Tag Archives: blogs

Strategies for Better Science Blogging: Part One, Best Practices & Guidelines

Scientific Communication Word Cloud (I Ching)

Last week, there was a kerfuffle around an IFLScience blogpost about rare diseases, and the responses from the rare disease community. In that post, I mentioned that I’d been looking for guidelines, checklist, style guides, and other similar types of tools for effective and appropriate science blogging, but that I wanted to make it a separate post. This is that promised post.

Before I get in too deep, here is a search strategy I used, and which you can use to poke around more in this, if you wish.

(“science blogging” OR “blogging about science”) (“style guide” OR checklist OR guidelines OR “best practices” OR rules)

(1)

Let’s start with the best introduction and brief overview I’ve found, written by Andrew Maynard. In these two posts, Andrew distills the most important lessons learned from years of working with graduate students and collaborating with other bloggers to give feedback on his “Mind the Science Gap” course and blog.

Anyone can blog about science. But it takes effort and diligence to blog well.

When I was teaching the Mind The Science Gap blogging course at the University of Michigan, it became clear early on that, no matter how enthusiastic or knowledgeable you are, there are some basic guidelines that can help make the difference between a great piece and a train wreck (thankfully we never had any of the latter). Over time, these developed into the Mind The Science Gap Good Practice Guide for writing Science Blog Posts.

So you want to write better science blog posts … http://www.riskscience.umich.edu/want-write-better-science-blog-posts/

Good Practice Guide for Writing Science Blog Posts http://www.mindthesciencegap.org/style-guide/good-practice-guide-for-writing-science-blog-posts/

Here is a distillation of his main points in my own words.

PREPARING:
Read broadly.
Read quality.
Skim beyond the basics.

GENERAL:
Don’t imply expertise you don’t have.
Don’t give advice.
If you give opinions, SAY THEY ARE OPINION.

WRITING:
Stick to the facts.
Include multiple voices & sources.
Report on controversies fairly.
CITE THEM.
Be generous with credit to others.

PICTURES:
Choose images to support the story.
Get permission.
Cite your images, also.

LAST STEPS:
Re-read your writing.
Find a proofreader.
Ask yourself if what you said was fair, accurate, scientifically defensible, and honest (FASH).

AFTER:
If you made a mistake, own it.
If you correct a mistake, say so in the post.
Say thanks to whoever raises useful questions.

(2)

Including many of the above, but enriching them with many practical tips from a rich set of interviews with successful science bloggers, this next one is also fabulous. I’d love to see “Blogging Tips” made into an infographic / checklist where I could post it for easy access.

Blogging Tips for Science Bloggers, From Science Bloggers http://www.scilogs.com/from_the_lab_bench/blogging-tips-for-science-bloggers-from-science-bloggers/

(3)

There are a lot of people concerned with the quality of science blogs right now. Andrew Maynard (1) has been teaching classes on science blogging. SciLogs (2) had that series of interviews with best practices. And at Science Online this year, there was a workshop devoted to the topic of standards in science blogging. They used the hashtag #SCIOstandards to extend the conversation through Twitter. I’ve picked just a couple example tweets with good points, but really, it is worth going to the #SCIO Standards Storify and reading through the whole thing!

There is a lot more! Here is one of several Tweets connecting to the Storify. There are also many spin-off conversations without the hashtag. You can see these by browsing from the individual tweets, and reading the replies to them.

For more background about this workshop, check out this link.

Background Reading in Science Blogging – #scioStandards http://www.scilogs.com/next_regeneration/background-reading-in-science-blogging-sciostandards/

(4)

Given that what started all this were questions of science blogging ethics and how blogging can work (or not) within a community, it seemed appropriate to draw attention to the community guidelines and harassment policy from one of the leading science blogging communities and forums, Science Online. It might seem a bit strange to include the concept of harassment in the context of science blogs best practices, but just think for a moment. What is your goal? If it is to inflame controversy and grab attention, then perhaps harassing people is one way to succeed in that goal. If your goal is, however, to accurately communicate science information in an engaging way, then you want to reach a broad audience and you want them to believe you. Making enemies may not be the best path towards that goal. In the case of last week’s IFLScience upset, it is unfortunate that there is a significant audience that felt persecuted and harassed. I don’t believe that was intentional, but it wouldn’t hurt for IFLscience (and the rest of us) to stop and consider whether or not our posts could be interpreted as willfully contentious or harassing as part of those final steps in our checklist before clicking “post.”

