Blogging for Scientists: The Ultimate Guide

[This article has been auto-translated from our Dutch blog]

Through your own blog you can reach and inform the outside world as a scientist, consortium or spin-off. Think of news and insights about research, field or organization. Such a blog can be an incredibly useful platform to achieve your communication goals. Unfortunately, many good intentions are stranded prematurely. This guide helps you to make the chance of a successful, effective (science) blog as great as possible.

Not looking for a guide to blogging but for a professional party that can help you with science communication? No problem, we’re here for you.

First, let’s see this: the feasibility check

Before you put all your enthusiasm into a blog: do the reality check below.
Answer the questions for yourself with yes or no.

  1. Are you intrinsically motivated to start blogging on the topic you have in mind?
  2. Blogging takes time. Count on at least 2 hours a week. Do you have that time?
  3. An important prerequisite for successful blogging is to create and publish consistent content. Do you have enough inspiration, creativity and space in your calendar?
  4. Do you write easily and like writing?
  5. Are you willing to own a CMS (e.g. WordPress)

If you have answered three or more questions with ‘yes’: read this guide!

If the answer to two or more of the above questions is ‘no’, it might not be such a good idea to start a blog at this time. When that blog really needs to be there, or if you would like additional advice on science communication, it is advisable to schedule a free consultation with us. The consultation is free for individual scientists, scientific organisations and consortia and science spin-offs.

Guide to blogging for scientists, consortia and spin-offs

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1. Set the goals of the blog

The first step in realizing your science blog is to set the goals: what do you really want to achieve with the blog? It is this essential question that anyone who enters the blog battle should start with.

Possible targets in the case of science blogs:

  • Informing about research in the interest of society.
  • Informing or informing a specific group of people in their own interest.
  • Share knowledge with other scientists.
  • Bringing a research /research group to the attention of potential lenders.
  • Make a scientific organisation/employer more visible/ discoverable.
  • Want to meet the requirement within the grant to communicate about the study.
  • Supporting an application.
  • Putting yourself on the map as a researcher.
  • Building bridges between science and society.
  • Collect online / crowdfund for research funds.
  • Pool and interpret information about a particular field of research.
  • Increase awareness on a particular scientific topic.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) of the website via a blog (spin-offs / startups).

And so there are undoubtedly other goals that you as a scientist (or spin-off) with a blog can have. Often a blog has more than one goal and goals overlap. In this case, it is advisable to choose a primary goal and formulate a number of secondary goals below.

SET REALISTIC GOALS – Furthermore, blog goals are true: excess leads to fragmentation and lack of focus, thus reducing the chances of success. Setting unrealistic goals (‘achieving world peace’) is also demotivating when, after a few months of fanatical blogging, you find that you have set the bar far too high. So ensure a clear and achievable primary goal, and keep the number of secondary goals as small as possible.

The chosen goals are always leading your blog; not only in shaping and rigging them, but also afterwards, in creating and publishing texts (and possibly other content).

2. Specify the target group(s)

After setting the goals, the follow-up question is: who do you create the blog for? Which (groups) of people do you want to reach? In other words, who is your target group, or, in the case of more than one target group: who are your target groups?

DIVIDE AUDIENCES – It’s important to know who you’re writing for: you can move around the audiences in this way, and that makes your efforts more likely to be successful. As with the goals, it is likely that you want to serve more than one target group. Therefore, divide the target groups into primary and secondary. Try to limit the number of target groups as much as possible, which increases the chances of success.

FORMULATE AUDIENCES – Target groups and goals are communicating vessels. Only when determining the audiences, you reduce the scope where possible to increase the success rates of your science blog. After all, the more precise you define the target group in advance, the more targeted (group) you can use the content.

EXAMPLE SPECIFYING TARGET AUDIENCE – Let’s say you’ve formulated the goal of ‘informing society’. The target group ‘society’ is very broad. After all, society consists of all kinds of people with different interests, manners, levels of education and interests. Who are you actually writing for? In such a case, specify the target group(s) by the goals. In this case, you can better translate the term ‘society’ into a more defined target group. For example: ‘Secondary to highly educated Dutch-speaking people who want to know more about Topic X, but who do not have the time and/or knowledge to read and understand scientific publications about this.’

