Science Blogging — Taking It to the Next Level

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Congrats! You’ve done it! You started a blog, you’ve written some posts, and you’ve gotten the ball rolling. Now comes the hard part: maintaining the momentum. Don’t worry—we’ve got advice for veterans, too.

Below, we have included brief summaries of each chapter for established science bloggers, and a list of online resources that can help readers make their blog the best it can be.

 

Building an Audience for Your Blog (Chapter 5)

Every blog needs readers. How do you find your audience? You have to decide who you write for, what you write about, and why you write it. Ed Yong, an award-winning blogger for National Geographic and staff writer at The Atlantic, is one of the most experienced and prolific science bloggers in the world. But even his blog had to find its audience at first, as he explains:

Blogging is a marathon, not a sprint. Unless you happen to launch a new blog under the umbrella of an established media brand, or you already have a substantial following online, you will probably spend a lot of time without many readers. When I started Not Exactly Rocket Science as an independent WordPress site, I had just a few hundred page views a day for at least eighteen months, or until I joined the ScienceBlogs network. That was a bit dispiriting, but it didn’t matter. I wanted to write. I had an itch that needed to be scratched. And the fact that some people were reading—regardless of how few they were—was valuable, rewarding, motivating. Small audiences matter; they’re a necessary stepping stone toward big audiences. And it takes time—months, maybe years, of effort—to build a big audience. There’s no way of shortcutting your path to greater traffic.

Further Resources

 

Ethical Considerations for Science Bloggers (Chapter 6)

Writing about science can be an ethical minefield. Scientists and science writers want to communicate about the latest scientific findings, the process of knowledge-building, and the experience of being a member of a scientific community, but it is important to do so responsibly. Scientist, philosopher, and blogger Janet D. Stemwedel explains why writing about science has its own set of ethical considerations:

All blogging creates relationships with readers. Blogging about science means you’re also engaging (whether deeply or superficially) with a body of knowledge, a process for building that knowledge, and communities of practitioners engaged in that process. Arguably, this engagement imposes a kind of duty to be accountable to the world that this science is describing—to attend to the empirical facts and be honest about what is known for sure, what is probable, or what is possible. Not being accountable in this way means departing from the ethical commitments central to the scientific enterprise, a step that would put you dangerously close to the positions taken by purveyors of pseudoscience. Blogging about science may also make you responsible to scientific practitioners, since what you blog about can influence how the public understands what they do and who they are.

Further Resources

 

Getting Interactive (Chapter 9)

One of the greatest things about writing a blog instead of a magazine or newspaper column is that you have the freedom to go beyond the text. Art, video, sound—your blog is your oyster, or whatever that saying is, and including other forms of media can widen your appeal and help you to delve even deeper into the science you share. Rose Eveleth, host and producer of Flash Forward, explains why non-text blogging is so powerful:

By some measures, tweets with images in them get twice the amount of engagement as those without. Posts with pictures on Facebook get 53 percent more likes than posts without. Videos go viral far more frequently than long strings of text. The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger video—a film I consider to be a totally legitimate form of science communication—has nearly 70 million views. People like pretty pictures, things they can click on, and stuff that bounces around in front of them. Just don’t make it autoplay, for the love of all things science.

Further Resources

 

Metrics: Measuring the Success of Your Blog (Chapter 19)

In the early days of blogging, comment threads allowed bloggers to see who was reading their posts and measure audience engagement. But in the era of social media, discussions have moved to Twitter and Facebook, it’s becoming harder to tell who is seeing your work and what kind of influence you have. In this chapter, Matt Shipman, public information officer at North Carolina State University and blogger at Nature Publishing Group’s scilogs.com, has some advice for going beyond page views or retweets to really measure your impacts and whether you’re achieving your blogging goals:

Most people get into science communication because they love science. They want to change the way people think about scientists, educate them about scientific subjects, encourage them to become scientists, or get them involved in citizen science projects. Numbers alone won’t tell you if you’re achieving those sorts of goals. So while it’s good to keep track of the numbers, it’s important to come up with additional metrics that will help you determine whether you are accomplishing what you set out to do in the first place.