Science Online Community Guidelines: http://scienceonline.com/community-guidelines/

Mission:
“ScienceOnline cultivates science conversations both online and face-to-face. At our face-to-face events, we provide an atmosphere that encourages creativity, collaborations, connections, and fun. Through social media, we listen, support, share, recommend, and reach out. Through all of this, we celebrate science.”

Values:
“Respect. Generosity. Acceptance. Open-mindedness. Compassion. Kindness. Curiosity. Enthusiasm. Humor, Wit. Inclusivity. Collaboration. Open-mindedness, Humility. Support. Sharing. Cooperation, rather than competition. Encouragement, Transparency, Engaging all with science. Inclusive, Encouraging Individuality, Cooperation, Creative, Innovative, Engagement. Critical, challenging, enthusiastic. Passion, Great at connecting the dots in a pattern that makes sense 🙂 Principled, Generous, Profound, Profoundly fun.”

Science Online: Harassment Policy: http://scienceonline.com/scienceonline-harassment-policy/

Harassment Policy:
“Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to ethnicity, religion, disability, physical appearance, gender, or sexual orientation in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome attention.”

(5)

I’ve said many times that my favorite piece on how to respond to negative comments on a blog post is the Air Force guidelines shared by Jeremiah Owang.

Air Force Blog Assessment

That said, while it provides a strong general foundation, there are special characteristics to science blogs that may benefit from a slightly different context or require different types of responses. This is especially true when you consider the community and culture of science, and compare that with the broader communities and cultures in which science occurs. Here is a recent post I found by Juliana Houghton, which discusses these issues from the viewpoint of students blogging about science. It’s worth reading.

Student Post: Science Blogging — A Veritable Troll Bridge for the Modern Age: http://www.engage-science.com/student-post-science-blogging-a-veritable-troll-bridge-for-the-modern-age/

“But when we’re writing about things like science, and especially the parts of science that we individually find inspiring and enlightening, we might not expect inflammatory comments that seemingly come out of nowhere. To complicate matters, in science we are trained to question and to respond to questions. It is doubt and questioning that pushes science forward and keeps us from resting on our laurels. Q&A sessions following scientific talks often contain questions that get at the very fabric of our research. We can (and should!) say “I don’t know” when we really don’t, but we also work hard to think carefully about those comments and not dismiss them just because we might prefer our present point of view.”

I loved that paragraph which placed science blogging in the context and culture of doing science. This next snippet is what echoes the Air Force policies mentioned above.

“Ask yourself, is this commenter presenting an alternate viewpoint or just a personal attack. If the latter, it’s ok to just leave a comment unanswered. Another way is to set up strict commenting rules on your site and follow through with moderating. If your rule is that comments must address the article’s topic and the comment simply calls the author a nasty name, then it never even needs to appear on the webpage (or can be quickly taken down by the moderator, depending on your settings).”

(6)

Last but not least, let’s look at science blogging in the broader context of academic and scholarly blogging. There are best practices and courses for those environments, also! Virtually all of what appears in the literature on academic blogging is relevant to science blogging. Jessie Daniels and Polly Thistlethwaite drafted a quite nice overview at Just Publics 365, which provides context beyond much of what has already been said — about the target audience, your readers, differences in writing styles between blogs and professional research venues, and more. They’ve made this available in a variety of formats.

