How to Blog About Academic Articles for the Public

I wrote a couple of guides for improving science posts to our Science on Google+ community that might be useful for other bloggers writing about academic articles. It’s useful to understand how to become more scientifically literate. Jennifer Raff notes that science takes training that is gained by years of study… but that doesn’t mean that lay audiences improve their understanding of how science works! As Jennifer points out, this too takes practice.

Reading news articles or blog posts by non-experts are not going to give you an in-depth knowledge of science. These tend to sensationalise or misrepresent findings. Learn how to critically read about science by going straight to the source (the scientific journal or book).

Tips for improving science literacy

Follow these tips to improve your science literacy:

  1. Read the introduction first; leave the abstract to the end (step 9)
  2. Identify the bigger question. “What problem is this entire field trying to solve?” What might be some hidden agendas?
  3. Summarise the key findings in 5 short sentences.
  4. What are the key research questions or hypotheses? (Note that I would also add: identify the theory being used in the study, as this will influence how the study is carried out and how findings are interpreted)
  5. Identify the methods
  6. Draw a diagram to explain the methods
  7. Summarise the findings. Pay attention statistical significance, margin of error and sample size
  8. Do the results answer the research questions? (Note: This is about the “validity” of the results. Can the results be replicated? We call this “reliability”)
  9. Go back to read the abstract. Does it match  your understanding?
  10. Read more widely: what do other researchers say about the study?Reading the original scientific journal article is not always possible as there is often a paywall. This makes it all the more important for scientists who have access to write about science research in an accessible manner and to share findings through our community.

Anatomy of an Excellent Science on Google+ Post

In order to support our members who wish to improve their posts to this Community, we’ll be running a series that breaks down the elements of a high quality Science on Google+ post. In the coming days and weeks, we’ll bring you other examples of the posts that made it to our Curator’s Choice category, highlighting other writing styles from different disciplines. These posts are high quality because they draw on credible scientific sources (summarising a blog post or news story doesn’t count!). Most importantly, these posts engage with a critical scientific discussion relevant to our 5 major science categories (Applied, Earth, Life, Physical, Social).

First up is a post by Samantha Andrews who wrote about the evolutionary purpose of the colour patterns in fish. The photo below offers more detail, but the basic elements that elevate Samantha’s post are as follows:

  1. Introduction has an interesting scientific story using easy to understand language.
  2. The post explains scientific phenomena and outlines a scientific question that needs an informed answer.
  3. Summarises findings direct from scientific study using lay language.
  4. Credits sources (including peer-reviewed science)
  5. Uses relevant hashtags to improve engagement.
  6. Uses a captivating image (see below)

Samantha’s response to this post offered a useful contrast:

I like to think of it as telling a random stranger a story over a cup of tea/coffee…why would they care about the science? What do they need to know to understand the ‘story’? Is it something that they may think ‘is pretty cool’? Can they go find out more if they want to?


A call to the practising scientists in our community

Support public science by writing micro-blog posts on your research where possible, and make yourself available to answer questions and comments on your posts!

First published on Science on Google+