I wrote my first science blog in the winter of 2019. I had already been writing online for a couple of years, and I had an idea for which blogging seemed the best outlet. I didn’t know how to write a science blog and didn’t have a guide. The process was frustrating and disorganized, and the final piece was flawed. I was proud of myself, but I knew it was missing something even as I hit publish.
Since 2019, I have written hundreds of blog posts, including dozens of science blogs. This practice evolved my writing process from semi-coherent tinkering to a streamlined machine. I now believe that excellent blogs are more dependant on a solid process rather than the topic you choose.
This article offers a science blogging guide for beginners that is both practical and detailed. How do you write a science blog? This will cover all you need to know to get started.
How to Write a Science Blog – Trusting the Process
Why do you need a process? Why not just start writing? There are a few reasons:
- Efficiency: have you ever tried to assemble Ikea furniture without using the instructions? You have an idea how things should fit together, but before you know it all the screws are gone, and your SMÅSTAD looks more like a FÄRLÖV, and you need to start all over. Skipping steps may seem like a short-cut, but it often takes more time in the long run.
- Quality: writing process allows you to focus on one step at a time, meaning your performance on each task is optimized.
- Rhythm: breaking up the work adds a flow to the pacing, making writing more pleasant for beginners and experienced writers alike.
Some may worry that following a process may reduce creativity. I think it enhances creativity. Using a process frees up your brain to focus on only the step right in front of you. Instead of tracking your lose ends, you can devote all of your mental energy to originality and clarity.
Of course, there are plenty of ways to write a blog. Maybe you perform best by working on the structure before getting into deep research, or you want to skip doing illustrations. I vary my process depending on the project, so don’t take this as a rigid formula. This science blogging guide attempts to provide ideas for you to develop your own system.
1. Research – Preparing to Write a Science Blog
Many think the first step in “writing a blog post” is “writing.” Absolutely not! Every writing project needs to start with a round of research. I hope science bloggers understand this, but here is an overview of why research is essential for any skeptics.
Writing quality is a function of your preparation. Did you spend the time to understand the topic deeply? Do you have a plan of what ideas you will share and in what order? If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” your writing will be ineffective. If you know what you want to say, you can easily lay down hundreds of words an hour. Writing without proper preparation is often painful and frustrating.
Doing your prep work also allows you to focus on writing. Take this article as an example. My experience writing hundreds of blog posts means I have a clear idea of the points I want to make and the order I want to say them. 100% of my attention is devoted to writing content that is engaging and concise.
I know it feels like an inefficient use of time, but research will increase your speed. What really slows you down is getting halfway through a post and realizing one of your points is wrong. That is easier to solve when you identify those misconceptions in the research phase.
A quick note on reference tracking: do whatever works for you. I usually employ the “keep all my Chrome tabs open” system. While I do not recommend it, this method is popular. If I am working on something serious, I will go as far as listing URLs at the bottom of my Word document. Other folks swear by reference tracking tools like Mendeley or EndNote, but I have never taken to them (and I have written two Masters theses). Don’t overthink it.
Start your research with a general overview.
- What is it?
- When was it invented/discovered?
- Why should people care?
Your goal is to identify the main points you want to cover in your article. You can skip this step if you are already a subject matter expert, but I strongly suggest that most writers do a round of general research.
I almost always start with YouTube. A high-quality YouTube video is the fastest way to get a thorough topic introduction. Even for technical science content, you can find some surprisingly high-quality explainers. Don’t take any of it as Gospel, and keep your BS detector on high alert. Be particularly aware when dealing with health-related subjects, as plenty of wellness-lifestyle influencers/grifters are around.
Nothing useful on YouTube? Wikipedia is my next source. The quality is generally decent, and you even have references to use. Some Wikipedia articles get long and technical, especially in mainstream science – focus on the sections that are relevant to you, scanning everything else.
Are you a seasoned scientist turning up your nose at YouTube and Wikipedia? Get over it. Yes, these are not “real” sources, but that is not your purpose at this point. This general review is meant to introduce us to the most critical points. If the most popular YouTube video on the subject covers X, Y, and Z, you should take this as a hint that you should look into X, Y, and Z.
