Freelance science writer and food scientist Bryan Le outlines 5 essential tips to write a science blog post.
Scientific research is one of the backbones of our global society. Without scientific research, many of the technological wonders we live with today would just not be possible. From ground-breaking medicines that are fighting global pandemics to wireless telecommunications that keeps us connected across borders, we are constantly in need of the latest research and technological developments made available by the world’s leading research institutions.
However, if scientific research isn’t communicated effectively, it may not have the desired impact on the world. These days, the internet has made knowledge available to anyone who has access to a computer or smartphone, but the real challenge is connecting readers with scientific concepts in an interesting, accurate, authoritative manner.
The world is becoming increasingly complex, and the average reader is less likely to understand the nuances of different scientific disciplines. Through social media and newsfeeds, misunderstandings and miscommunications can easily propagate amongst readers and just lead to more confusion.
Communicating science through writing for general audiences is as much an art as it is a technical skill. And in order to be effective, you need to understand and respect the way words can be crafted to both transmit information, meaning, and emotion. In a way, you are speaking directly to a person across distances, cultures, and experiences.
The ability to connect to a person to pour scientific knowledge into their mind is a function of seeing writing as more than just a collection of words on a screen or piece of paper. For a fraction of a second, a reader is giving you permission to present an idea into their minds. But unlike a conversation in real life, the reader cannot interact with you in real time.
One of the most common mediums for sharing knowledge on the internet is the blog post. It’s critical to have the right skills on hand for crafting a strong science blog post in a time when we’re inundated with knowledge, both of low and high quality. Whether you’re writing one to share the latest studies from the research literature or your company’s most important technologies to general audiences worldwide, you’ll want to have these tips on hand.
1. Know Your Audience
The question you want to first ask yourself is to whom are you writing? Effectively writing communication starts with knowing your audience. You want to have the ideal audience member in mind so that your writing is designed around making your message as clear as possible to that one person.
While a blog post can be read by many different people from all over the world, strong writing is usually targeted to a single person in mind. The idea is that you want to consider what it’s like to be in this reader’s shoes:
- If this person read this piece of writing, would they resonate with it?
- Will they experience a connection to the ideas presented in it?
- What would this person want to hear and how would they like to hear it?
- Remove jargon that this person may not understand or include easy to understand metaphors that would effectively connect this ideal reader to the scientific concepts you’re trying to convey.
- You may want to jot down some demographic notes about this ideal person in mind, such as their age, education level, ethnicity, gender, relationships, and socioeconomic status.
Ultimately, you are building a conversation with this person and structuring your blog post in such a way that this person can hear it.
Depending on their education level, you may also want to include more technical concepts to connect to that person’s field and background. But all of these should be done intentionally, with the recognition that every person has their own unique perspective, understanding, and interests.
You’re not writing for yourself here.
2. Sharpen Your Storytelling
With an ideal reader in mind, you will want to structure your science blog post in such a way that most effectively conveys a story. Indeed, much of the modern media we consume is built around stories, whether that’s in the form of television shows, movies, news articles, music, or podcasts. That’s because humans have been telling stories as long as we’ve been able to develop and understand language.
Psychologically, storytelling has the power to emotionally connect deeply with readers, even about dry scientific facts. Even when people are reading about evidence-backed science, they tend to process information through an emotional lens. So rather than ignoring this element of human communication, it’s best to use this aspect to best advantage.
An effective narrative is composed of six elements – setting, characters, plot, conflict, theme, and narrative arc. While scientific non-fiction writing may not always easily lend itself to being decomposed into these elements, you can always find a way to creatively connect some aspect of narrative writing to science:
- The setting could be a laboratory, a reaction chamber, or an ecological niche.
- Characters could be the scientists involved in the research, the experimental subjects used in a study, the company developing a technology, or even proteins interacting together in a cellular environment.
- The plot could involve the sequence of events that occurs from the beginning to the end of a reaction, the progression of cellular division, or experiments involved in the discovery of a particular antibody.
- Conflict could include the challenges that arose during a study or the technical obstacles that need to be overcome to achieve a specific experimental result.
These are just a few examples of how a scientific blog article can be mapped onto a storytelling narrative. The end goal is to create a palatable experience for your reader to easily consume and understand your writing.
