Tips is a series that aims to provide early-career science writers with, well, tips to aid them in their budding careers. The series will attempt to link out to existing resources available online.
In a blog post published on 31 December 2012, PLOS BLOGS Network’s community manager Victoria Costello lists ten qualities she deems essential to make for “superior science blogging.” Costello’s list is comprehensive and is a good guide for any up-and-coming science blogger.
My number one advice to any newbie science blogger is to focus on posting quality writing. But what exactly is quality writing? Many of the “essential qualities that make for superior science blogging” listed by Victoria Costello, community manager of PLOS BLOGS Network, in this blog post from last year actually breaks down quality writing and blogging in some of its constituents.
Here are three essential qualities mentioned by Costello that I believe fall in the umbrella of quality writing:
- Make original research resonate with as many readers as possible
- Critique and put science back in the forefront
- Take a stand
Communicating science to as many readers as possible is very important especially considering the challenges mankind will face in the near future. By encouraging non-scientist readers to read (and engage with) science, science writers can sensitise those readers to the importance and sheer awesomeness of scientific research. In turn, those readers, as citizens, can make more informed decisions as they lobby or elect policy makers. I went into more detail about the importance of communicating science to the non-scientist audience here. (Obviously, not every science blogger aims to communicate science to a wide audience. Some reach out to their peers, others go into technical details about specific topics and some scientists use their blogs to communicate with their students or as online labbooks. But for this post, I’m dealing specifically with qualities of writers of popular science.)
It is as important to write about good science as it is to write about bad “science.” Pseudoscience, wacky “scientific” claims and pure and utter bull can cause real damage to real people. As a science blogger, you will undoubtedly come across such non-science. If you are capable of highlighting and debunk the bull, you have a moral need, not just as a writer but as a citizen of this Earth, to do so.
This brings me to the final and perhaps most crucial, though sadly, least observed point: take a stand. Science is an endeavour that can significantly improve lives, whether directly or indirectly. But it can also be used for the wrong reasons or simply be distorted to accommodate fraud ideologies or selfish desires. As a science blogger, you should not be afraid to take a stand when necessary. Being partial, while required in many cases, is not a golden rule you should always stick to. Global warming is a fact so why should you give equal merit to denialists, for example? Some have even argued that this stern notion of partiality inculcated in journalists is partly responsible for the death of investigative journalism.
Costello’s lists includes a further seven points that she considers essentials for superior science blogging. Some of them can be indirectly linked to quality science writing (“share a love of science,” “respect your readers”) while others offer more in terms of general guidance (“do it with attitude,” “show heart and humour”). In addition, Costello illustrates all of her points with some terrific blog posts from, yup, PLOS bloggers!
So, click and learn!