If neither Wikipedia nor YouTube has any content on a topic, that probably means it is very specialized or new. If it is specialized, check to see if you can find a strong review article. If it is new, look at the New York Times Science desk or Vox for an explainer.
If you get to this point and still don’t feel like you’ve gotten a toehold into your subject, you should ask yourself why. Is this subject too niche? Am I missing something? There may still be an article to write here, but you also could be heading towards a dead end.
Now that you have identified the main ideas you want to cover, it is time to start digging in. It is best to find up-to-date academic journals to support your main points. Given that this is a blog, you don’t need to rely on only scholarly articles, but be thoughtful about where you get your information.
I’m assuming most people reading this article have experience with academic research. If this is new to you, try Google Scholar. This is Google for scholarly articles and has a few tools to enhance your searching. Most journals are behind paywalls for people outside of academia, though there are ways to get around this.
An alternative to academic articles is interviewing people. I’ve done several blogs that include interviews with a subject matter expert, which can be great content and are a lot of fun. Interview techniques are a separate conversation, but I recommend you do a ton of prep work before reaching out to schedule a conversation.
As you write, you will probably need to do additional rounds of research to fill in gaps. Just make sure you have a solid idea of all the science before you move on to writing.
If you are writing something short and general, like a 500-word summary of a mainstream topic, you may be able to skip this step. You can also cut back on in-depth research if you are short on time. This will ultimately depend on where this is going and how seriously you take the assignment. I firmly believe that “giving everything 100%” is an insanely inefficient way to live life, so your mileage may vary.
An aside on references: a giveaway for a scientist-turned-blogger is the in-text citation. You are reading a perfectly normal sentence when you run into crap like (Paulinsky and Hubbard, 1998a; Paulinsky and Hubbard, 1998b). I hate this passionately. Not only does it look pretentious, but it also breaks up the flow of the text and is confusing to non-scientists. Even superscripted numbers are ugly and distracting. It’s 2022 – just use a hyperlink.
Search Engine Optimization and Audience Research
Before moving on, do some search engine optimization (SEO) research. Search engines are one of the best tools for attracting readers, so ensure you have them on your side.
SEO is a massive topic, but you can keep it simple. Look here for a brief introduction. Here are a few questions to consider:
- What keyword am I targeting?
- Is the keyword I am targeting overly competitive?
- Can I write an article better than the current top result?
- Am I using a keyword that my target reader will understand?
- Does my keyword have another unrelated meaning that I am competing against?
- Will this post compete directly with other content I’ve written in the past?
It is possible to combine SEO research with other stages of research, especially if you are comfortable with SEO. Ensure you have performed a check so you don’t make any mistakes.
If you want to go further, do some audience research too. Who are your target readers? What types of content do they consume? Are there themes or topics they talk about that you should be aware of? This step is particularly essential if you are blogging as part of a business plan. Check out SparkToro if you want to try a free customer research tool.
2. Structure – How to Organize a Science Blog
Now that you have all that research done, it is time to start writing, right? Wrong! You need to lay out your structure. What style of article are you going to write? What are your main points?
Writing an article without a structure is like building a house without a blueprint – your final product will be confused, disjointed, and unnatural. Writing makes it easier to rip things out and start over, but most people avoid this level of rework. Instead, they patch holes and add extensions trying to fix problems. This often leads to a nightmarish editing process or an incoherent and dull final article.
How much structure do you need before you start writing your science blog? It depends. Long articles need more reinforcement to maintain a logical flow. Shorter pieces that need to cover a lot of content will also benefit from additional support.
This step shouldn’t take long. If it does, you need to do more research.
What kind of blog are you writing? Most blog posts fall into one of a few archetypes. Are you telling a story, compiling a listicle, or arguing a thesis? Here are the five most common science structures:
- Listicle: any article that is structured around a list. Each sub-section will be somewhat disconnected.
- Story: based around characters going through real or fictional events, following a narrative structure.
- How to: provides a start-to-finish guide for completing a task. This blog is an example of a “How to” (though they don’t need to be this self-referential).
- Introduction/explainer: what is X? Why does Y matter? Everything should be tightly connected to a central topic.
