4 March 2019

So, you wanna start a science blog?

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Shane M Hanlon

I’m not the type of person who’s always thought that I’ve had something to say (at least anything that people would listen to). Back in my grad school days, while I saw the value in science outreach, the “communication” part of that was a little tricky for me. “Who cares what I have to say?” Turns out, some people did.

Back in…2013 (2012, maybe?) realized that I wanted to communicate science beyond my current audience of scientific peers. But this task was daunting to do alone. So – I enlisted the help of a few friends who were all at different stages in their careers. We decided to start a blog called Ecoroulette where we’d chat about all things ecology.

The blog is still up, though no one updates it anymore, not because we didn’t enjoy it, but because we didn’t have a plan. In 2015 when I came to AGU, I took over management of this blog, The Plainspoken Scientist. Our readership had been steadily growing over the years and interest in scicomm was on the rise. But we didn’t really have a plan for the blog. At the time, it was mostly posts from us in Sharing Science on a sporadic schedule. This wasn’t sustainable nor very interesting to our members. Yes, we are experts in many things scicomm, but we’re not really in the field, doing the scicomm. So, we decided to shift to a model where we take as many guest contributions as we can get from (almost) anyone who wants to tell the world about how they scicomm. Now we release at least 52 posts a year, at least half of which are guest posts.

I learned by doing. Some things worked, some didn’t, but along the way I settled on some valuable things to keep in mind for all those out there who want to start a blog:

  • Have a goal: Why do you want to do this? For example, I manage a blog for a disease ecology course I teach every summer with the explicit goal of requiring students to write about wildlife diseases in a public forum in a manner that’s digestible to broad audiences. It’s literally in the syllabus.
  • Know your audience: Blogs are mostly read by other scientists. If you want to reach a broader audience, mediums such as Twitter and Instagram have a farther reach (but are limited in scope).
  • Research platforms: There are a ton of places to host a blog. We use WordPress; Wix is really popular. Most of the platforms are fairly similar. One big consideration would be, do you want the domain name? I still own ecoroulette.com (I’m not sure why) and I also own the domain to my personal (out of date) website, shanemhanlon.com, but this blog and my disease ecology one aren’t custom domains as it didn’t make sense. It’s a personal preference.
  • Be aware of time: Blogging takes time. It’s going to take me about 30 minutes to write this post, which is fast. I’ve been doing this for a while and can knock out a relatively coherent point in a short period of time. Managing The Plainspoken Scientist takes hours each week. That is not an insignificant amount of time, but for us at Sharing Science, it’s worth it.
  • Share the load: Science communication is a team effort. Blogging is no different. Spread the work around!
  • Have fun: Duh.

-Shane M Hanlon is a Program Manager in AGU’s Sharing Science Program. Find him @EcologyOfShane.