Workshop: Julia Whitty on blogging for science (Part II)

(After the break)

“Those of us who know something about science and who are scientists – its’ the first time we get to put a voice out there on our own. You don’t need a printing press, a publisher and editor… it’s powerful,  it’s engaging, it’s free and it reaches far.”

A blog is not newsprint. It’s all about the visuals. … they bait readers with a morsel of entertainment

Visual appeal:

  1. Simplicity.  Keep it clean and uncluttered.
  2. Compartmentalization. Think about how to use it.
  3. Design=compartmentalization+simplicity

You may have great ideas and amazing stuff you’re going to communicate … but you have to get people to land on the site and spend a little time reading your words … and you do that with the look.


Example – Whitty’s most popular post:



  • Well compartmentalized: Photo+caption+2 very short paragraphs
  • Good photo at the top (when people “like”  it on FaceBook it will bring that picture along and draw in more readers)
  • An illustrative map
  • Longer text section with a pullquote from a journal article she wrote
  • Relevant informational graphic borrowed from another site
  • More text, in bullet points
  • A small video, even if it’s not specifically what you’re writing about.
  • Citation of the paper the post is based on.
  • Labels, tags or categories (to help search engines)

Text: The more white space, the more people will read – small blocks of text are digestible and easy to follow. People won’t feel like it’s going to be a huge investment of their valuable time.  Be focused. If you aren’t, your blog will  not have focus. Each post needs its own “destination” even if the journey of the blog shifts and moves. (Note: Usability studies of the Web support this.)

Graphics: Find engaging photos and graphics. Using other people’s graphics is usually fine if you credit and link back to the source.

Links to other sites: if you cite someone, get in touch and let them know. That guarantees you one visitor.



Not every post needs to be a full essay. For instance: A sequence of photos and video of sea ice. “Sometimes that’s all you need – a very simple premise, presented simply.

  • Credits: Credit and link to the original source.
  • Use public-domain sources where possible.
  • Otherwise, ask permission.

Frequency of posts: How often?

“Try and maintain consistency. If you are going to be a daily blogger – and there’s not necessarily anything good about that – don’t blog daily for 30 days and take two weeks off.”

You can blog weekly – or whatever your schedule is. But be consistent. Find the comfort level that’s right for you. (Witty often has multiple posts in the works. If she’s going to be gone or busy she composes some posts and sets them to post on a schedule).


Example: The “first blogger” (An insanely obsessive book compiled by a fishmonger in the 1500s.)

  • Color. She chooses images, for instance, in a similar color theme for a single post.
  • White space. Either built into the blog theme, or with sufficient paragraphs


Personal or professional:

  • Everything goes and everything’s possible
  • What do YOU want to do? You can experiment.
  • Blogging is a “renaissance tool” – it’s the first time we can make the scientist a “whole person” again. People have alarming perceptions about science and scientists. They feel left out of the scientific world and process and they feel scared.
  • You have what you know – but the creative spark often comes from something else. Sharing a little bit of that is a good thing. It establishes  our common ground with everybody else.
  • Maybe your hobby or your passion can inform what you know.
  • The way to share is with  a little bit of story telling. Maybe just one sentence. Use those little anecdotal story links,  find your comfort level – and it will help readers become comfortable with you.
  • It’s completely legitimate to do a totally confessional blog, if you’re comfortable with that.

Tone and voice

  • Tone: Bright, dark, funny, ironic, gentle, forceful. What tone do you want to take? It’s your choice, and you can change it if it’s not working.
  • Voice: Choose it, develop it, make it yourself. Who of you are you going to put out there? It’s never all of you; it’s some aspect that you choose to project. Are you chatty? Dry? Focused and serious? Exuberant? Introspective? Terse? Verbose? Are you talking to people or sitting back and sharing your musings.

Correction and updating: She updates and corrects if necessary, but she doesn’t take content down. Be cautious about hitting  the “publish” button – sleep on it. Trust your inner critic. If you’re uncomfortable with something, don’t publish it. You are your own editor. Just learn to listen to it.

And remember: You can change how you blog. It’s dynamic. You will change over time, and your blog  should change with you.

Blogging can change you, too. If you’re serious about it, you’ll begin paying attention to all kinds of new information. There’s a lot of sharing and collaboration in the blogging world, and it enlarges you.


If you’re going to write about science, speak to the people who don’t actually speak science.

People resent science because they feel excluded by it. “There’s this feeling that scientists talk in a special, secret language that no one else gets access to but you.”

If you want to reach beyond your own worl, Witty suggests writing as if you were talking to children. If you’re going to use jargon, then define it. This will make you a better writer and better at your work.


What are you blogging about? And why?

  • Explanation: What something is. How it works. (Your whole blog  could be about that. Or a post, or part of one.)
  • Exploration: Stuff you find on the Internet. Or in your reading. You learn as your readers learn.
  • Opinion: What you believe and why. Maybe using someone else’s words. Some blogs are all opinion, some are no opinion, some are bits of both. Find what works for you.
  • Research blogging: Reporting on what you read in the journals, sometimes combined with your own knowledge or experiences. If you blog enough, you may be invited to join the research blogging community – whenever you write a research post it shows up in the community feed.

Blog mechanics:

  • Frequency vs consistency
  • Post length: Less is more. You don’t need to tell it all at once. Try taking stuff out.
  • Linking to other blogs/Web sites, etc. You make your friends by linking. List blogs you really like in your blogroll. It can help drive traffic to your blog – and make you friends with like-minded bloggers. Use links to describe/expand on your content. Open your links in a new page so they won’t leave your blog.
  • Broadcast your blog:  Twitter, FaceBook, etc.
  • Finding material: Look for Creative Commons licensing and other public domain sources.  Or ask. Or use the advanced image search filters in Google (search for items “labeled for reuse”). But give credit anyway. For video, Vimeo offers better searchability than YouTube, and tends to have more artful video. Sound files are also easy to find. Tip: When looking for images add terms such as “beautiful” or”luminous” to screen out ugly images.
  • Other people’s words: Literature, poetry, Shakespeare, quotes.

How much work is it?

If you spend a lot of time on line already, now you have something to do. Obsession helps. “It may seem like a lot to juggle … and it can be … but it’s more like herding your knowledge, ideas and questions.” Success is “the dialogue between science and non science, expand the conversation and talk to each other in ways that will benefit our world.”

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