How to Choose a Science Blog Topic - Starting a Science Blog - Science writing and marketing - Jesse Harris

How to Choose a Science Blog Topic – Starting a Science Blog

Picking a science blog topic is harder than it sounds. New writers either choose an area that is already oversaturated and get lost in the noise, or they jump between science blog topics, leading to chaotic content that lacks direction. Mistakes like these are fixable, but you need to have the right strategy.

Are you starting a science blog or considering switching the focus of your science blog? This article will guide you in picking a science blog topic, as well as think about how focus relates to blog strategy.

Choosing the right science blog topic is challenging, but it will be a massive advantage for anyone starting a science blog. Your focus will influence the science of your audience and define your blog’s identity.  But why does a science blog need a focus? Why can’t you write about “science” and just follow your curiosities? Let’s cover why focus is essential to success before going any further.

Why Do You Need to Choose a Science Blog Topic?

A new restaurant catches your attention. It’s a beautiful café with healthy salads, fresh bread, and a selection of exotic teas. You go in and have a delightful lunch that leaves you feeling fabulous.

You come back the next day, but apparently the chef turned it into a steakhouse overnight. This isn’t what you wanted, but you’re hungry and decide to try it anyway. It’s okay, but you would have preferred what you had yesterday.

You come back again the next day, hoping it has returned to café-mode, but the chef has now turned it into a Chinese buffet. This doesn’t interest you, so you decide to head somewhere else.

Eventually, you stop going to the restaurant because you have no idea what to expect.

Building an audience requires two things:

1) Create content that delivers value to your audience

2) Build trust that you will deliver more content they like in the future

Switching between topics erodes your content’s quality and the relationship with your audience. Focus helps you build an audience and clarify your blog’s identity. Who will trust you if you are trying to be an expert on all of science?

People are afraid of narrowing their area of focus because they want to be inclusive of everyone. This makes sense in real-life, but this is the internet. If you don’t stand out, you will be forgotten. 

Photo by Screenroad on Unsplash (Edited)

You are driving down the highway. You are in farming country, so there are a lot of cows on the side of the road. Hundreds of cows, but you barely see them.

That is until you notice one that is…. purple? Why is there a purple cow? You pull over the car to check it out. The purple cow now has your full attention.

This analogy comes from marketing guru Seth Godin, and is used for marketing more generally. Consumers have a lot of choice. Products and services that look like everything else will never attract attention. A purple cow sticks out from the herd. As a blogger, you need to find a focus that allows your blog to stick out.

Focus is especially relevant in science writing. Researchers and professors often have an extremely narrow area of study, which means they know a ton about a specific topic. These experts will not trust you as an authority if you jump from subject to subject.

This doesn’t mean you need a Ph.D. to be a science blogger, but it does mean that you need to take learning about your subject matter seriously. Jumping between topics increases the time you will need to spend on research. On the flip side, it is not that hard to become a top-tier writer on a technical topic if you are already familiar with the subject. Take nuclear energy, biopharmaceuticals, or carbon capture. While they are all newsworthy topics, relatively few quality writers are experts in these areas. Why? Partly because they are complicated! You can quickly become a top-tier science blogger in subjects like these if you already know the fundamentals.

What Are Your Blogging Goals?

Before choosing a topic for your science blog, you must first consider your goals. Why are you starting a science blog? This is a broad topic that I covered in a separate article, but here are a few ideas:

  • Learn more about science
  • Practicing writing
  • Networking
  • Personal branding
  • Thought leadership
  • Getting a science writing job
  • Marketing a product or service

Do you need to have this sorted out by the time you publish your first article? No, but you should start thinking about it. The more specific your goals, the more likely you will reach them.

 Imagine you were starting a blog to support your business selling chromatograms for researchers. Should you prioritize helping undergraduate students learn the basics of chromatography, or should you be writing technical guides aimed at experts? There is value in both, but I would strongly recommend starting with the expert content.

What if you are looking to get a job in science education? Helping the students is obviously better.

You should also consider the time needed to meet your goals. A casual blogger could stick to “popular science” to experiment. Do you want to be a recognized expert in a competitive area? You need to dedicate more hours to research, writing, and editing.

Choosing a Content Missions Statement for your Science Blog

Science is an enormous topic, covering everything from the atomic to the cosmic. You hopefully have some idea of what you want to write about, but it is probably vague. How do we decide on a content strategy?

Let’s use a framework from Andy Crestodina known as the “content mission statement.” A content mission statement is to guide what we choose to write about.

Content mission statement from orbit media - How to Choose a Science Blog Topic - Starting a Science Blog - Science writing and marketing - Jesse Harris
Source: Orbit Media

For example, here is the content mission statement of my blog:

My blog is where scientists and aspiring scientists get lessons in writing and marketing so they can communicate more effectively.

How does this help me? Here are a few ways:

  • Readers interested in science writing know this blog is “for them.”
  • I can write deeply about a limited range of topics
  • Content is focused on education rather than entertainment or inspiration

As someone who always has a million ideas of what I could write about, grounding my planning in a content mission statement is essential. Mission statements are also helpful for people who struggle to develop ideas by guiding them to think about their audience’s needs.

Let’s take a look at each of these variables in more depth…

Audience

Every piece of content is aimed at a specific audience. How formal is your writing? Do you assume the reader has background knowledge of the subject? While you may not declare who your writing is for on your blog, these clues tell the reader whether the content is “for them” or not.

In marketing, we often use the concept of a “persona.” This is a fictional person who is a representative member of our target audience. 

