Paige Brown Jarreau: This is a guest post by Maddie Duhon, Kathryn Courtney and Savanna Ronco, students of #SciCommLSU, a coastal environmental communication course I currently co-teach at the Manship School of Mass Communication. These students are mass communication undergraduates interested in learning how to communicate about science. This week, they were tasked with surveying a sample of blogs/posts from the science blogosphere and coming up with their own tips to engage readers. Their responses are included with their permission here. I think we as scientists and science bloggers can learn a lot from hearing feedback on our blogging from these mass communication students!
Science Blogging tips from #SciCommLSU's Maddie Duhon
What makes a good blog post?
To maintain a great blog, you have to write compelling and engaging content on a consistent basis over time. Easier said than done, right? Here are some tips on creating great blog posts:
Pique their interest.
To tell a good story, one great way to begin your post is by making the reader think. By asking readers a question, they will feel emotion when they relate their answer to their personal experiences. Then you can lead into your story. Martin Angler [SciLogs.com blogger] does a great job with this in his post “The Ethics of Algorithms: Whom Would You Run Over?” The first six sentences set up a scene in your head and make you want to keep reading. By the end of the prompt, I want to find out if the elderly woman or the children die. Don’t you want to read the post now?
Another post that piqued my interest was “The Veterinary Prejudice for Spay and Neuter: a shifting paradigm?” The headline didn’t really entice me, but I decided to click “Read more” after skimming the six sentences. The first two paragraphs are short and create curiosity to read further.
Tell a story passionately.
Before this class when I thought of science news, I thought of boring, dense articles. After reading articles assigned in class, I’ve realized a lot of these bloggers really care about what they write about because it shows in their writing.
Another way to tell a good story is to avoid negativity. Positivity is key. According to an article by Salisbury University, “science, critical thinking and scientists are often seen as negative.” By keeping your post positive, your reader will stay longer and read more. When searching for blogs to analyze, I saw a post titled “The fairly depressing picture of pesticide pollution in British rivers” on Scilogs. Did I want to read it? No!
Get people engaged.
Include links to Twitter and other social media outlets to encourage viewers to share your post. If tweeted, the viewer can insert a few characters about their opinion of the post. Always have commenting options available and respond when readers comment. This creates conversations and relationships. Comments also allow people to complain and ask questions, but this shows people are reading your blog and taking the time to respond. You should take the time to respond to them.
Draw people in.
Utilize headlines to their fullest potential. Blog posts that peaked my interest and encouraged me to click had titles such as “Diamonds are for…Finding Stem Cells” and “I Love You To Bits: Female Sex Cannibalism and Male Counter-Adaptation in the Redback Spider.” If the headline isn’t catchy, you will lose a reader.
One blog post I really enjoyed was “Why Rosie O’Donnell was Wrong to Kill a Hammerhead: The Top 5 Coolest Things About These Strange-Looking Sharks.” The headline instantly caught my attention because it is criticizing someone famous (that I’ve actually heard of) and also ends on a positive note about the sharks. It made me want to read the article to hear about both parts of the headline. The post includes links to other sources, adding credibility. The author completely drew me in with the five facts about hammerheads. One fact is extremely scientific, like how these sharks migrate in large groups called schools, while another describes the sharks' heads as “weird looking,” then includes interesting scientific information about the advantages and reasons this animal’s head is shaped that way. Embed compelling photos to lengthen the time the viewer spends on your page. The second photo in the post has a humorous caption about hammerheads “mean mugging.” This article was fun, easy to read and I learned facts about sharks without even realizing it. Another way to draw readers in is to include applicable videos so viewers aren’t just reading, they are listening and observing.
There should be plenty of white space on your blog. Having pages of text is an instant turn off for most readers. This blog post about the U.N. Climate Summit has photos at the beginning, but even the indented bullet points help. Paragraphs shouldn’t be lengthy. Images and video can be embedded to provide variety.
Be credible and scientifically accurate.