- Essay or review: this is structured around an opinion or an argument. A thesis should be clearly stated, and the rest of the article should support that argument.
Some people use templates for each article type. Personally, I don’t find them helpful, but they can speed things up. If you want less structure, you could create hybrid articles or do something entirely different. I strongly recommend beginners use established archetypes before moving on to more complex article types.
Once you have the macro-structure set, you can start working on laying out the sequence of your ideas. Section titles and order will simplify your writing process. Imagine you are writing an essay about why Einstein was the most outstanding scientist ever. Do you want to lay out your ideas chronologically or by theme? Do you focus on one core argument or several separate points that support your thesis?
Write down section heading titles in the order they will appear. These will act as temporary section titles. Section titles impact SEO performance, so we will return to these later. For now, use names that make sense to you.
In cases where you have flexibility, I would encourage you to try alternative ordering. Do you want to combine two sections or split them apart? Now is the time to try things out – changing things will get substantially more challenging later in the process.
You may want to work on your sub-sections if you are writing a longer article or an article with many parts (like this one). These are the series of ideas that fit into each main section. These don’t need to be discrete sections – you can list ideas for paragraphs if you like.
Alternatively, if you are working on a science blog where you plan to cover many points, you can start by writing out a lit of ideas. You then group ideas to decide on your main section topics. This is a great exercise when you have too much you want to say and need to focus on a smaller number of ideas. Content that didn’t make it into this post might be a starting point for another post.
Sub-section structuring could be done once you start writing. I prefer laying out both main points and sub-section simultaneously to get a sense of balance. Is there a portion of the post that seems bloated or thin? What sequence of ideas provides the best flow?
Ultimately, this is a point you will need to work through for yourself based on what you are writing and personal preference.
3. Writing – How to Write a Science Blog
If you have followed the steps up until now, you may be a couple of hours deep into a writing project and have less than a hundred words to show for it. That may sound discouraging, but things are about to change – it is time to get writing!
My entire process is organized around making writing as easy as possible. Writing that is fluid, natural, and fun leads to content that is clear and engaging. Writing that is difficult, frustrating, and slow creates content that is muddled, humorless, and halting. This is one of the reasons many scientists struggle to blog – they make the process difficult for themselves, leading to an unsatisfying experience.
If you have followed the steps up to this point, writing should be relatively straightforward. If you want to learn some tips about how to write, check out these tips on science blogging best practices. Here are some science blogging tips…
Are you having difficulty getting words on the page? Trash drafts are a tactic where an author quickly writes out a draft of an article without considering word choice, structure, or even basic grammar. When you are done (which should only take a few minutes), you throw the entire thing out. The goal is to get hands-on experience with your ideas.
Some writers use trash drafts for everything they post. I rarely write an entire trash draft, though I often use this tactic for sections that give me a hard time. I use complete trash drafts when:
- I am suffering from writer’s block
- I am having trouble coming up with a structure
- It is a high-stakes article
If you hate structuring, try using a trash draft as an alternative. To learn more about trash drafts, read this.
Start with the easiest section
Amateur writers start writing at the beginning because, well, it’s the beginning. This is a mistake. Introductions are the most challenging part of a blog unless you already have a superb idea for an opening. Starting here is a recipe for writer’s block.
Instead of starting with the most challenging part, begin wherever you think is easiest. Is there a topic you are already familiar with or a story you are burning to share? Start there. When that is done, work on the next section that is the easiest to write. This is usually the portion directly before or after the part you just finished, but it doesn’t have to be. When that section is complete, repeat. Keep doing this until you are done.
As you work, finishing one section will help you write the next. Your brain starts figuring out how the challenging sections should look as you complete the easier material. You also may gather “momentum,” where you can knock down several segments in a row.
While I am comfortable jumping around a blog post, I recommend finishing one draft of a section before moving on to the next. Remember, this entire philosophy is built around making the writing experience as easy as possible. Working on multiple sections simultaneously is like working on two jigsaw puzzles simultaneously – your job is not twice as hard; it is 10-times as hard. Ideas get messy, and the stress starts to climb. Focus on one thing at a time, and your writing will be better and more manageable.