Or you can describe a generic term like “science” more accurately when determining your audiences: “Scientists within fields X, Y, and Z.” Or, further specified: ‘PhD students within the fields of X, Y and Z who want to orient themselves on the continuation of their scientific career’.

ADDITIONAL FEATURES – Further zoom in on the people you’re blogging for, you can do by assigning additional attributes to the audiences. These include (language) region, age group, level of education, level of knowledge, sector, occupation, job, etc. Don’t forget to keep asking yourself the ‘why question’ on a regular basis during this process of audiences. Why do you want to reach that particular target group with your blog? And to what extent does this wish contribute to the goals previously set?

LOGICAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN GOALS AND TARGET GROUPS – Goals and target groups must together form a logical relationship of communicating vessels. There is a discrepancy when the primary goal, for example, is to make ‘field X more understandable to society’ and then choose ‘scientists from field X’ as the primary target group… Unless your primary goal is to inform scientists from research field X about easy and understandable communication about their field, so that they can use that information in turn to inform society in an understandable way. If the latter were to be the case, adjust the target or adjust it. Are you going to stand by the target? Then the target group is not correct and needs to be adjusted. Therefore, specify the too generic term ‘society’.

ADAPT GOALS INTERIM – While determining the audiences, you may find out that you haven’t picked the right targets on closer inspection, or that you want to reformulate certain goals. In that case, just adjust the goals. You may also find out that the target groups are different than previously thought, based on your goals. That doesn’t matter, as long as goals and audiences end up being just a throbbing whole that you can use for your blog.

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3. Know your target audience(s)

Successful blogs appeal to the information needs of their target group(s) and apply knowledge about their target groups to the creation of content.

We live in a time of enormous information competition. Online visitors come on foot and go on horseback, just to throw a classic proverb at it. Therefore, always keep in mind the motivations of the target group to visit your blog while writing, and don’t deviate from it. This significantly increases the chances of achieving a large range and achieving the goals.

TARGET GROUP (EN) FURTHER INVESTIGATIONS – What topics and angles do your target groups find interesting? What is the relevance of certain content to the audiences? Why would a certain target group want to visit your blog and then return more often? If you don’t know any answers to these questions yet, please delve further into the target group(s) of your blog.

Tip: Analyze some successful websites and blogs that target the same audiences as your blog and see how they’re doing. How are tone of voice, use of words and design? What subjects come along? How long are the texts? Develop insights that help you make your science blog successful.

Wetenschapscommunicatie doelgroep man krant

4. Choose a blogging platform

There are several platforms on which you can publish your content. Every platform has its advantages and disadvantages. We’ll go into the most obvious options.

WORDPRESS – By far the most famous and world-most widely used blogging platform is WordPress. The WordPress Foundation is a non-profit organization with ideal goals around free and accessible information sharing. WordPress software is open-source. This means that the source codes of the software are freely accessible to everyone. This allows developers and programmers worldwide to contribute to constant improvement, innovation and new possibilities of the platform.

TWO TYPES OF WORDPRESS – There are two ways to use WordPress: through WordPress’s own servers or through its own hosting package with WordPress’s open-source software on them. The second way is called a self-hosted WordPress website.

WORDPRESS 100% FREE – Setting up a blog on WordPress.com’s servers is super easy and the hosting is also free. The basic functionalities are present. Rigging a self-hosted WordPress website requires more knowledge and effort, and a hosting package will require a subscription fee.

WORDPRESS SELF-HOSTED – On the other hand, with a self-hosted website you are independent and can choose your own domain name (www.mijnblog.nl) while wordpress.com you are stuck with a subdomain (mijnblog.wordpress.com). Also, the possibilities within the CMS with a self-hosted Website of WordPress are many times more extensive than with the free website hosted by WordPress.com. This is because a self-hosted WordPress blog allows you to access tens of thousands (often free) plugins and add-ons that offer countless design, content and functionality capabilities.

BLOGGING VIA SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS – In addition to having your own blog channel through WordPress, with a unique URL to it, there is the option to use existing social media platforms. Social media giants like LinkedIn and Facebook have their own blog sections that allow you to publish content in an instant.
The biggest advantages of blogging via an existing platform are that you realize a blog very quickly and easily and that the information quickly finds its way within your existing network. One disadvantage of publishing via existing social networks is that you make your blog dependent and put it at the service of the relevant big tech company. In addition, it is more difficult to be distinctive in terms of design and experience within such a platform.

