Sifting the Evidence: SciLogs! “Beginnings”:Why blog?
Welcome to Sifting the Evidence, in our new home! Here's a post I wrote for Soapbox Science's "Beginnings" series about why blogging is great and tips for getting started. You can find the original post here.
This week sees the launch of SciLogs.com, a new English language science blog network. SciLogs.com forms part of the SciLogs international collection of blogs which already exist in German, Spanish and Dutch. SciLogs.com is the brand-new home for the Nature Network bloggers and to celebrate this addition to the NPG science blogging family, we’re publishing a cross-network series of posts focusing on "Beginnings".
Participating in this blogging festival is nature.com’s Soapbox Science blog, Scitable's Student Voices blog and bloggers from SciLogs.com, SciLogs.de, Scitable and Scientific American’s Blog Network. Join us as we explore the diverse interpretations of beginnings – from scientific examples such as stem cells to first time experiences such as publishing your first paper. You can also follow and contribute to the conversations on social media by using the #BeginScights hashtag.
I’ve always enjoyed journalism and writing; at school I edited the school mag one year, and I was a music journalist for Pi, UCL’s magazine while studying there, despite being a scientist at heart. Once I left Uni though, the opportunities for writing somewhat disappeared. I started working as a Research Assistant in Bristol, and the thought of journalism left me somewhat. But when I started my PhD, I realised I wanted science communication to be a big part of my studies. My topic of research (cannabis and mental health outcomes) is likely to generate some media interest, so I wanted to be as good as possible at explaining my science. But it was taking part in I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here that really showed me the value of science outreach. The scheme involved a lot of science writing, as all questions are answered in text form, but I was speaking to teenagers, so a completely different scientific language was required.
Following on from my experiences with that, I knew I wanted to start writing. But being a PhD student, my time is pretty stretched (not to mention I played in 3 bands, and had various other hobbies too!), so I wasn’t sure of what to do. So, when a friend approached me to suggest we started a blog together, I jumped at the chance. Thus ‘Sifting the Evidence’ was born; named after a great paper by colleagues in our department.
5 reasons why blogging is great!
1 – First and foremost I would say a blog is awesome because it’s two way communication. I started the blog because I wanted to improve my science writing, and practise is good, but constructive criticism is even better! If something is unclear, your audience can tell you, or if you’ve missed something important out, the conversation can carry on. I love it! The comments section is the favourite part of my blog.
2 – You’re the boss. No deadlines, no prescribed topics; you can write about what interests you, when it interests you. And it doesn’t stop you taking on other forms of writing; a lot of my blog posts have also appeared in Epigram, Bristol University’s newspaper, after the science editor saw the blog and liked it!
3 – Immediacy. No waiting for approval from a higher power. Similar to above, as you’re writing entirely for yourself, you can respond immediately to events in the world, and write timely and topical posts. Recently, when the Government announced plans to make all government funded research open access within two years, bloggers could respond much faster to the news than newspapers could.
4 – You can be controversial. No editor means no softening your polemic for house style. Although this should come with a warning. Get your facts straight. For me, when I wrote an article about plain packaging of cigarettes I wanted to be sure what I was saying was correct, as I know there’s a lot of people who disagree and cry ‘Nanny State’ at the tops of their lungs. So I sent the blog to a few people I knew in the field to fact check it for me. As it turns out, it did attract some ‘undesirable’ attention, but as they couldn’t really pick holes in my argument, they picked holes in me instead. Personally, I found it funny, but a thick skin is quite essential if you’re going to stand up against the bullies. I’m happy to talk more about this if people want advice.
5 – Don’t be disheartened. It can take a while to find your niche, and to find your audience, so don’t stare at your early blog stats and feel like giving up. Check out my top tips below for advice about how to get started!
5 tips for newbie bloggers!
1 – Join twitter. The science communication community were really early adopters of twitter, and there’s a really lively community of bloggers, and those interested in reading blogs on twitter. I’ve made some great new friends and found out stuff about ‘real life’ friends on there, as well as getting the blog to people who want to read it and can help improve it.
2 – If you don’t think you’ll have time to write that often, team up. Sifting the evidence was perfect as there were 3 of us writing. This meant we could have posts appearing once a week, but only need to write them roughly once a month. Also we could cover a wider variety of topics as we had a larger knowledge base to work from. This has backfired slightly on me now as Dylan and Neil are both writing up their PhDs at the moment, so a little busy…
3 – Similarly, join a network if you can. We started Sifting the Evidence on blogspot, which was a great platform, but it was very much out on its own. Joining Nature Network meant so much more passing trade, and so much more discussion from the blogs. Indeed, I’ve even written posts relating to other posts on the site – there’s a great community vibe.
4 – Write about what interests you. It’s common sense, but you’ll write more a more engaging and interesting piece if you’re engaged and interested in what you’re writing. Unless of course you want to practise ‘faking it’, in which case, go ahead, you’re the boss!
5 – Get your blog out there, but don’t take the mickey. There’s nothing wrong with tweeting your link, and putting it on facebook. How else will people find it? The same is true with asking for advice and support from seasoned bloggers, but if the advice is already out there in plain sight, it can be a little annoying to get the same question over and over again (incidentally, I’m nowhere near the stage where I get questions about my blogging, so I’d be delighted to be pestered, but read Ed Yong here as to why you need to think a little about the advice you want before asking for it).
Anyway, in a way I think blogging is quite a personal pastime, so plenty of people may disagree with my tips, and are likely to have other reasons for why they started blogging, so please share – that’s what the comments section is for.