jargon or acronyms
- Write in passive; academic writing uses passive voice a lot because they want readers to focus on the results rather than the person doing the action; passive voice makes storytelling more difficult because it hides characters deep in the sentence
- Write boring and long headlines
Writing good headlines examples
- Surprise: "This is not a perfect blog post (but it could've been)"
- Questions: "Do you know how to create the perfect blog post?"
- Curiosity Gap: "10 ingredients in a perfect blog post. Number 9 is impossible!"
- Negatives: "Never write a boring blog post again"
- How to: "How to create a perfect blog post"
- Numbers: "10 tips to creating a perfect blog post"
- Audience referencing: "For people on the verge of writing the perfect blog post"
- Specificity: "The 6-part process to getting twice the traffic to your blog post"
Let people know about your stories
- Stories connect people, and science is full of them
- Blogs can increase readership of scientific papers
- Grab us with a headline, image, and first paragraph