Introduction, Titles, and SEO Check
As I said above, writing introductions is tricky. As I write this, I am about 3,000 words deep into writing this article, and I have literally 0 words of my first paragraph complete. Maybe I am terrible at introductions, but it is common for authors to write them last. I recommend working on the intro once everything else is done.
Why are introductions so hard? They must grab the reader’s attention, transition into the rest of the article, and include your SEO keyword while being clear and snappy. It is the most critical paragraph in your entire blog, so put in the necessary effort.
The only thing that is more important than your first paragraph is your headline. While you may have added a title when you first opened the text document, you must revisit the title now. Is it still accurate? Does it inspire interest and curiosity? Does it communicate value? More tips on picking a title.
(This may sound silly, but make sure your listicles with numbers in the title like “5 reasons why…” actually have the correct number. It is surprisingly easy to mess this up.)
You should also do a review of your subheads. Are they still accurate? Have they become too similar or out-of-sync? If they are bland, you might also want to add some spice or humor to them. Subheadings are far less important than your headline, but it is still worth checking.
Last, do a quick SEO check. Go back to the SEO research you did earlier, and ensure your article is in-line with your plan. Here is a basic checklist:
- Does your title contain the keyword?
- Does your first paragraph contain the keyword?
- Is your keyword used in at least one of your subheadings?
- Is your keyword used in the body of the text at least once?
- Are you linking to at least one of your articles?
If you have all of that covered, you have written the first draft of your science blog! Congratulations! There is still work to do, but we are on the home stretch.
One of the secrets of how to write a science blog is taking the time to do a thorough edit. Unclear statements, typos, and unfinished sentences are a massive turn-off. Even if you are 99% accurate in your composition, you still have an error every couple of paragraphs. They distract the reader and make your work look unprofessional.
Most beginning writers struggle with editing. On one extreme, some amateur writers may want to skip the editing step, thinking it takes too much time or because they don’t have anyone to edit for them. This is a mistake. Don’t skip editing. I’m begging you. Either your piece doesn’t need much editing, meaning it will be easy, or the blog does need help, meaning it will benefit from the attention.
On the other hand, you have people who overthink editing. Scientists who haven’t written essays since high school worry that their grammar has gotten rusty, and people will judge them for their poor writing skills. You won’t be exiled from polite society for a couple of typos, and machine editing tools are proficient at catching the most serious problems.
Another rookie mistake is to begin editing the minute you finish your first draft. Our brains tend to autocorrect our writing in our heads since we know what we meant. You must have some time away from work to evaluate it properly. I generally try to sleep on it. If you are pressed for time, you can go straight to editing, but your revisions will not be as precise.
Does that sound like too much time? Schedule around it. Leave yourself the time to do the editing. Even the best science bloggers in the entire world have editors.
Computers make pretty strong proofreaders. Not perfect, of course, but decent. They are also speedy compared to human editors. For this reason, you should always run your content through a machine editor before passing it along to a human, as you don’t want to waste their time fixing silly mistakes.
I am a die-hard Grammarly user, which I recommend to anyone who will listen. I have also used some Hemingway App. Other products are out there, but I am not familiar enough with them to offer specific recommendations. WordTune is also great, though it is not really an editor. Find one that works for you.
A couple of suggestions on working with a machine editor:
- Don’t blindly accept your corrections – editing is about correcting mistakes and learning, so take the opportunity to see what mistakes you are making.
- If you think the machine is wrong, you are probably right – every machine tool will have certain shortcomings. If you are convinced their suggestion is worse, follow your gut.
- Sometimes wrong is right – some sentences need to bend or break the rules of grammar to work. This should be rare but can be effective.
One of the advantages of machine editing is changing the setting of your article. As I said above, sentences that are choppy or ideas that are unclear are often smoothed over in our brains. Moving your text from the word processor to the editing tool changes your perspective, helping you break out of this trap.
Machines are decent at catching typos but suck at assessing logic, structure, or engagement. Look at the following paragraph:
Inflatable warts may cause cold blindness. Gigantic peppers made of scandalous helium do not enjoy talking with cabbages. To canonize a reflective gopher, I suggest you soak your torso in carnivorous shoe leather.