BLOGGING WITH TUMBLR OR BLOGGER– An in-between option is to blog via a dedicated blog platform. The best known are TUMBLR (from Automattic Inc.) and Blogger (from Google Inc.). These platforms have more to offer in terms of design and functionalities than the blogs of social platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook. In addition, you can link your own domain name to these blogging platforms so that your blog can be accessed via your chosen URL. The disadvantage compared to self-hosted WordPress is that the possibilities are still (much) more limited and that both TUMBLR and Google have a profit motive, unlike WordPress.

MORE PLATFORMS at the same time – Depending on your goals and audiences, it can sometimes be smart to bet on both a self-hosted WordPress blog and a blog on LinkedIn and/or Facebook. This strategy increases the visibility of your content even further. You don’t have to be afraid of an SEO penalty from Google for ‘duplicate content’, because the search engine giant doesn’t see this method of double publishing on different platforms as ‘cheating’. However, make sure that you publish first on your self-hosted blog and only post the same content on LinkedIn or Facebook a few days later and that you post a link to the original content. This minimizes the chance of search engines ranking an article on your own website lower than the same text on a large platform.

Need advice on the platform to be chosen and the most logical strategy? Book a free consultation on our website today. We are happy to help you on your way, without any further obligations.

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5. Write good content

Once the ‘peripheral issues’ are settled, you can start with what it’s all about: creating content. Besides texts, there are of course also all kinds of other forms of content. Think photos, video, audio, animation videos and infographics. In order not to complicate this manual, we only go into text content here.

CONTENT BALANCE – To hold visitors, it is important to create a good balance in the content. Every week a story about the same subject with the same angle and the same supporting photo will eventually drive visitors away. So be creative and always try to do something different so that your blog remains interesting and surprising. Change the angle, the subject and the shape.

INTERIM ANALYSIS – Try to continue monitoring the blog’s results (traffic), for example through Google Analytics. This allows you to check whether your content actually appeals to the target group.  If not, adjust them, try something else. Keep looking for the right shape.

WRITE TIPS FOR BLOGS – The tips below provide guidance for writing attractive blog texts.

√ Know who you’re writing for. A successful blog appeals to its visitors with target-oriented texts. This includes subject matter, tone and atmosphere, but also word use, sentence length, text length, structure and abstraction level. Before a blog post is written, it is therefore very important to have a good map of the target group. What kind of people is my blog for? What is their level of education? Are they used to reading longer texts online? What kind of language does the target group use and consume? See also chapters 2 and 3 of this guide.

√ Write understandably, but not too simple. The writing style of posts, articles, and comments should match the audience’s reading level. The starting point of the writing style is your primary target group. Make sure the texts are understandable to this target group. But at the same time, beware of a too childish tone, especially when you are writing for audiences with less educated people; that can seem paternalistic and counterproductive. Take your audience seriously, regardless of reading or education level.

√ Do you doubt the difficulty of a particular word? On zoekeenvoudigewoorden.nl, it is possible to check whether a word is not too difficult for the target group with a low to medium language level.

√ Do you write for a clearly defined target group of specialists and perhaps even professional idiots? Then the use of professional terms and group jargon is probably desirable.

√ Use short sentences from 10 to up to 25 words whenever possible.

√ Make sentences as personal and active as possible.

√ Divide a text into paragraphs of about 10 – 15 sentences (100 words). It’s best to divide long texts into bite-syptent chunks, such as chapters, paragraphs, and middle heads.

√ Note a logical structure of the text (key information first or chronologicalWetenschapsblog maken typemachinely)

6. Make your content visible and discoverable

A well-written blog that consistently features new content automatically attracts the attention of Google’s search bots (and other search engines) and will rank high on the most relevant keywords. As soon as someone searches for a term that is exceptionally well-known on your blog, they will soon reach your content. Search engines thus offer a great chance of achieving the blog goals. Also nice is that you don’t really have to do anything extra for it.

SHARE VIA SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS – In addition, ensure maximum visibility of your blog posts by spreading via social media. You can start by making the content public through your own channels. Think LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. But just as importantly, others can share your content through their social channels. This may result in a snowball effect that positively influences the website’s visitor statistics. Moreover, thanks to the active and passive use of social media, the visibility of your blog via Google also improves thanks to the increase in visitors. Make blog posts easy to share.

