As an active researcher, your first priority when it comes to writing about science is probably preparing academic papers for publication. But now with the rise of social media, there are many other platforms you should be considering to carry on scientific discussions, and one of particular note is blogging.
Blogging is no longer just a realm filled with travel stories and cultural commentary, it’s fast becoming a major player in spreading news about new research and developments in science, policy, and publishing. It’s even been suggested that some bloggers have more credibility than traditional journalism! (At the very least they’re covering topics that may not be typically covered by major news outlets.) But is it something that would work for you? Let’s look at some of the things to consider before diving into the world of blogging.
How to choose a topic
This is probably the most important decision you need to make if you are considering starting a blog. Do you want to write a generalist blog that covers a range of topics in science or do you want to write something more specialized related to your expertise? Both have their pros and cons but no matter what option you pick, your blog will be more successful and more easily promoted to your target audience if you have a clear plan for the kind of content you plan to include.
- A generalist blog about chemistry could cover the chemistry behind everyday products, new advances in research, and the chemistry of the human body. This gives a good range of topics but limits your posts to practical chemistry that might be interesting to a wide range of readers. In-depth technical posts about theoretical chemistry or computational chemistry might be avoided.
- A more specialist blog might look at a niche area like citizen science projects. Your posts could cover the range of projects being conducted, profiles of citizen scientists of note, and ways for people to get involved (apps, events, etc.)
But why even blog at all? What’s in it for you?
First, writing a blog is a great way to improve your general ability to write about science. Particularly, writing about science in a way that is easy to understand. This skill takes time to develop but isn’t emphasized enough as something scientists need. Being able to write clearly about a complex topic will help you write manuscripts and is also likely to improve your presentation skills next time you speak at a conference.
Keeping a blog is also a great way to promote your own research. If you choose to write about your area of expertise, you can use your blog to discuss concepts not covered in your academic papers, share links to your publications, or discuss related material that you didn’t have room to put in your manuscript. (See below for a few warnings though.)
Finally, a blog allows you a more informal space to discuss scientific topics and offers high levels of engagement in ways that traditional scientific forums don’t. You can write in a more casual tone with no restrictions on format or style and, for better or for worse, you can have a conversation with readers about your posts via the comments!
As a working scientist, if you choose to blog, especially if it’s in the same area you work in, you will have some unique concerns that your average blogger might not. Obviously, it’s critical that you don’t share any details on your blog that would be considered a ‘leak’ of information. You still want (and need) traditional publications, so you and your colleagues won’t want any critical unpublished data shared that might give your competitors an advantage.
Academia is also unfortunately not exempt from personal and professional rivalries. But no matter what your frustration, or even if you blog anonymously, you should always remember to be respectful to your peers on your blog. Writing in a public forum, even if it’s not affiliated with your institution directly, can have severe consequences for your reputation, and even potentially your colleagues, if abused, so if you’re going to talk about a controversial public issue, make sure to keep any personal matters out of it.
And last but not least, beware the trolls! Spammers are rampant and people just looking to argue are even worse. As much as we’d like to believe it isn’t, science can be highly political and, depending on your topic, your posts may generate a lot of debate. While engaging in discussions is one of the great benefits of blogging, engaging someone that just wants to fight wastes your time, clogs up the comment section, and doesn’t move the debate along. Choose wisely how you interact with your readers, and remember, you’re in control; don’t let a stranger run away with your discussion!