A Guide to Blogging for Academics http://justpublics365.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2014/06/30/academic-guide-to-blogging/

1. Talk to Me: Acknowledge the Reader.
2. Just Say It: Don’t lead with a disclaimer or qualifier.
3. K.I.S.S. : Keep it Simple Scholar
4. Get in & Get Out.
5. No, It’s Not All Important
6. If You Have Something to Say, Say It
7. Don’t Let Perfection Be The Enemy of The Good
8. Scholarly Writing vs. Public Writing

The Academic’s Guide to Writing Online http://sociologysource.squarespace.com/storage/Academics_Guide_To_Writing_Online.pdf

Illustrated Blogging Advice for Researchers
http://justpublics365.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2013/09/11/illustrated-blogging-advice-for-researchers/

Media Skills for Scholars http://mediaskillsforscholars.pressbooks.com/

Just to connect that back to the science context, there is an older article about science blogging that has some similar insights, and which discusses why scientists blog. I found it interesting and useful to just break out the section headings from that article.

Bonetta, Laura. Scientists Enter the Blogosphere. Cell 129 (May 4, 2007):443-445. http://www.cell.com/abstract/S0092-8674(07)00543-0

Meet the Bloggers
Blogging to E-ducate
What is the Impact?
Why Aren’t You Blogging?
Blogging to Talk Shop
Communities of Bloggers

Closing thoughts

Do you know why you are blogging? Are there any of these best practices that you wish you did better? There are for me! We all have strengths and weaknesses, may be good at one thing and not so strong in other areas. I don’t usually have anyone read over my work before it goes live, and there are likely to be a lot of possible errors as a result of that. So far, I’ve scraped by, and I’m grateful that this is just a personal blog and that I don’t face the kind of audience and attention that IFLScience have. I’m not sure I’d do any better with the scrutiny than they are currently.

I did find many other resources along these lines. These are more the high profile pieces and overall context. I hope to have another post to simply share a lot of links that might be of further interest.

100,000? 100,000!

Tuesday, very late in the day, this blog passed 100,000 views.

ETechLib Blog Views January 18, 2013

That is, of course, 100,000 views here on WordPress, and doesn’t count the views from the earlier location, so it is almost certainly more. It also doesn’t count views of any of my other blogs, so I don’t quite know what this means as a landmark, other than that it IS a landmark. (It also has 599 comments, and I’m really looking forward to number 600, but I probably won’t blog about that. 😉 )

The biggest day EVER (April 29, 2009) had 706 views, mostly divided between three posts:

1. MedlinePlus vs. healthfinder: Must We Choose?
2. iGoogle for Tracking Swine Flu
3. iGoogle Tabs, Continued: iGoogle Tools for Life Science Researchers

Curiously, those posts got attention as timely matters, but did not necessarily maintain traction over time. I’ve been very surprised by which posts (of the 475 currently on the blog) have ended up being the most viewed over time. Here are my top dozen (minus the “About” page, homepage, and category pages).

1. Making a Facebook Group or Fan Page? 5 Essential Tips
2. Seven Things Grownups Think They Know About Whooping Cough (But Don’t)
3. Liblime Versus Koha: What Is The Libraryland Opposite of Open Source?
4. Pondering Prezi
5. Social Media Metrics
6. MedlinePlus vs. healthfinder: Must We Choose?
7. What I Most Want to (Be Able To) Find in the New Pubmed (Pubmeds Compared)
8. iGoogle Gadgets Beyond Google!: Plain Language Medical Dictionary
9. Google’s Accessibility Message Comes Through Loud and Clear
10. Obama’s University of Michigan Commencement Speech
11. Systematic Reviews: Methodology, Overview, Sharing
12. Tools for Learning: Flashcards? Really?

The top-ranked most-viewed post on Facebook groups has 21,051 views right now, over four times as many as the second-ranked post on whooping cough (4,388 views). For both of those two, however, there is not a day that I check stats or views where they aren’t listed. I personally find myself bemused by which posts get the views, and don’t really have a strategy for getting lots of views, other than to try to post consistently, and (duh!) if you post first in your community on a timely issue, that gets views. For most of these top posts, what I see is that, at the time they were written, they were timely — emerging issues, or prominent in the news.

Obviously, I wouldn’t be here at all without you, the readers. I am grateful to those of you who read these posts, share them, retweet them, engage in conversation around them. Most of my conversations around these posts seems to be happening in Twitter rather than on the blog itself, so remember you can find me at @pfanderson. If you are curious to know more about the stats for this blog, check out the “Annual Report.”

ETechLib: Annual Report: https://etechlib.wordpress.com/2012/annual-report/