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What Are Science Blogging Best Practices?
You want to start a science. You’ve picked your goals, decided on a platform, and even have a topic. You are ready to get started. How can you ensure your blog is successful? While there is no way to guarantee victory, you can increase your chances by following science blogging best practices.
What are the science blogging best practices? There are no “rules” for you should run a blog. It’s the internet – the only limitation is your imagination. That being said, these are guidelines and habits that will help you. This article summarizes the best practices in blogging in science blogging. These tips offer general advice on succeeding as a blogger while targeting bad habits common to scientists.
Jargon is defined as “technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group.” Think about a time you were reading a news story or article where you encountered a word you didn’t recognize. Maybe you went through the effort of looking the word up, but that effort isn’t fun.
It is relatively easy to avoid jargon with a little bit of effort. You can often write around it. Instead of “hemoglobin,” you can write “the protein that carries oxygen in red blood cells.” Rather than “polyethylene,” write “plastic used in grocery bags.” Not only does this avoid technical terminology, but you can also provide a relevant reference or context.
What if your blog isn’t targeting a general audience? What if you are writing for specialists in the field? You should still keep your jargon under control. Technical terminology is a burden. Imagine I asked you to carry around a 10-pound weight for the rest of the day. Almost everyone can do that extra work, but that doesn’t mean you want to. Keeping the jargon light is a benefit to all readers.
Of course, technical terms are sometimes possible to avoid. Scientists create specialized terminology to have a precise meaning. In these cases, you can use jargon, but make sure you clearly define the term.
Shorter Sentences and Paragraphs
Scientists love to string together long, confusing sentences into long, confusing paragraphs. I can’t stand it. Look at the following examples, and think about which is easiest to parse.
According to the shop, my furniture has been delayed due to some supply chain issues related to wood availability, without which it is impossible to construct the table, though they told me I would be contacted as soon as my order arrives.
According to the shop, my furniture has been delayed. The delay is due to some supply chain issues related to wood availability, without which it is impossible to construct the table. They told me I would be contacted as soon as my order arrives.
This is a tame example. Long sentences often have other issues, such as pronouns that point in different directions or phrases that are broken up unnecessarily. This goes back to the idea of carrying weights – why burden your reader with run-on sentences when you don’t have to?
Don’t some sentences need to be long? Sure, but most long sentences are horrid. If you have over 30 words in a sentence, take a long, hard look at it. Can it be split? Can it be shortened? Is it possible to move a few words to the sentence before or after? If you are absolutely sure that the answer is “No,” do everything you can to clarify the statement as much as possible.
Paragraph structure is less challenging, but people still screw it up. Smaller paragraphs are almost always better – they are easier to read and are more inviting. Look at news websites like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Vox – you will see that most paragraphs are five sentences or less. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you.
Use a Relaxed and Conversational Tone
Scientist bloggers need to break their habit of formal writing. Why? Formal writing sounds rigid and fake, encouraging bad practices such as long, jargon-heavy sentences. While many scientists think it communicates intelligence, it mainly sounds stuck-up.
Most blogging advice will tell you to write in an informal tone. The term “informal” is a bit loaded because everyone has different standards of formality. Pushing yourself to use an informal tone can sound as forced as a formal style. Scientists are used to writing in a highly rigid format, so they find purely casual style somewhat unnatural.
Instead, use a relaxed, conversational tone. How would you explain the topic if you were talking to a relative or a coworker without a technical science background? That is what you should aim for in your science blogging.
Tell a Story
People are hard-wired to follow stories. Young, old, rich, poor, storytelling is loved and practiced by all. Adding character, plot, drama, and emotion to your blog post will make it more engaging and memorable.
Scientists are taught to write with little-to-no character, plot, drama, or emotion. Why? These compromise the integrity of the science. Take character – including details about who conducted a study could bias your interpretation of results. While this lack of story does lead to dry content, it is probably necessary for most scientific writing.
What if your blog has no character, plot, drama, or emotion? Try to find it. Here are some places to look.
