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Science Writing Prize 2014: How to start a science blog

17 Apr, 2014

How to start a blogThe fourth in our series of “How to” blogs comes from Kelly Oakes, Science Editor of BuzzfeedUK, who shares her tips on how to start a science blog. 

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 establish 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 like comment moderation.

4. Get writing

4870213770_280a6f8272_zMost 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 blog post itself. Always ask yourself if you’d click on a link based solely on the headline (and 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 key words 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

11910510635_0fb7b2cd14_zSo 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 in it. (But, equally, don’t be offended if you don’t get a reply.)

It’s 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. Wikipedia and the British Library have a lot of public domain images available for reuse and Wellcome Images has released thousands of their historical images too. 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. 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.

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).

In a nutshell

DO:

  • 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.

DON’T:

  • Steal other people’s photographs.
  • Be afraid to shout about you blog.

Image credits: “blog” by Marcela Palma, CC-BY-NC-SA on Flickr, ‘Type’ by Delete08 CC-BY-NC on Flickr, ‘Playmobil loudhailer’ copyright Kate Arkless Gray (with permission)

The Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize 2014, in association with the Guardian and the Observer is open for entries now. Get writing and submit your piece before the deadline on 11th May 2014 for your chance to win £1000 and a chance to get your work published. We are running a series of “How to” posts giving you tips on how to write a good science story from a research paperhow to interview someonehow to write a science feature  and more in the run-up to the competition deadline. 

Full details and terms and conditions can be found on the Science Writing Prize pages of the Wellcome Trust website. Good luck!

Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prize 2014 in association with the Guardian and the Observer

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 17 Apr, 2014 9:40 am

    Reblogged this on Think: Public Engagement.

  2. 22 Apr, 2014 9:18 am

    Great advice for people who wants to become a valuable writer in the future. The one who will become respected by many people because of his thoughts about a subject.

  3. 23 Apr, 2014 1:48 pm

    Great points and very useful! – Keep up the amazing work,

    Inspire, Motivate & Engage

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