Blogging Tips for Science Bloggers, From Science Bloggers

Will Lion: extreme sports and blogging. Flickr. In #MySciBlog interviews with science bloggers, I've amassed a rich data-set already of blogging practices - straight from the mouths of those who write science blogs. I thought I'd share of few of these, preserving the anonymity of my interviewees, in the form of realistic blogging tips for science bloggers. These are not so much "best practices" as they are "real practices" from both successful and 'rising star' science bloggers. You probably know some of them!

  • Covering the basics of new scientific research papers seems to be a good starting point for many science bloggers. Challenge yourself to talk about the significance of the study, the methods, the background, the context and why your readers should care, all in everyday language!
  • Let your voice be heard. Don't be afraid to inject yourself and your expertise into your science blog.
  • Feel free to follow your interests... even if they lead you to non-science topics.
  • Branch out from the 'inside baseball' posts about scientific research.
  • Use metaphors to communicate complex science.

Need help? Richard Feynman was the master of great science metaphors.

  • Your blog will evolve over time... let it.
  • Tie science into culture, and vice versa.
  • Focus on a few key topics.

But don't be afraid to stray if something you are passionate about comes up in the media or comes across in the scientific literature.

To really improve your traffic, though, figure out what your blog's 'brand' or theme is, and stick to it.

  • Don't overwhelm yourself with blog post ideas you'll never write. Lots of science bloggers work on spontaneity.
  • Make your science blog a place for open dialogue.

Start public discussions about scientific issues using your blog. Make your blog, and your other social media streams, 'friendly' places for comments, debate and criticism.

  • Make your writing accessible - but don't leave out the details.

When explained accessibly, the technical details of science can be quite exciting.

  • Reveal the process of science.

Science isn't conducted in a vacuum, and results of scientific research shouldn't be communicated in one, either.

  • Unless you have a unique angle on a common or popular science story - leave it for another writer or another day.
  • Open Access Papers. Period.
  • Avoid be primarily a 'critic'.
  • In the same vein, avoid 'snapping' at science journalists. Respect is key to constructive criticism.

Unless this is the goal of your blog, avoid making every post a criticism of science research, science news coverage, public opinion, etc.

  • Highlight what the real 'open questions' are in your area of science.
  • Write about important but unresolved questions.
  • Carry a narrative across posts by writing or hosting blog series.
  • Use visuals!

Especially ones you've created yourself!

  • Connect with other bloggers on Twitter.

You might get story ideas, or learn what NOT to write about.

  • Don't beat dead science (or science communication) horses.
  • Cite your sources.

But a blog post doesn't need to be an exhaustive literature review. Some science bloggers put citations at the bottom of their blog posts, but many others just hyperlink for visual simplicity.

"the ability to read the primary material instantly—in as careful or shallow a fashion as you choose—can add much greater context than anything on paper." - Why I Blog, by Andrew Sullivan

  • You can't go wrong providing the broader, historical or cultural context of science.
  • It's OK to avoid topics you don't like 'like the plague.' 
  • It's OK to avoid controversial topics if you don't have the time or patience.

If you ARE writing on a controversial topic, let the written post sit for several hours before posting, if possible. You might rethink posting in the meantime.

  • Try new things and new writing styles.
  • Write conversationally.
  • Bring in your personal experience.

Blogs are human. Be human, and show the human side of science. Write about the human beings behind the science.

  • Feel free to express your professional opinion, based on your (scientific or journalistic) experience.
  • In-depth views make great blog posts.

Shorter isn't always better. Especially if your blog has a mobile-friendly format, people WILL settle down to read a 30-minute engaging post.

  • Hook your readers in the first two sentences - and keep hooking them throughout your post.
  • Know your audience. Know why they will care about the science you are writing about.

Hint: it probably isn't for the same reason that you are 'nerding out' over that new molecular pathway paper.

  • Mix up explaining, informing, educating, interpreting, commenting, critiquing, contextualizing and entertaining.
  • Talk about what's interesting or important to your readers in a story, or to you as a human being, not just what's important to science or to scientists.
  • Look for stories or topics that are important and that you can provide an additional 'layer' to, but that might not be widely covered.

If everyone's going to cover it, why should you?

  • Use your blog to supplement or augment your science writing in other mediums or formats.
  • Interact with readers.

If readers ask a question, that can make a great start to a new blog post.

  • As a scientist, let your blog be the "eyes and ears" into your scientific community.
  • Foster an engaged audience.

Ask questions, and encourage feedback.

  • Don't swear, troll or lie.
  • ALWAYS do a last check for grammar and spelling before clicking 'publish'.
  • Respect your audience.

Respect your readers and other bloggers with dissenting views.