January 22, 2018
Setting up your own science blog is a great way to publicise a field that is close to your heart, hone your writing skills and make a name for yourself.
1. Figure out why you want to blog
Maybe you’re a PhD student wanting to share your research with the world, or take a break from it to explore some other interesting science. Or perhaps you’re a budding science writer keen to build a profile and get your name out there. Think about who you want to reach with your writing – be it potential collaborators, potential employers, or people on the street. Sum up your goals in a sentence or two and write that down before you do anything else.
2. Set it up
The best platform for you will mostly depend on the type of posts you’re going to write. If you’re planning longer writing, a traditional blogging platform like WordPress might suit you best. For shorter, snappier posts or posts that are more image-led, Tumblr could work for you.
This is also when you’ll get to play about with themes and make your blog look exactly as you like. That’s great fun, but don’t let it distract you from the business of actually writing.
3. Think about joining a network
You’ve probably noticed that a lot of established science bloggers write on blog networks rather than their own sites. If it’s an option for you, joining a blog network can be a great thing. You’ll get colleagues to help you out, a boost in traffic and a whole new potential audience.
Usually an invitation to join a network comes after you have established yourself, and starting off on your own will provide the breathing space you need to work out exactly how to drive this thing.
There can be advantages to going it alone too: no schedule to stick to, a chance to experiment, and more control over things such as comment moderation.
4. Get writing
Most successful blogs find a niche and more-or-less stick to it. That could mean blogging about your own research, following one particular field of science in a lot of detail, or finding a unique way to write about stories other people will be covering too.
If you make yourself the go-to person for a particular kind of science writing, you’re more likely to build an audience.
5. Use the internet properly
The internet is an amazing place and you should make the most of being a part of it. This means adding links to sources, news articles and other people’s blog posts in your own. It also means using images or video when they are a better way to communicate than words.
And, thanks to the unlimited space online, you don’t have a word count. But as well as giving you the space to go in-depth when you want to, it means you can write short if the subject doesn’t need a dissertation-length exploration. Don’t write an essay just because you can.
6. Write good headlines
If you want people to read what you’ve written, you’ll have to make them want to. Don’t fall into the trap of typing up any old headline and hitting publish after spending ages polishing the blogpost itself. Always ask yourself if you’d click on a link based solely on the headline (be honest). If you wouldn’t, change it.
Descriptive headlines that tell a reader exactly what to expect often work well. You should think about getting keywords in there, but don’t fret too much about search engine optimisation. It’s more important to make actual humans want to read your work than it is to try to pander to Google.
7. Shout about your work
So you’ve written your first post, thought carefully about your headline, and pressed publish. Don’t relax just yet – if you don’t do any promotion, nobody bar your immediate family is going to read it. Ideally you’ll have established social media accounts already so you can share your work with people you know on Facebook and your professional community on Twitter.
Don’t be afraid to send the post directly to certain people who you think will be interested. (But, equally, don’t be offended if you get no reply.)
It is also worth getting set up on science blog aggregator scienceseeker.org and any subject specific ones. They might not be huge traffic drivers but they’ll help get you noticed in the science blogging community.
8. Don’t steal images
Being “just” a blogger doesn’t mean you don’t have to source images properly. Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can find images to use without either paying or breaking the law.
Searching on Flickr or Google for Creative Commons (CC) licensed images is one option, but make sure you follow the terms of the specific CC licence for the image. This usually involves crediting the image creator, noting the licence type and may mean you can’t change the image.
If you find something that’s not available under CC, you can always just ask the copyright holder. Chances are if it’s for a personal blog, they’ll be happy for you to share their work.
9. Decide on your comments policy
While a lot of discussion around blog posts has moved to social media these days, you’ll still need to think about how to handle comments. Will you moderate up front, or after they’re posted?
Take a look at the commenting policies of blogs you read and borrow your favourite bits. Don’t let anyone bully you into thinking they have a right to spout rubbish underneath your beautifully crafted writing. Your blog is your home online and if you want people to play by certain rules you’re entitled to make them do that or get out.
10. Stave off boredom
Sometimes you might not feel like blogging and occasionally, that’s fine. But if you’re stuck in a rut, try posting something small: a cool picture or video, with a few words of explanation. Or set yourself a challenge to write x words in a certain amount of time (find other people doing the same thing at #madwriting on Twitter).
• Find a niche
• Use images and videos when they add to your post.
• Think of a blog post as part of the conversation, not the final word.
• Steal other people’s photographs.
• Be afraid to shout about you blog.
Kelly Oakes is the science editor of BuzzfeedUK
Originally published at The Guardian