What are their interests?
Where do they get information?
Why would they want to visit our blog?

Think through questions like these and answer them honestly. If you don’t know the answers, take the time to research your audience. You have to offer content that is truly valuable for your audience or they won’t come to your site.

Determining the level of knowledge of your audience is critical when you are writing about science. Take a subject like cell biology – this could be for elementary school students, university professors, or anywhere in between. Figure out what your target audience knows about your topic so you can set the complexity level appropriately.

Information/Scope

What kind of information does your blog provide? The scope of a blog is the range of topics it covers. Setting a boundary around what your topic covers allows you to make decisions about what you do and do not cover.

When setting your scope, you must consider the trade-off between audience and engagement.

As you focus the scope of your content, you decrease the size of your audience and increase their interest.

As you expand the scope of your content, you increase the size of your audience and decrease their interest.

Let’s use an example.

If you write about “science,” your potential audience is massive, but few people will be passionate about your blog.

If you write about “protease kinetics,” your potential audience is tiny, but that audience is likely to be highly interested in your content.

Content continuum 1 - How to Choose a Science Blog Topic - Starting a Science Blog - Science writing and marketing - Jesse Harris

Topics such as “biochemistry” or “enzymology” might be a better fit. “Biochemistry” gets over 30,000 searches per month in the US, while “enzymology” gets closer to 500. Search traffic should not be the only way you grow your blog, but search volume helps estimate the interest in a given subject.

Aside: how do I know the search volume for these terms? There are tools for that! Free tools such as AhrefsUbersuggest, and Google trends are handy once you know how to use them. There are paid tools that are substantially more powerful, but you won’t need them as a casual blogger.

ahrefs - How to Choose a Science Blog Topic - Starting a Science Blog - Science writing and marketing - Jesse Harris
Source: Ahrefs

What Value Do You Offer?

What do people get from your blog? Do they come to learn, or are they looking to be amused? Your audience isn’t going to stick around unless you offer some sort of value, so you need to be clear on what you plan to deliver.

So, what kinds of value can your blog offer? The range is vast, but they fall into five general buckets.

Education – teaches some essential 

Information – shares relevant updates on events

Persuasion – offers a sharp point of view on important topics

Inspiration – makes your audience

Entertainment – humorous, cool, or weird

If you want to learn more about these, check out my article on the importance of science writing.

Most science bloggers (myself included) default to education and information. You could have a massive advantage if you carve out a unique value proposition. “Science” blogging is crowded, but what about inspirational science content? It also allows you to expand your scope since you offer a compelling perspective.

Here are some more ideas to get you thinking outside the box: 

  • Profiles of female researchers at major universities
  • Current events in biotechnology research
  • Educational content aimed at elementary school students
  • Entertaining stories about famous laboratory accidents
Content continuum 2 - How to Choose a Science Blog Topic - Starting a Science Blog - Science writing and marketing - Jesse Harris

What Are You Passionate About?

Choosing a topic for your science blog isn’t just about content strategy and search volume. Running a successful blog requires passion. Blogging is time-intensive, and the initial growth will likely be slow – interest is essential to get through this period. Your blogs will also be of higher quality if you love what you write about.

How can you assess your level of passion for a science blog topic? Here is a test to try:

  1. Pick a topic you are considering focusing on for your blog.
  2. Get a piece of paper and something to write with.
  3. Get a timer. Press start.
  4. Write down 5 blog article ideas that you would want to write. Don’t worry about details, just 5 ideas that you think you could cover in a blog post.
  5. Stop the timer.

If you can come up with 5 article ideas in less than a minute, you are clearly passionate about the subject. If it took you 5 minutes or more, you should consider switching your focus.

What if you blog for your job rather than as a hobby or side project? That changes things substantially. It is incredible if you love what you are writing about and getting paid, but it isn’t necessary to have both.

You’ve Chosen Your Science Blog Topic, What’s Next?

Now that you have the perfect topic for your blog, all you need to do is write fresh content regularly for months or years, and you will be set! Sounds easy, right?

While picking a solid topic is an ingredient in success, much more goes into science blogging. You need to be consistent, create compelling work, and then distribute that content to your target audience. As long as you are attentive to your audience you will eventually find a fitting science blog topic.

Read: How to Write a Science Blog

Read: Science Blogging Best Practices – 7 Tips for Beginner Science Bloggers

What your science blog topic isn’t working? You’ve written regularly for several months, but there is no traffic? Poor choice of focus may be the cause. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How does my traffic relate to my goals? Specialized topics are likely to receive fewer views, but those viewers are more valuable.
  • Of the posts I have written, which have received the most traffic? Is there a pattern? Can I focus my writing on a narrow area?
  • Is it possible to write about my topic from a different angle? Have I tried “History of [Topic],” “News Updates on [Topic],” or “[XYZ] for experts”?
  • Can I try shifting slightly or broaden my topic and compare the results?
  • Are there blogs similar to mine that appear successful? What are they doing differently?

You finish your blog strategy only when you stop blogging. Review your content mission statement at least once per year. Does your target audience match the audience actually reading your blog? Have the interests of your target audience shifted? Managing the identity of your science blog is the most effective way to achieve and maintain relevance.

Jesse Harris, M.Sc., M.A.Sc.
Jesse Harris, M.Sc., M.A.Sc.

Jesse is a Marketing and Communications Specialist at ACD/Labs. He has graduate degrees in Chemistry and an MASc in Chemical engineering. Jesse has been writing on the internet since 2016, and is passionate about science writing and marketing.

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