OTHER SERVICES AND LINKBUILDING – Other social media channels to bring your science blog to the attention are chat services such as WhatsApp and Telegram. You can send family members, friends, acquaintances and colleagues a link to your content and ask them to share it. You can also ask websites and blogs that have the same audiences as your blog to post a link to your blog. You can do the same for them in return. This kind of link building is also good for the findability and visibility of your blog.

7.  Post new content regularly

Another secret of a successful blog, it is consistently, regularly posting new content. Regular refresh and refilling has two important advantages.

First, you build up a solid core of visitors by publishing new articles on a regular basis. That group grows the longer the blog exists. Regular visitors will at some point act as ambassadors for your blog by sharing articles, commenting on the content, or giving tips for topics. Especially if contact with the target group is in your goals, this involvement is worth a lot.

Secondly, search engines love websites with dynamic content that is regularly replenished. By regularly posting new content, your blog will be higher in the ranking of search engines. This further increases the chances of a successful science blog.

How often is ‘regular’ exactly?

In principle, here’s the more new content is added, the better. But at the same time, keep a realistic schedule. For example, plan a new piece once a week or once every two weeks. The great art of blogging is to do it structurally and for a longer period of time. An overambitious schedule is not long to last. In fact, there is a good chance that blogging will be countered and your enthusiasm (and that of your colleagues) will quickly disappear.

Especially for busy scientists with crowded agendas: make a half-yearly or annual planning for the blog content in the front. Not only plan the moments when you start writing in, but also think of as many topics as possible in the front to avoid suddenly having any inspiration at the moment you start writing.

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8 Cherish realistic expectations

Rigging a science blog can definitely have a successful outcome. This must be the case with (most) of the basic conditions set out in this manual.

The question is of course what you yourself understand by ‘successful outcome’.

It’s good to realize that you’re not the only one creating content online. So don’t expect thousands of visitors a week who all respond enthusiastically and proactively. Especially when the blog is young. Successful blogging requires creativity, effort, patience, dedication and perseverance. That’s why it’s hugely important that you like to blog and/or work with a team of motivated, dedicated fellow bloggers with the right skills and plenty of time left.

How many visitors your blog will attract depends on a variety of factors. You have been able to read about many of the content in this manual. But also several other factors play a role in the level of attention and the amount of visitors your blog can rejoice in. Think of technical and aesthetic factors (responsiveness, SEO, design), but also typical marketing factors such as audience size, level of competition within the subject and online presence/behaviour of the target group(s). All these components together can make the difference between ten or ten thousand visitors per day.

Anyone who writes for a small niche target group (for example: snake spotters in the Southern Sandwich Islands) is probably already happy with 10 unique visitors per day. Those who create blogs for a broad audience may be able to count on higher visitor numbers, unless the basic conditions are not in order and the competition within the subject is great…

So pre-create realistic expectations, set realistic goals. The question of what is realistic will have to be looked at separately per blog. One thing is certain: in 99 out of 100 cases, a science blog is a matter of long-term and dedication. This will be familiar to most scientists.

>>> Know more or outsource blogging? Ask Consortius!

Has the courage slowly but surely sunk in your shoes while reading this guide? Is a blog still necessary? Then ask about the possibilities consortius has to offer.

If you are a scientist or part of a scientific consortium or spin-off, you will receive an advisory interview with us as a gift. During such a consultation you can ask for advice on setting up a science blog, or on science communication in general.

Books are here.

Blogging for Scientists: The Ultimate Guide

Through your own blog you can reach and inform the outside world as a scientist, consortium or spin-off. Think of news and insights about research, field or organization. Such a blog can be an incredibly useful platform to achieve your communication goals. Unfortunately, many good intentions are stranded prematurely. This guide helps you to make the chance of a successful, effective (science) blog as great as possible.

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The 7 best videos on science communication

More and more lenders are making the 'communication' component compulsory within a scientific application. However, not all scientists are intrinsically convinced that it is useful – let alone necessary – to make their research more visible and understandable to the outside world. That's why we put together a top-7 of the best videos that address the usefulness and necessity of science communication.

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