If you're looking for ways to communicate your research then an academic research blog provides an excellent opportunity. It can go beyond the boundaries provided by research papers by permitting the inclusion of opinions and feelings.
I've had a blog for many years. I've never really tried to do anything with it. I just used it to share my thoughts, cooking exploits, trips and photography. It never really had a defined purpose other than to digest life and be a creative outlet.
Now that I've started my PhD, my blog has a new found purpose and a changed identity somewhat. It is no longer all about my ramblings about life but now helps me think, teach and learn about the world. It also helps me write. And read.
It is now much quicker for me to form a story. I understand about active and passive sentences and how most sentences have extra words that don't add value to the reader. Writing itself is quicker too. The editing is still substantial but at least the ideas are on the page in some degree of organised thinking.
If you are an academic I would highly recommend that you start a blog. Time permitting of course. I'm not going to lie, much of this is done out with the standard working week. But writing a blog helps in so many aspects of academic research and life in general. Personally, I would be lost if I didn't have one.
My problem is not ideas, it's focus
As at the time of writing I don't have many articles on this blog. It is relatively new. But believe me when I say that there at least 20 articles partly or almost wholly written behind the scenes. Then there is the list of about 100 ideas on articles to write. Each of those ideas could probably fill the contents of an entire separate blog.
My problem is not and never has been ideas, it's collating and interpreting the huge amount of information available into a useful and digestible post without repeating something that already exists. Posts need to be valuable for the reader. I want this article to make you feel different (in a good way) or so you learn something new, or be inspired.
But it's one thing to write about a recipe or a trip I took and another to talk about the science I do. Many posts essentially need to take the form of a mini literature review. As an example, I'm currently writing a post on the carbon footprint of a PhD. Now I could just go to a few peer-reviewed articles and I'll get most of the answers I'm looking for. Or I could just take a single paper and provide a quick summary. But like any review there is so much more to it than that. Carbon footprints will vary by subject for example. They will vary by country. There will also be opinions of PhD students out there about ways to reduce their carbon footprint and how they feel about that expectation, which will vary by subject and by country. This latter point is something that a 'mini literature review' cannot include.
An academic blog post is more than just re-writing research papers
Therefore writing a science-based blog post is not just about writing. It's about finding the relevant research and opinions and digesting them into your own take on things. Does this ring a bell? Writing a blog post is a bit like writing an academic article, just with a lot more opportunity for flair and opinion. But this type of writing is just as valuable as the original peer-reviewed research.
That's where the beauty of blogging comes it. Whereas academic research articles are designed for the author to be 'invisible' and 'unopinionated', a blog article permits you to put in personal anecdotes, quotes and feelings. In fact readers often want to connect with you, the writer, rather than the impersonal AI blog posts that are silently filling the internet with recycled words. Or those that look like they were written by someone who never stepped out of their parents' basement and actually experienced the thing. Or as my daughter would say 'for real life'.
[Speaking of real life. Just had to make a note here. I'm sitting in a coffee shop and one of the staff members must be trying to get in their 10,000 steps because they are literally pacing around behind me in circles around the shop. It's a little disconcerting!!]
In a blog, you can take your readers on a journey. A journey that is a much more elaborate one than can be expressed in a research paper.
You can show passion, enthusiasm and excitement for your subject
Peer-reviewed literature is often outside the understanding of most people and sometimes the scientists themselves too. So a blog provides an incredibly important opportunity to interpret complex ideas and simplify them down into something personable and relatable. They introduce passion and enthusiasm and excitement. Something that a research article is never permitted to do.
Blogs can make something that went wrong in an experiment, seem like the most down to earth connection with your reader. They feel your pain, whilst smugly 'knowing' that they won't let it happen to them.
The reader has a chance to 'talk' to you via comments. In all likelihood they will mention something you hadn't thought of, or that they experienced the same thing. Or that they generally found it useful.
What's more, you can have an email subscriber list that want to hear more from you every week! Imagine the possibilities!
[If you want to sign up to mine... 👇 ]
But do remember the boundaries
The audience that a blog post may reach can dwarf most research papers. A paper that has 500 views/reads in its lifetime and 10 citations, may have 500 reads a month if you write a popular, well-targeted article about it. Have one eye on your SEO while you write and Google will soon reward you with eyes on your work.
A blog may teach about the best ways to communicate your research and ideas, but it does come with a caveat. Your thoughts are there for all to see and read. If you have an opinion, make sure it is one you are happy for the world to know. The same goes for social media. It's OK to rock the boat, but make sure it doesn't offend people or other scientists. Don't make it so they never want to employ you or they roll their eyes when you publish another post. There's outright criticism and then there's a constructive discussion around things you might have changed or ideas you might develop on. Also be aware that if you are using your blog to sound ideas, sometimes it might be better to keep them to yourself for a while; at least until you've nabbed that next pot of funding.
Boundaries in a blog must be self-imposed. Make sure it adds to your career and doesn't take anything away. But do it right and you'll build an active community excited to hear what you have to say.
So I encourage you to get out there and start a personal academic or research group blog. You never know where it may take you!