Science-related blogs provide the opportunity for highly motivated segments of the public to learn about, follow, and discuss science. These science-interested public audiences consume, contribute, recommend, share and comment on news and discussion of their preferred topics across media and platforms. They have high standards for the quality of content, and expect it to be interactive and responsive to their feedback, reposting, forwarding or commenting.
Blogs can blend the textual depth of online newspapers with the graphical and video capabilities of television, enabling readers to interact in real time with the author of the blog. Posts can also be written quickly and immediately, responding to new events, issues or debates, bypassing the need to convince a journalist to write about the topic or an editor to publish an op-ed.
Yet data on broader public consumption of science-related blogs are limited and those studies that do exist suggest that blog reading occurs among a small, unique segment of the public — who may or may not be drawn to science blogs with the goal of discussing the science. Many individuals may be seeking discussion of the politics related to topics like evolution, atheism or climate change, rather than to learn about science more generally.
Science blog writing may be an effective way to reach decision-makers, journalists and other scientists, not just the science-interested public. A 2009 survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (who are primarily scientists and engineers) found that 9 percent write a science blog, while 42 percent say they read a science blog very often or occasionally. Other research suggests that journalists often use science blogs as a source for story ideas or to track specialized areas of research. Regardless of who the audience is, cultivating those followers is a long-term process that benefits from connections to other blogs or social media outlets.
In addition, some evidence exists of a relationship between news coverage, social media mentions and a scientist's total citation impact scores. Members of the scientific community seem to at least intuitively recognize these advantages. In a study of AAAS members examining the range of motivations for writing a science blog, the strongest predictor was a belief that news coverage was important for career advancement.
When starting your blog, consider the following suggestions:
- Explore blogs of other scientists writing about their work. Note the language used, the kinds of topics covered, and the level of dialogue that takes place. Contact the blogger to discuss their communication goals and strategy. Keep the blogs you like in mind as you build your own content.
- Sign up for a blog hosting site. You can find a number of options online, including WordPress and Blogger. Tumblr provides a template for a short-form blog. Your institution may also offer blogging options.
- Define your audience, to understand the language needed to write for them. See Communication Fundamentals for tips on communicating clearly and concisely to non-technical audiences.
- Before publishing content, compose your entries offline. This will allow for voice and content development without immediate views.
- Spread the word about your blog at speaking engagements, on other online platforms, and other appropriate venues. Link to other blogs and websites pertaining to your work and field, or offer to guest post on a related blog (not necessarily science-related). The more you make your blog known, the more readers you will attract.
- As with all online platforms, interact and engage with your readers through your work and the open questions in your area of science. Allow dialogue between readers in the comments section, and engage with them to keep them interested. Be cautious of your blog becoming a one-way venue to communicate to, instead of with, non-expert audiences. Employing multiple connected platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram in combination with your blog will heighten exposure and engagement opportunities.
What does a science blog look like? Visit a few science blogs below:
2020 Science — Andrew Maynard, Ph.D., Arizona State University
- Blog: 2020 Science
- Subject: Risk communication and innovation
- Goals: Provide accessible insights and perspectives on science and technology innovation; share information, ideas, and insights from his work.
- Audience: Public of all ages and backgrounds who are interested in science and technology, and its relevance to their lives.
- Benefits to the scientist:
- Provides incentive to read about and understand new research and ideas around technology innovation and society.
- Helps develop writing and communication skills.
- Makes the work he does and things he discovers accessible, understandable, and meaningful to others.
Highly Allochthonous — Anne Jefferson, Ph.D. & Chris Rowan, Ph.D., Kent State University
- Blog: Highly Allochthonous
- Subject: Geology and earth science
- Goals: Overall, to provide reader-friendly accounts of geoscience phenomena, such as explanations of current events (e.g., earthquakes and floods), descriptions of field work in interesting places ranging from local rivers to Antarctica, or synopses of breaking scientific findings. Occasionally, posts address the process of science or life in academia, to share the more human side of science as well.
- Audience: Anyone interested in earth science, who has taken a course or two on the topic. The blog often links to other Internet resources so that a reader can get more background information if desired. Although the aim is to reach a broad audience, posts are used by teachers in high school and college classes.
- Benefits from blogging:
- Ability to use old posts as resources for classes or to prep for a new lecture topic.
- Gained exposure and recognition by colleagues more rapidly than might have otherwise.
- Have given multiple media interviews because journalists found the authors through their blog.
- Connected with colleagues through blogging and Twitter, and; those interactions have led to proposals, papers, informal collaboration, and genuine friendship and support.
- Anne and Chris met at a science communication conference and she offered to write some guest posts for his blog. They are now married, and have a joint blog.
From the Lab Bench — Paige Brown Jarreau, Ph.D., Louisiana State University
- Blog: From the Lab Bench
- Subject: Science and science communication
- Goals: To publicly document the author’s thoughts on the topic of science communication, and help others explore and learn about it more than they otherwise would. It’s also a portfolio for her more personal writing.
- Audience: Primarily other science communicators, as well as scientists and science enthusiasts who are passionate about science communication or want to learn more
- Benefits from blogging: Has helped the author get several jobs and, along with Twitter, find a community of other science communicators, both experienced and novice. This community is integral to her work.
For more inspiration, visit the Center for Public Engagement's blog Public Engagement Reflections.