This may be nonsense, but it is grammatically correct nonsense. It scored perfectly in Grammarly. It can’t tell that warts aren’t inflatable, peppers don’t talk, or that it is impossible to find enough carnivorous shoe leather to soak your torso.
Machine editing may offer more advanced features in the future, but humans are the only ones who can do this work today. We are much better judges of which writing is coherent and compelling. This should provide insight into who you should ask for an edit – “grammar Nazis” are less valuable than people who can deconstruct an argument.
Getting an edit from a lousy editor will often do more harm than good. Strong editing is hard work, so having someone scan the document, find two typos, and say it was “fine” is not helpful. In fact, that might give you a false sense of confidence – they had no edits, so my writing must be perfect!
For amateur science bloggers, finding a solid editor will be tough. You need someone who knows enough about science and writing to evaluate your work. Do not focus on finding an editor who is a subject-matter expert – that will be too hard, and they often care more about technical details than whether the article is interesting.
If this article is high stakes, I recommend finding both a subject matter expert and a non-subject matter expert. Work with the scientist to check technical accuracy, then show it to the non-expert to ensure the content is still accessible. This is an excellent strategy for a corporate blog.
For low-stakes work, such as a casual personal blog, you can get away with editing it yourself. Try to challenge your content, considering whether it is clear and convincing. While my blog work is primarily self-edited, I know an editor would upgrade my work.
Read Out Loud
A final polishing step that I strongly recommend is reading the blog aloud. Does your text sound fluid? Are there words that seem over-used? While it feels weird to read out loud to yourself, I find this surprisingly effective for catching minor errors that were invisible before.
This step is particularly critical if the revision process has been rough. Editing is like surgery; it leaves scars where sentences are taken apart and put back together. Words are repeated, sentences are left incomplete, or phrases become unnatural. Reading the entire document out loud catches these subtle imperfections.
I’m sure some people think this isn’t necessary – I still recommend you try it! While I don’t enjoy doing this exercise, it’s been a massive level-up for my editing skills.
5. Images, Links, and Publishing
At this point, the text is done, but there is still some final polishing. This includes images, links, and publishing your article.
Do you need to add images to your blog? No, but you don’t really need to do anything in this guide. The first image is highly valuable – it will be featured in social media snippets and any other thumbnail. Make sure your first image or illustration is high quality and represents the entire article – you sometimes see blog posts with tables or tiny, out-of-context images being used as the thumbnail. These look weird.
After your featured image, you can include plenty of other images. Graphs, maps, memes, it’s all fair game. It is generally considered “best practice” to have enough visual elements, so there is usually one on your screen as you scroll through an article. This can be a tremendous amount of work for a content writer without a production team to work with, so it is possible to stick with one image. If you do have ideas for illustrations, charts, and diagrams, play around with them! It is hard to overdo these as long as they add to the content.
What about copyright? That is a whole other kettle of fish. Short story: you should use copyright-free images such as those from Wikimedia and Unsplash. While I try to play by the rules, I have never heard of small-time bloggers getting in trouble for using copyrighted images. Do with that information what you like. (I am also not a lawyer, so do not take this as legal advice)
You should also perform a quick link check. Did you add all the hyperlinks that you meant to? Are they pointing to the correct web pages? Have you included links to your own content? Getting your URLs mixed up can be surprisingly easy, and people will rarely tell you if they notice that mistake.
The last step is publishing your blog, which means moving everything into your platform of choice. While this is not “complicated,” it is a pain to transfer everything from a Word file or Google Doc to your publishing platform. Take the time to do this right and avoid sloppy errors, such as paragraphs that run together or forgetting to include your header image. Editing shouldn’t be a problem after the fact, but it is best to get things right the first time. Your process at this step will be dependent on the platform you are using, so find a checklist to follow when preparing your posts.
Early writers sometimes ask when they should publish their articles. For a casual blog, this will rarely have an impact on performance. This will impact newsletters, but posting your blog at 3 am will make very little difference.
How to Write a Science Blog Like a Pro…
Hooray! You are done, right?
Nope! Next is distribution, but that can wait for another day. For now, sit back, relax, and take pride that you have mastered the fundamentals of how to write a science blog.