By Nancy Bunbury, Director of Research and Conservation for the Seychelles Islands Foundation
Why should you blog as a conservation scientist?
Writing blog posts is not at the top of most people’s to-do list - it can feel impossible to fit into an already bursting-at-the-seams schedule, or of questionable value in the endless sea of social media and onslaught of scientific information from journals, courses, emails, and more social media. Or just daunting.
Can blogging help in the information tsumani? Well, yes. (© Joe Williams)
Here’s my attempt to convince you to either start blogging or to blog more often about conservation and your work and thoughts. I don’t mean starting and running your own blog, as most advice focuses on, but writing occasionally for a collective blog (like, say, this one) or as a guest blogger, which provides many benefits of blogging in far less time.
I’m aware of the irony of an infrequent blogger asking others to blog more, but as an avid blog reader/appreciator, and having had many thought-provoking conversations with conservation scientists at different career stages about blogging, the ‘why’ of blogging comes up often and many people seem to want to see a post on this. There are already some great sources on why you should blog in science (e.g. here) or how to be a successful wildlife blogger, but I’ll focus here on some of the benefits I’ve seen or experienced blogging specifically as a conservation scientist.
Whatever your goals and conservation focus, you should consider occasional blogging because…
1. Blogging can help trigger conservation action
This has to be the number one reason to blog as a conservation scientist, because blogging describes your research in engaging and conversational language, and the technical language of papers is an oft-cited reason for the knowledge-implementation gap between researchers and conservation practitioners. Blogging about your work (and sharing widely) is a fantastic and effective way to reach and engage your intended audience (including policy makers, decision-makers, practitioners etc), to state your case simply and make targeted recommendations to increase its impact. Blog links can be sent to people who might never read the original paper, but who find it easier/cheaper/faster to read a blog post. It is a complementary and often essential follow-up to a paper, and if it were made obligatory for every conservation paper, I suspect that the much-lamented implementation gap would be far narrower.
2. Blogging can help you become a better conservation communicator
As conservation scientists, because the challenges we face are so immense, and understanding and addressing them is so fraught with complications, we all ultimately need to aim for effective communication. Good writing is an absolutely critical skill to be able to communicate outside our field, to the general public, and for successful research outcomes. One of the most important benefits of blogging is that it can help you grow or expand your repertoire as a writer and communicator.
Writing a blog post is different to most other sorts of science writing (e.g. thesis, papers, funding proposals, protocols, social media posts, technical articles/reports), and there are many sources of advice online on writing them. From the perspective of this blog, we try to keep them engaging, informal, conversational, and inclusive – they are usually non-technical so that people without scientific training can enjoy them.
While the prospect of departing from the scientific script can be initially daunting, it’s also a relief to be able to slip out of scientific/technical jargon and all the dos and don’ts of writing a scientific manuscript, and simply be yourself in your writing.
You can imagine you’re chatting to friend, or colleague, and explaining your research or your thoughts or experiences of the work to them. You can leave in the funny bits, or the parts you could never put into a scientific paper, you can be sarcastic or self-effacing, you can explain in your own words what the subject matter means to you, why this paper you’ve just published is so important to you or the world, or what the back story is that nobody reading the paper would otherwise know. Some (perhaps particularly non-native speakers), find the prospect of blogging especially challenging for exactly this reason, because it means departing from the ‘script’ of formulaic scientific writing, opening up and giving yourself a voice, and potentially making yourself vulnerable. But it’s liberating to be able to do this and the benefits are worth overcoming this.
3. Blogging can help you think more clearly
Closely connected to the above, but boosting communication skills more broadly, blogging encourages you to think through and explain your work or thoughts in everyday language. You’re not only ‘preaching to the converted’, i.e. writing solely for the specialists in your field who might read your paper, so you need to consider ways of communicating concepts, results or recommendations, and engaging a general audience, that forces you to think them through more clearly, from the ‘why?’ and the ‘how?’, to the ‘so what?’ (the relevance) and the ‘what next?’. As well as benefitting every aspect of your communication, this also helps your thought processes and can trigger new ideas.
4. Blogging grows and diversifies your audience - including non-scientists
How many people actually read scientific papers? Usually very few. Even ‘reads’ or ‘clicks’ of papers don’t mean that people have done more than look at the title or the abstract.
Blogs are different, because they’re so much more accessible than scientific papers. The lack of jargon, the conversational tone, the sharing of personal perspectives with readers, and the humour all make a blog post a more insightful, relatable, memorable, and immediate way of understanding what someone has to say. It’s common to get several hundred reads of a blog – usually orders of magnitude more than will ever read a paper. And many of these readers might not be scientists, especially if you take the advice above and share a link to your blog post widely, tweet strategically, post it elsewhere on social media, and encourage and respond to comments.
5. Blogging gives you greater online identity and voice
A related point to #4, but a different take; many conservation/ecology students are now encouraged to build a profile and audience on Twitter etc, which is great, but blogging can be a fantastic additional and complementary forum for introducing others to your work. Being able to write and share more via blogging gives your online identity and voice far greater depth and meaning, which can lead to more recognition and conservation impact.
6. Blogging can help you land a conservation job or funding
Yes, you read that right. I know of two cases in which blog posts were included in an application for a conservation science position after the employer/funder asked to see examples of the applicant’s non-scientific writing. This request couldn’t be met by papers, and blogs showcased the applicant’s ability to write for different audiences. In both cases the applicant was successful.
I’m not claiming that job success was entirely due to blogging but it helped in both cases, and it’s not difficult to imagine a situation where a blog could help to clinch a position. In my work, for example, I review many CVs and job applicants and I will always check out blogs by long-listed applicants – it gives a much better idea of somebody’s general writing skills, their personality and how committed to and skilled they are in engaging a wider audience and can be a huge help in deciding whether to shortlist somebody (usually favourably).
7. Blogging can help establish collaborations, working relationships and research avenues
With blogs being more widely shared and read, they can reach more potential collaborators and give them a better idea of your work. Blog posts can be used as a starting point for (or an alternative to) formal collaboration - you might be able to write blog posts with someone, or a group of people, who you wouldn’t necessarily work on a project or write papers with, but with whom you share (or differ in) opinions, similar experiences, or ideas to explore. The process of blogging together can also prompt new ideas and research avenues.
8. Blogging is fun, enriching and rewarding!
…because we all need more Calvin & Hobbes in our lives (but also because it’s not much of a stretch to swap in ‘paper’ for ‘assignments’, and ‘reviews’ for ‘grades’ in this cartoon).
Truly! Once you release yourself from the paper-writing auto-pilot headspace and get into the blogging zone, it can be a total breath of fresh air to write in such an informal, relatable way. You can be much more creative and self-expressive, there’s no worrying about how to frame the challenges you encountered without compromising the integrity of your work, how to explain your brilliant results without using any emotive words, or even to fully explain the conservation potential… it’s mentally freeing to be able to write like this. Plus, it can be a great ice-breaker and conversation starter: people who have read your blog posts can already feel that they know you a bit which can lead to some great chats, and a headstart in social events and even conferences.
Many people do not enjoy the technical writing of scientific papers. But blogging can be seen as a halfway house; you get to write about your work but in a very conversational way.
Go for it, please comment or ask questions below and I look forward to reading (and writing) many more posts!
Note - Here on the ConScience blog we post about new papers and projects, personal perspectives, and experiences in the field. The blog is a team effort, aiming to provide an engaging forum for the work and thoughts of a group of conservation scientists, students and collaborators based at or linked to the University of Exeter. We’re also happy to host blog posts from guest bloggers – let us know if you’re interested