n00b Science Blogging 101: Part 2 - The Audience


Part 2 of the n00b Science Blogging 101 series concerns the big questions of blogging: audience, purpose, and so on. You can find part 1 here, in which I discussed my own experiences with blogging to provide adequate context for this and the remaining posts in the series.

What audience do you have in mind when you write and why? Are you writing to people already interested in science, or do you also want to get people interested in science?

This is really two questions. The first concerns who reads this blog, and the second concerns who I wrote this blog for, and the second question is far easier to answer than the first.

As far as who reads this blog, I have really good statistics, but they're limited to things like what browsers or operating systems they use, their IP addresses, their geographical location, and things like that. None of those things, though, actually tell me anything about who they are. I can say with some certainly that a large proportion of my traffic comes via search engines like Google and Bing, which suggests that they are not looking specifically for this blog, but instead land here because it comes up via search engine results. These individuals may or may not already be regular readers of science blogs.

Earlier this year, in the summer, I followed the practice instituted by Ed Yong and apparently popularized by Drugmonkey, in which I asked readers to de-lurk and identify themselves. While I liked reading the responses, I can't say I really had any surprises in the comments. That is to say, most of the real lurkers didn't de-lurk. Perhaps next year.

All of that is to say that I don't really know who is reading my blog (beyond the anecdotal information I can get based on who comments, who tweets/re-tweets, and so on). But that's not to say I don't have an audience in mind.

My intended audience is two-fold: first, other scientists who may not be experts in psychological science or animal cognition. As I said in part 1 of the series, many people, even other scientists, don't necessarily know much about the details of psychological science, how experiments are conducted, why behavioral observations can tell you interesting things about cognition, biology, or evolution, and so on. Second, there are lots of people who may not be interested in science more generally, but are interested in animals, who will read everything they can about the animals they like, whether its horses, or dogs, or dolphins, or harpy eagles. (This is part of why I organize my post categories with such precision). Lots of people have different potential entry-points into science. Some might be really into NASCAR for example, and others might love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I write about animals for those people who will read everything they can about animals.

What do you think are the advantages and limitations of science blogging, relative to other forms of scientific writing (e.g., publishing in peer-reviewed venues)?

Different forms of writing serve different purposes. Publishing in peer-reviewed journals communicates new findings to others in your field or sub-field. This blog intends to communicates science to general audiences, and to excite and inspire people about science. For that matter, my writing on twitter serves yet a third purpose, which is to connect with and enjoy the broader science writing community.

What's your motivation for blogging? Why do you think blogging is important?

Blogging is important because of all the instances in which main-stream media science reporting gets it wrong, or only tells half the story, or overstates the results. This is not to say, of course, that there aren't fantastic examples of mainstream science reporting (there are, and they are awesome), but the problems that plague mainstream media science writing (e.g. limited space, false balance, and so forth) don't plague blogs - at least not in the same way or as often.

Do you just blog about research that you find interesting, or tailor topics to your audience? How do you know whether something is truly interesting to a general audience, versus just being exciting to you as a science geek?

If I'm not writing about something that interests me, I won't write it well enough to entertain or educate the reader. To that end, I only write about things that I find interesting. In addition, I believe that a good writer can make anything not only accessible, but also interesting, to a general audience - it just takes the right framing, or the right lede, or the right analogy. A strange mating behavior in birds can be made interesting to anybody, if you frame it the right way. Likewise for a strange experiment about snakes in free-fall.

Does science blogging allow you to reach as wide of an audience as you would like? If not, do you have other vehicles or ideas about how to make scientific research more accessible/digestible to a larger numbers of people?

I'm always trying to think of new ideas to access a different section of the so-called general audience. Podcasts are interesting, and I'm not quite done experimenting with those yet. Video blogging, like Bloggingheads.tv is great, and can be fun to participate in, though my sense is that it attracts people who are already looking for science. Videos more generally, though, are probably a great vehicle, and one that I'd like to become more involved with, in some way. Every different mechanism or vehicle that you use to communicate science to broader audience will reach a slightly different segment of the intended population, so I'm not sure its a matter of finding wider audiences, just audiences that I wasn't reaching before, or am not reaching currently.

Image source.

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