3. Less is More
Sometimes, it can be easy to get carried away when trying to convey as much information as possible in a science blog post. The trouble is readers are constantly switching and engaging with different sources of information. As a finite resource, attention span is a highly prized commodity on the internet. And you will always be competing for the attention of readers, whether with email, videos, or social media. That means you only have a limited number of words, time, and energy at your disposal to capture readers and engage them in your writing.
One of the challenges in science blog writing is limiting the number of words to maximize impact.
Again, here you need to consider your audience:
- Do you have an idea of the type of reading stamina they may possess?
- When is it likely they are reading articles online – in the morning, after lunch, or late at night?
- Will they be tired and looking for something relaxing or are they going to be in a productive mindset and seeking high quality information?
- Set word limits because it’s important to ensure you’re only putting in what’s necessary.
- Break down concepts into easy-to-digest bite-size ideas, so that it’s more likely you will effectively convey your ideas.
These tips and questions are critical because that means you need to be economical with words, concepts, and complexity. More brain power is needed to convey dense, technical information.
4. How to Structure a Science Blog Article
Writers say that the first sentence in a piece of writing, whether it’s a blog post or a book, is the most important one. That’s because that first sentence leads to the next one and the one after that. If the first one doesn’t capture a reader’s attention, then the immediate assumption of the reader (whether right or wrong) is the rest of the writing is not worth reading either.
Writing a science blog post should always begin with the most interesting, captivating, and easily understood concepts:
- You want to convey your ideas immediately, as most readers do not finish articles.
- You want to give them a taste of what they’re getting involved in for next five to ten minutes of their precious day.
- With simpler ideas and concepts at the forefront, readers will be more determined and enthusiastic to keep going.
- For those who want more details, you could lead them to more challenging concepts later in the article.
- Ideas and concepts should both logically flow as well as be experienced as an intellectual journey that gives the reader a memorable time.
Make it worth their time. Readers who are already invested will continue plowing through. This is not a technical article where you can assume that the reader will spend their limited time and energy to pore through every detail.
You could view your scientific blog article as a detour from a person’s knowledge road trip. Do you want to give your reader an enjoyable side trip filled with stimulating ideas, or do you want to drag them down with byzantine words? As the writer, you have the responsibility to effectively connect the dots in such a way that a reader will feel your blog article was worthwhile, without losing accuracy or the meat of the content. That means learning to revise, edit, and restructure your article for flow, as well as sharing with others so they can provide effective feedback.
5. The Science of Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic to a particular page. SEO algorithms are used to direct increasingly relevant search results to you on a search engine like Google. The importance of SEO is that no matter how interesting and engaging your science blog article, it will not be read by anyone if it can’t be found by search engines and delivered to your intended audience within the first page of their search results.
While techniques for SEO are entire field unto itself and are constantly changing as a result of how search engines tweak their algorithms, the basics of SEO are relatively straightforward.
A science blog post should include one specific keyword as often as possible without necessarily breaking away from the flow of the article:
For example, if your article is about photosynthesis, the word photosynthesis should be included in:
- The title, URL, and description.
- In the first sentence in the article.
- Naturally throughout the article.
- The subheadings in the article, if possible.
- Include the keyword 7 to 10 times every 1,000 words.
The other important piece to SEO is that articles that are shared more often, with link citations on other websites and social media posts, will receive higher rankings. That means articles that are easier to digest, easily shared across the internet, and catch the zeitgeist of a particularly salient topic on top of everyone’s mind will be more likely to reach readers from search engines.
Ultimately, you want to craft your article for ease of readability so that an eighth grader can understand it. While this can be particularly challenging for scientific concepts, content that is easier to understand will be more likely read. Tools like the Hemingway app are useful for giving you pointers on the readability of your writing.
We are living in a world brimming with information. That means more and more, scientific practitioners are the gatekeepers for understanding and knowledge. That’s because they have the training to determine where to find critical information, research, or data and whether or not if it’s important. That also means it’s becoming increasingly important for scientific practitioners to have scientific communication skills. Conveying, translating, and simplifying scientific knowledge is becoming just as important as producing it.
Blog articles are just another way to share scientific knowledge. They serve as small, digestible nuggets of knowledge that are easily distributed across the internet. And writing science blog articles is no different from any other skill. At the end of the day, practice makes perfect. That means the most important thing you can do is just keep writing every day.
Hopefully, these 5 tips for science blog writing will make that practice a little easier.
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