- Explore the “why.” Science affects real people sooner or later.
- Who are the scientists that made the discovery? Do they have interesting stories?
- Are there companies that benefit or lose as a result of this finding?
- Is there a disagreement or conflict about the science?
- Use personal examples or metaphors whenever possible.
Not every blog post needs a story, but it is a great way to level up the impact of your work.
Pick a Great Title
While we all know the expression “don’t judge a book by its cover,” we all do it daily. When scrolling through social media, you probably see loads of articles and videos fighting for your attention. How do you choose what to look at? The title is a significant factor. A strong title is essential for attracting readers.
Academic article titles tend to be dry. A humourless and hyper-accurate explanation of what the article is about. Titles like this are bland and ineffective. To attract readers, your title should be one of the following:
- Inspire curiosity
Titles are the most critical part of your entire article by a wide margin, so you should treat them as such. Before choosing one, you should write out at least 10-20 ideas for titles. For myself, I write a title when I start a blog post and then tinker with it as I write the article. By the end, it has been tweaked a dozen or more times.
In addition to attracting readers, titles fulfill another function: search engine optimization.
Follow Basic Search Engine Optimization
Google is one of the best ways to distribute your blog – it delivers it directly to people looking for your content and doesn’t cost a cent! The only catch is that you need to get your blog posts on the first page of Google results, which isn’t easy.
While we all use search engines daily, few people understand how search engines work. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a specialized field within marketing that aims to maximize search engine (mainly Google) performance. SEO can get technical, but as a novice, you can focus on a few essentials:
- Pick one keyword for each blog post. Check Google to make sure it isn’t too competitive
- Ensure the keyword is in your title, URL, at least one subtitle, and a couple of times in your text.
- Add links between your blog posts.
- Check that your website loads quickly and is indexed in Google without problems.
There is a lot more to SEO than this. Semrush, Moz, and HubSpot offer superb resources if you want to keep learning. As a beginner blogger, you don’t need to worry about that – stick to the steps outlined above, and you should be able to generate some search traffic.
Another tactic to boost search engine performance is publishing consistently.
If you want your blog to grow, you need to be consistent. Most people are rarely going to follow you after the first time they read your blog. Only after multiple exposures are they going to remember who you are. Publishing once every couple of months isn’t enough to get traction and develop an audience.
Not only does inconsistency stop your blog from growing, but it also slows your progress as a writer. Like all skills, the key to developing as a writer is practice. It is hard to explain why consistency is essential – you aren’t honing a fine motor skill or developing physical agility. While wordsmithing may not look like those talents, it is very similar. Experienced writers manage sentences and structure on a different level than regular folks. This only comes from processing hundreds of thousands of words. As someone who writes almost every day, consistency has been the key to developing whatever skill I have.
That being said, there is no hard rule on how regularly you should publish. It will ultimately depend on how much effort you want to put into your posts, how much time you have, and the length of the posts, etc. If you are starting out, I’d recommend aiming for a ~1,000 word article every other week. See how that feels, and adjust.
Some writers suggest publishing on a strict schedule – every Thursday at 9 am sharp! This is useful if you are writing a newsletter, but I think it is heavily overrated for beginning or casual writers. While it isn’t for everyone, if you are more efficient when working on a deadline, try it out.
If you are struggling to write more than one article a month you should think about the amount of time you are spending on your writing. Can you set aside an hour each day to work on writing? Can you set goals? Is your writing environment supporting you? Science blogging is more of a marathon than a sprint, so figure out how to maintain consistent, quality output.
How to Use Science Blogging Best Practices
Hopefully, these science blogging best practices will help you on your journey! Of course, these are only guidelines. It is possible to break one or more of these suggestions and still be successful. Still, most successful blogs follow most of these rules most of the time. Do with that information what you like.
If I had to pick one that is the most critical to stick to, it would be “Be consistent.” I am convinced that almost everyone can become a decent writer with enough practice. With dedication, you will figure out when to bend or break other rules.
Start with hard work and focus, and success will eventually follow.