Further Resources

 

Toot Your Own Horn: Self Promotion in Social Media (Chapter 20)

Many are uncomfortable with self-promotion; they don’t want to seem pushy or overbearing. But how will anyone learn about your blog if you don’t tell them about it? Liz Neeley, executive director of The Story Collider, explains why it’s so important to share your own work:

You need to get your ideas in front of as many interested people as possible, and more importantly, you want to get your ideas in front of us in such a way that we will read, remember, and respond to them. You need our attention, but our attention is an incredibly valuable resource. Consider the multitude of delicious (baking cookies), important (writing), or helpful (walking my dogs) things I could be doing at this moment. Reading your post comes with a price. If I choose to read it, I have chosen not to do all those alternatives. If I open up your post and start to read it, I’ve already made a calculation in your favor—I believe that what I’m about to read is going to be worth the opportunity cost. Maybe it’s because whatever I saw (a tweet, a Facebook post, perhaps simply the post title) piqued my interest. Maybe I’m basing my decision on my knowledge of other things you’ve written. Either way, your self-promotion is a promise to me, one of your potential readers, that your work will be worth my attention.

Further Resources

 

Blogging About Controversial Topics (Chapter 23)

Scientific topics are at the heart of some of the most heated current debates, from climate change to vaccines and autism. Controversial topics tend to attract lots of attention, but also armies of trolls. Co-author of The Informed Parent and Forbes blogger Emily Willingham is well acquainted with how to prepare oneself for tackling controversy online, and offers sage advice in this chapter:

Passion and investment are critical if you’re going to blog about controversies. You have to be consistent in your approach to the material and willing to alter your conclusions as new data come in. When you build trust in this way with the people who read your work, they will come to you for clarity when they read something somewhere else that leaves them scratching their heads. Responsibility and transparency also are paramount when controversy is your beat because even a hint of a conflict of interest or a failure to be intellectually honest about your material can torpedo trust.

Further Resources

 

Persuading the Unpersuadable: Deniers, Cynics, and Trolls (Chapter 24)

People commonly advise that you “don’t read the comments.” But when it’s your blog, the comment section can be one a place for interaction and engagement with your readers. In this chapter, Melanie Tannenbaum suggests ways to maintain a respectful comment section using strategies grounded in psychological science. How do you set the right tone, for example? Not the way you might think:

When bloggers think about how to moderate comments sections, they often instinctively try to set prescriptive norms: commenters should be respectful, you should use appropriate language, you cannot level personal insults at the author or at other commenters. Yet based on everything that we know about descriptive norms, it seems much more likely that the best way to encourage good behavior in a comments section is instead to model what good behavior looks like.

Further Resources

 

Who’s Paying? Science Blogging and Money (Chapter 25)

No matter who you are—scientist, journalist, enthusiast—your time isn’t free. And while it can be worthwhile to blog for many non-monetary reasons, it’s also nice to get paid for your efforts. In this chapter, editor Bethany Brookshire explains how to make your blog pay off, and how to respond when someone offers you exposure instead of cash:

As my own blog grew in popularity, as I put in more time and effort, and as I began to see that this would be my career, I started to ask myself: why am I doing this for free? Now when people ask me if I can write a post for them, and say that I will benefit from “exposure,” I have a standard reply: “People die from exposure.”

Further Resources

 

From Science Blog to Book (Chapter 26)

Are you thinking about writing something a little longer than a blog? Taking the leap from short form to dead-tree publication can be daunting. No one is more familiar with the transition from science blogger to book author than Brian Switek. In this chapter, he shares his experience, and gives advice on how to use your blog to improve your book writing:

A new blog post is functionally no different from a blank piece of paper. You’re free to create within the bounds of what the form can hold. And because blogs are media platforms, they do not require any specific style or type of content. These attributes give blogs a unique versatility, and make them useful testing grounds for other types of media. For science writers who want to compose a book, whether they’re veterans with a new project or prospective authors trying to sell their first title, blogs can be powerful tools throughout the publication process.

Further Resources

 

So there you have it! Go forth and blog.

Are you more of a novice blogger? Take a gander at the resources in our Science Blogging 101 section. And if you’re already up and running, make sure to check our the resources for how to find your voice.

 

 

 

 

This book would not be possible without the generous support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National Association of Science Writers. Thanks especially to NASW’s Idea Grant Committee for their thoughtful feedback on our proposal, for helping us to ensure this volume was as comprehensive as possible, and for helping us to ensure we could adequately compensate all our contributors. Their help allowed us to assemble the best possible roster of chapter writers, and we are grateful for their support.