To have a credible blog, it needs to be updated regularly. When a blog doesn’t have a lot of recent content, my red flag goes up. You also need to think outside the box. By posting new ideas and interesting content, you are gaining credibility. Because Google provides information instantly, you have to make sure everything you post is accurate and relevant. Links should be included in every blog post. Indenting quotes in a different color font shows that these areas of text aren’t your original ideas. If you take information from a print source, you should cite it. The references at the end of this blog post include links to sources and credits for the photos used. These tips also relate to being scientifically accurate. If you show your sources and thoughts clearly, you are being as accurate as possible.
Science Blogging tips from #SciCommLSU's Kathryn Courtney
I enjoy when scientific bloggers use hyperlinks, so I can expand my knowledge on that subject. Also, bloggers writing about Louisiana, which pertains to where I live, such as the blog, "Losing Ground: Southeast Louisiana Is Disappearing, Quickly" gains my attention to read the blog post. On the other side, when bloggers are biased and do not explain their ideas, the blog seems unreliable and is frustrating to read, like “Humans have caused more than 100% of climate change over last 50 years."
Personally, I prefer blogs that include multimedia to communicate subject matter. The blog post, "Making Astronomy Accessible for the Visually Impaired," includes a picture, video and audio, which engages and provides a different way to connect and understand the subject matter. Science blogging involves engaging and appealing to your audience’s interest.
Tell a good story: Be a real person when writing blogs. Write with a conversational tone to encourage the audience to join in and comment. Speak comfortably, but professionally to help readers realize they can talk to bloggers and know they will be heard. Also, write short and to the point. People browse quickly online, therefore, bloggers first need to tell readers the “what”, and then explain why.
Get people engaged: Use multimedia to get your audience engaged. Bloggers: embed photos, video, audio and hyperlinks as much as possible. By using multimedia to help portray the subject matter, the blogger lets his/her audience connect with the blog. The more your audience can connect to the subject matter of your blog, then more likely they are to become engaged.
"551 Feet Under the Sea What It’s Like to Ride in a Deep-Sea Sub" is an example of how to get people engaged.
Draw people in: Get readers' attention to your blog. Gain the interest of the readers by having an intriguing title. Creative blog titles show not only what the post is about, but also why your audience should be interested.
"Cities Will Solve Climate Change, not Nations" is an example of how a blog can draw people in.
Be scientifically accurate: Within your blog embed hyperlinks. Link multiple outside sources to your blog to provide the audience with more information about the subject. Further engage your audience with research and evidence backing up your subject matter. Having diverse scientific sources in your blog enhances your expertise in the subject.
"2014 on Track to Be Hottest Year on Record" is an example of how to be scientifically accurate.
Be credible: Be aware of copyrights and the ability to use images. Just because it is on the Internet does not mean you can use it. Give credit to ideas that are not yours. Build a credible reputation by being honest, fair and unbiased, so your audience can trust you.
Science Blogging tips from #SciCommLSU's Savanna Ronco
I think a good blog post is informative, first and foremost. I think the subject should be interesting and if it isn’t, I’d hope that the blogger could make it interesting by adding in pictures, videos and graphics. Also, a good blog post should keep the readers coming back for more. At the end of each article, there should be a preview of upcoming articles or even a comment box for users to suggest a topic for the blogger. As far as comment boxes go, I also think that bloggers should do their best to respond to comments by users. This will keep them feeling as if they have a connection to you and your blog.
Bloggers should also be very careful to be accurate when they make a blog post. If you’re not sure about something, say it. If you think that you made a mistake, own up to it and post a retraction. You don’t want to give your readers false information or they’ll never read the blog again. The most important thing is to have legitimate quotes from experts in the subject of the post. Also, be careful not to sound biased. Get quotes from both sides of the story.
Last, make the blog attractive! Carl Zimmer’s blog The Loom is set up in a block design, where the articles aren’t just listed vertically, but set up with pictures in colored boxes that can be clicked on. Just don’t clash colors too much or the blog will be hard to read.