How I Decide What To Blog About

23 June 2014 by Matt Shipman, posted in Uncategorized

Image courtesy of U.S. National Archives (artist unknown), via Wikimedia Commons.

Image courtesy of U.S. National Archives (artist unknown), via Wikimedia Commons.

I think about writing in different ways, depending on who I’m writing for.

I’m a science writer and public information officer (PIO) at a large university. When I’m writing in my capacity as a PIO, I am writing for my employer; I’m pretty thoughtful in regard to both what I choose to write about and how I choose to write about it. Is it a story that people will be interested in? Is this research interesting or important to external audiences? Which aspect of the research do I think is most newsworthy? Stuff like that.

But when I’m writing for this blog, Communication Breakdown, I am writing for myself – and my thought process can be a lot less clear.

Recently, the Scilogs blog manager, Paige Brown, wrote a post asking science bloggers “to stop and think about what they blog about, how they blog about it and how they decide what is ‘blogworthy’ in the first place when it comes to science.”

Her questions were linked to two initiatives – #MySciBlog and #MyWritingProcess – aimed at helping folks “understand how (science) blogs fit into the bigger media ecosystem.”

This isn’t something I spend a lot of time thinking about, much less writing about. I think I’m worried that it will come across as self-indulgent navel-gazing. But, since Paige asked, I’ll try to answer the five questions she’s put forward.

1) WHAT DO YOU GENERALLY BLOG ABOUT?

I write about science communication. Sometimes that means I write about science communication research, such as examinations of the relationships between scientists and reporters.

But much of what I write is focused on practice, whether that’s practical tips on how to pitch science stories without annoying reporters or various ideas on how to find new audiences for science stories.

I also like doing interviews with a wide variety of science communicators, from authors to artists to reporters to video game designers.

2) HOW DOES YOUR BLOG DIFFER FROM OTHERS’ BLOGS IN THE SAME GENRE (SCIENCE, ETC.)?

Well, for one thing, I’m not sure that I fit most people’s definition of a science blogger. I don’t write about science as much as I write about writing about science.

I do blog about some research findings, but I have also written about everything from how to find and use art for posts (without screwing over artists) to the ballooning number of journals.

3) WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO?

I write about these things because I find them interesting. Writing these posts helps me organize my thoughts on various facets of what I do and what I’m interested in.

I’ll quote from my own “about this blog” section, since that sums it up pretty well: This is a blog about science communication: what works, what doesn’t and what I’m still trying to figure out.

I’m writing for an audience of researchers who are interested in communicating about scientific topics (including their own work) and professional science communicators (including reporters and public relations professionals). My goal is to address everything from best practices when using social media to emerging research on science communication.

Ultimately, we all want our science communication efforts to be more effective. I don’t have all the answers, but I wanted this blog to be a place for constructive discussion about science communication issues. Hopefully, that discussion will move us in the right direction – I’m certainly always learning new things from folks I interact with as a result of this blog.

4) HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?

It varies. Sometimes I’m basically writing an op-ed piece. In that case, I just sit down and write. When I’m done I put it away for a while, then I revisit it. If it still makes sense, I get someone to edit it and then run it.

Sometimes I’m writing about a journal article, in which case I read the paper, take notes, read the paper again, talk to someone to make sure I’m not crazy, then write about it. I’ll often run bits and pieces by folks who have a better understanding of the subject than I do to minimize the chances that I’m misreading the findings. Again, the last step is getting someone to edit what I wrote. Editing is good.

If I’m writing something that involves reporting, such as the series of posts I wrote about the U.S. government’s shutdown in 2013, I contact sources and do some homework. Then write, edit, etc.

Lastly, if it’s a Q&A piece, I read everything I can find about the person I’ll be interviewing. Then I send them a list of questions (I do most of these interviews via email). They send back responses. If their answers raise more questions, I follow up with the interviewee. This process goes on until I run out of questions or they stop responding, then I write a short intro and run the questions and answers. That’s about it.

5) HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT TO BLOG ABOUT? WHAT IS 'BLOGWORTHY' TO YOU?

If I’m interested in a topic, and I have the time, I’ll write about it. Sometimes that means simply asking questions. With luck, other people will have answers. It’s really that simple.


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