Finding your voice
Who do you think you’re talking to?
As in any form of writing it is of paramount importance to try to visualize who the intended recipient is. Is it other researchers within your field, or researchers and students in higher education, or the educated public in general? Or perhaps you wish to reach those that have barely any understanding of your field or of science? Who do you see when you close your eyes?
Depending on how you answer this question it will affect which topics you chose, your stance, language and attitude. Speaking mumbo-jumbo is the most common affliction of all researchers and the cure is not easy. We spend years being drilled to learn the proper terms, words, verbiages. These are excellent to use when communication with fellow researchers within our respective fields, they are bridges and shortcuts. With anyone else, even with researchers belonging to other disciplines, they are walls, trenches, barbed wire. It is unlikely that your blog is meant to cater only to the very select group of your specific sub-discipline.
That doesn’t mean you need to resort to baby talk and overly simplified sentences. People in general are not stupid, and many have a high degree of education – just not in your field. If they are prowling around research blogs, the odds are they are interested and well-read to start with. Just try to stay clear of the overly specialized terms, or at least try to explain them (or link to a definition of the term). Of course, for academics no challenge is greater than to drop the mumbo-jumbo. Fortunately, a blog is one of the best ways of practicing doing this.
Note: You don’t have to settle on just one type of audience. I had trouble deciding between directing my blog to colleagues or to the interested public and in the end I wrote posts for both kinds of audiences. It is absolutely acceptable to do this, just try to picture in your mind the intended audience for a specific post.
Tell them who you are
Blogging anonymously can have its uses, but if you want to have a research blog I would still recommend blogging under your real name. If you are constantly worried about being ‘revealed’ you can’t blog effectively about the special subjects that interest you (people who know you will figure it out). Unless you want to be a whistleblower there really is little point in having an anonymous science blog. The whole networking aspect will disappear, and it will make it difficult to make your readers trust you. Your credentials are one of the major selling points of your blog. Remember to add a short bio somewhere, with your background and interests.
You can also add that regardless of your current employment all sentiments expressed here are your own opinions. Blogging is now so common (politicians, intellectuals, scientists, journalists etc) that there is no stigma in blogging and everybody understands the distinction. If possible, get your department and/or University to link to your blog from your official presentation page – links from a University will give your blog a much higher rating by search engines like Google.
Unless you are a native English speaker you need to make a decision on whether to blog in your native tongue or in the lingua romana of most of the internet: English. Choosing language is very much about choosing audience. Naturally, many science and research bloggers chose English as this means a potential global audience. Blogging in English means a greater opportunity to communicate with other researchers as well.
Having said that, if your native language is another it might actually be more rewarding to write in that. Odds are you will be more quickly noted and have a greater impact that way. You can also address more local concerns, especially those found in local and national newspapers. Also writing in a language that you know intrinsically is easier than writing in one you learned later in life.
Each choice has its pros and cons. Which choice is right for you comes down to who you want to talk to, talk with, and which debates you want to be a part of.
In Part 3 I will list some recommendations on how not to blog!