To Blog or not to Blog?

“In his latest blog post on science communication, the Soil Security Programme’s Jeremy LeLean discusses the pros and cons of science communication through blogging.”

That is the question.

Should you have you own blog?  Perhaps, but you could end up putting a lot of time and effort it into making one for little or no return.  Should you have a blog piece that other people can put on their blogs? Yes, absolutely, so that if an opportunity to be featured somewhere else comes up you can respond immediately rather than having to write something from scratch.  You should have a piece about your research project or area that is between 200 and 300 words long with 2-3 pictures to illustrate it, with a few links to other online resources for readers to explore further.  Think New Scientist, intelligent but with a non-specialist audience in mind.

If you need somewhere to practice this before sending it out try this blog or the Soil Security Programme blog.  Both of these have an engaged audience and you can use feedback to develop your piece.

Before you start writing, think carefully about the style and structure of a blog.  Writing a blog post is very different from a scientific paper (see Figure 1) where the most important information is towards the end.  With a blog post it’s what the reader sees first that really counts.  This holds good for all kinds of media writing too, whether print, radio or TV as these pieces are always cut from the bottom up.  Also as many as between 60% and 90% of blogs pages aren’t read to the end.

Figure 1: Relative Importance in a Scientific Paper and a Blog Article

But will a blog reach everyone?  Unfortunately, the answer is probably not.  If you are trying to reach the academic sector there is already a well-established path for you to go down.  Information is shared here at conferences and publication in peer-reviewed journals.  These pathways exist for other sectors but you’ll have to think about how to best access them.  Think about how the sector you’re trying to reach works, what will be the drivers for them?  Be aware of what’s going on in the broader landscape, e.g. Defra are currently writing the 25-year Environment Plan.  Does this present an opportunity to communicate your research?  Once you have identified the right pathway and found the right opportunity, keep in mind that different sectors need to receive information differently.  Figure 2 shows the Soil Security Programme Soil Health Briefing Note.  At two pages you’ll see you have to pack in a lot of information in a small space.  And it will probably only be the bullet points that are read at the end of the day.  Ministers read a lot of briefs so make your stands out by using good design, either yourself or professionally if your budget allows.

Figure 2: Soil Health Briefing Note

Many of you will also be engaging with the Third Sector or commercial partners which aren’t exactly the same but have similar drivers.  In general, time-frames will be shorter and bottom line will be more of a factor than for the policy or academic sectors.  A simple and cost-effective way to engage with these sectors is to use social media with Twitter still being the best option here.  You will be able to interact with individual end-users, rather than just pushing out your research, you will also be able to get feedback and find out what their expectations are from research.  You can also take part in larger discussions by joining existing groups e.g. @Agrichat or tweet ups related to a specific event, conference, movement or theme.

You’ll see that I’ve run over my self-imposed limit so if you’re still with me well done!  So in brief remember the three Cs:

  • Create your message
  • Check the audience
  • Chose the right pathway

Author: Jeremy LeLean

Twitter: @JeremyLeLean