Writing for Science Blogs Versus Journal Articles

This guest post was written by Deanna Conners, an environmental scientist and freelance science writer who holds a MS in Environmental Studies and a PhD in Environmental Toxicology. Deanna is a frequent contributor to EarthSky. You can follow Deanna on Twitter  and Google+.


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Image courtesy of Dwayne Bent via Flickr 
I’ve heard many people say that they enjoy science blogging. I agree, it’s fun. I’ve been blogging now for almost two years, mostly about topics in Earth science, and the science I write about never ceases to amaze me.

I’ve never heard any scientist say that they enjoy writing journal articles. For myself, and I imagine for a few others, the joy associated with writing journal articles comes not from the act of writing per se but from seeing good research get published in good journals. The act of writing for journal articles involves a heavy dose of delayed gratification.

Nevertheless, journal articles are the mainstay of scientific progress. Blogs? Well, at this point in time I can’t say what role blogs may play in furthering the scientific profession. I can say that science blogs are becoming much more common, respected and valued communication tools. Also, I can hope that science blogging will inspire and encourage more people to enter into STEM careers.

I was honored to be asked to contribute a guest post to Wading Through Research, the new science blog network created by graduate students working in the Florida Coastal Everglades. Since I was given the freedom to write about whatever I wanted, I thought I would use this opportunity to reflect upon and share some of what I’ve learned about writing for journal articles versus writing for science blogs.

On goals. Obviously, both journal articles and science blogs should strive to convey clear, accurate and compelling scientific information. When writing journal articles, however, one important goal to keep in mind is that the science you are describing needs to be repeatable. Hence, write in the most exquisite detail about your methods. When writing for blogs, readability trumps repeatability. Many readers won’t care how you preserved your phytoplankton or how many fish you sampled. One goal of blogging is to make the science more accessible. So go ahead, lose the methods section (when appropriate) and tell us more about those pesky mosquitoes.

On titles. My well worn copy of “How to write and publish a scientific paper” by Robert Day urges writers to chose their titles carefully. More people will read your title than any other part of your paper (or blog). Day recommends that titles written for journal articles should describe the contents of the paper in as few words as possible. Not too short but not too long either. When writing a title for a journal article, you need to ensure that your colleagues and abstracting services can recognize what your paper is about. I highly recommend Day’s book to all graduate students. When writing a title for a science blog, while it’s also important to give a brief, accurate description of the contents of the blog, you also want the title to be “clickable.” Clickable titles help to drive internet traffic to your blog post. Titles that include words such as Top, Why, How, Will, New, Future, Your, Best, Worst tend to be highly clickable. There are a ton of other tips on how to write good blog titles that you can find online.

On style and format. Science journals have been around for a long time. The first journal devoted exclusively to science, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, was first published in 1665. The prestigious journals Nature and Science were first published in 1869 and 1880, respectively. Overtime, science writing for journal articles evolved into the IMRAD (Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion) format, and the writing style has become formal and objective. These conventions have served science very well. They are unlikely to change anytime soon. When writing for science journals, stick to the conventional format and style guidelines, you likely won’t get published if you don’t. Science blogging began in the late 1990s and it is still evolving. Blog formats are diverse and writing styles range from the formal to the informal. The blog aggregating websites “Science Blogging” and “Alltop Science News” are a great way to explore the myriad of different blogging styles that exist. One reason I’m particularly fond of science blogging is that if you think some scientific fact is really cool, you can go ahead and say so.

On illustrations. Much scientific information is best communicated by the use of tables, figures, photographs and other types of graphic illustrations. Unfortunately, the use of graphic illustrations in journal articles is expensive and you are often limited in how many you can use. Not so for blogs. Feel free to illustrate away.

Congratulations to everyone at Wading Through Research for creating a science blog network for graduate students. You’re so ahead of the curve. A+.

Comments

  1. Great advice and a thoughtful commentary on writing for science blogs. Thanks for your contribution to Wading Through Research.

    ReplyDelete

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