Long-term readers will know that I’ve offered various writing tips over the years: how I write, how to keep it brief, why blogs fail and how to avoid that happening, and emotions you may feel when writing.
But I’ve never specifically covered science blogging. I was asked on Twitter for my thoughts and as the request contained sufficient flattery, I decided to go for it.
Think like a scientist but write like a blogger. Write as informally as possible, while not sacrificing accuracy. This is vital if you’re aiming to reach ‘the public’ – but I believe you should write informally even if your intended audience are scientists. When scientists want academic formality, they read papers; when they want something different, they read blogs.
Don’t dumb down. This is easier said than done. Writing clearly without dumbing down is an art and it takes time to master, but that should be your goal. In order to achieve it, you’ll need to understand what you’re writing about on a deep level – anyone can dumb down, but it takes an expert not to. So I recommend you…
…start by blogging about your own sub-speciality. If you’re a scientist then this will probably be your own research area (although you don’t need to blog about your own papers as such.) If you’re not a scientist you’ll still feel drawn to one topic above others, make that your niche. You can diversify later.
Use (borrow) images. Pictures say 1000 words etc. As a science blogger, you’re lucky: you’ll usually get pictures, diagrams and graphs made for you, in the paper(s). This is not legal advice but in 5 years blogging, no-one has ever complained about my putting such images in my blog posts, with clear attribution (touch wood).
Be openly opinionated. It’s absolutely fine to include your personal thoughts, criticisms, anecdotes etc. alongside ‘neutral’ exposition. In fact, if you don’t have anything of your own to say about a topic, you should reconsider whether you ought to be blogging it. It’s not “unscientific” to have an opinion, nor to express it – just so long as you’re transparent about what’s your opinion, what’s someone else’s opinion, and what’s agreed fact.
Be new. You can be new, either by being the first to blog about new stuff, or by writing about old stuff in a new way. I mostly blog about new science (here’s how), but this isn’t the only way to science blog. In fact, I wish I had more time to cover ‘old’ research and some of my favourite posts have been about that.