This post is part of a series that provides practical information and resources for authors and editors.
Whether you’re a scholar of physics, medieval studies or economics – chances are that your friends and family have no clue what you actually do for a living. One way to solve this problem is to translate your research into layman’s terms. If you do this on a larger scale, such as a blog, you could even do something for the greater good.
Sound science communication builds public trust and combats fake news. By demonstrating the real-world applications and relevance of scholarly work, you can help bring academic research out of the ivory tower. Blogging also allows you to enhance your reputation, engage with more people outside your bubble and explore new career opportunities.
But it’s true that science blogging can feel like an extra chore on top of writing research papers, applying for grants, supervising students and so on. To save you some time and nerves, we have put together the most important tips and tricks for getting your message across.
6 Practical Tips
- Find an Outlet for Your Piece
- Pin Down a Specific Topic
- Create a Structure
- Ensure Readability
- Choose a Strong Heading
- Share and Engage
1. Find an Outlet for Your Piece
As with any piece of writing, think about your audience first. Who do you want to reach? What language will you be writing in? Where are your potential readers, and what platforms do they use? Check out the science blogs you like, find out if they accept pitches and get a feel for their tone and requirements. Take some time to browse through your favorite blog content, because all good writers are also good readers.
Of course, you can also start your own blog, but be aware that you need enough time, regular content, and at least some technical know-how to keep it going. You might want to start by guest posting before taking it a step further.
2. Pin Down a Specific Topic
Rather than summarizing everything you do in your work, try to find the “spark” that makes a good story appealing to its readers. Is there an aspect of your research that relates to a current event or debate? Or something surprising that relates to a common misconception or involves a fascinating character? Don’t confuse an interesting story with sensationalism or clickbait – stay accurate without taking facts out of context or hiding uncertainty and ambivalence.
3. Create a Structure
What ideas and arguments do you want to convey? Write down subtopics with a few bullet points below each heading. To get going you’ll need a strong and catchy introduction that gives the reader a taste of the spark. The last part is usually a conclusion, an outlook or a call to action. The structure and order of what goes in the middle depends very much on the topic and your main argument. It could follow a timeline of events, or it could state the problem first and then list possible solutions from worst to best. Decide what seems most coherent to you before you start.
4. Ensure Readability
Avoid academic jargon and complicated technical terms. If you can’t think of a simpler, less formal synonym for a word, try using an online thesaurus or language model such as ChatGPT. Also, avoid convoluted and overly long sentences (> 20 words). Break up the text into smaller chunks than you would for an academic article or book. Shorter paragraphs with no more than 600 characters are easier on the eye, especially if you’re reading on a mobile device.
Include subheadings based on your structure, as they help the reader navigate your content and are also SEO friendly. Another way to break up large chunks of text is to use images or videos (preferably not tables or graphs). For visually impaired readers, don’t forget to include alt-text, i.e. an image description in the metadata. Finally, you should refrain from footnotes – instead use hyperlinks to refer to other publications.
5. Choose a Strong Heading
Make sure your title is not too long (10-12 words) and includes the most important keywords. Remember that in search engine results the end of the title may be truncated, so, if possible, put those keywords at the beginning.
Think about what questions your target audience might be searching for. Your potential readers want to learn something new, so starting a headline with what, why or how can be an interesting way to draw them in – as can lists (“10 ways to wear a lab coat”). In fact, there are a number of formulas for a catchy blog title, but that could be the subject of a whole other blog post.
6. Share and Engage
Before publishing, share your piece with 2-3 people from your target audience, preferably non-experts, and ask them if they understand everything, or if parts need to be rewritten for clarity. After publication, share it with colleagues, peers and friends, e.g. by email and on social media. Don’t be afraid to put your publication into context: What you’re doing is science communication, not (just) a hobby, and you should get credit for that. Include a link to your blog post on your LinkedIn profile and personal website, if you have one.
Be open to questions and comments, engage with your readers and be prepared that no blog is immune to negative feedback. After all, this is still the internet.
If you have any further questions about science blogging or would like to send us a pitch, please get in touch!
Find more tips for publishing and promoting your work here
[Title image by Christin Hume via Unsplash]