Science Blogging 101 – How to Write About Science

frog-2I don’t know how many of you like to blog about science, but here are some tips.  Writing a blog post on a scientific subject is a little different than most other types of posts.  You do have to state true facts, but yet you don’t want your post to sound like a formal journal article.  It can sometimes be challenging to strike a balance between fact and observation, but you do want to strive to offer your own insights when possible.

Here are a few tips:

  • You should try to give your own opinion on the subject when possible.
  • Take a look at the research from multiple sources; preferably at least a few from the primary literature.
  • Try to have something original to say about the subject, such as your own thoughts and observations.  Perhaps you have found conflicting information or discrepancies?  Perhaps you have observed a trend or pattern that hasn’t been mentioned?  There is nothing wrong with throwing it out there!
  • Aim to present and explain the research as clearly as possible.
  • The post should not be too long, and certainly not the length of a journal article.
  • Try to stay way from stating facts only.  Just summarize the facts, then expand on them, and offer your opinion.
  • Try to keep the language a bit on the informal side (but not too informal).
  • Give all links and other references used in the post.
  • If a picture helps readers understand a point, certainly use one, but try to keep it related.

Feel free to comment if you see anything missing, and I will add your comment to the list!

Technical “Writer’s Block”

As a Technical Writer, I often wondered about getting “writer’s block.” I mean, it’s not as if you have the choice to have it or not when you are at work. If the deadline is there, or you are working by the hour, you’ve just got to be productive and write.

I’ve seen the cartoons and the movies just like you. The frustrated writer sitting in front of a typewriter with a trash can behind them, and loads of crumpled and torn papers thrown into and around it.

The fact is, I don’t think I have ever suffered from writer’s block as a technical writer. It could be that the work is more black and white than say, creative writing. But even still, you have to think about the best and clearest ways to present complex information, so there is still a creative element. It could be that I do get writer’s block, but by doing the following have managed to mostly avoid it. So below, I will present you with my top ten list of how to avoid writer’s block as a technical writer.

These are things that have worked for me:

  1. Multi-shuffle your tasks. (i.e. if you get stuck on one task, have other tasks ready that you can switch to).
  2. Think about ideas in the back of your mind even in off hours.
  3. Start your work, then come back to it the next day, or even the next week (if time allows for it).
  4. Research for inspiration!
  5. Go out for a walk to free your mind.
  6. Bounce ideas off of a coworker or friend.
  7. Create an outline of your thoughts and ideas.
  8. Deal with the more complicated writing tasks first thing in the morning.
  9. Practice writing all the time, by writing in a journal or blog.
  10. Join a writing society or group where you can meet and learn from other writers.

(includes a list of strategies for overcoming writer’s block)
(this person says writer’s block isn’t real!)
(15 tips on overcoming writer’s block)

Find me on Twitter: @jacbird @masitblog

An Overview of Internet Aggregators!

With the vast amount of information now available on the world wide web, it’s no wonder that people are feeling overwhelmed and bombarded with information. How can a person possibly go about sorting it all out? One possible solution is to use good Google search terms, and narrow your searches so that only the exact information you need will appear. But even so, how can you be sure that the information coming your way is up-to-date, contains quality content, is accurate or even relevant etc.? Also, with so much information out there, how can you be sure that you’re not missing the “good bits”?

Below you will find a list of several of the most popular aggregator sites on the net, many of which are my favourites. By no means is it intended to be exhaustive, but perhaps you’ll discover one you’ve never seen or used before!

Web-based News Aggregators:

Probably the most common and original type of aggregator, these sites gather breaking news articles from various sources and present them in one convenient place.

Alltop – The Online Magazine Rack

Alltop - The Online Magazine Rack

Alltop – The Online Magazine Rack

  • An online “magazine rack” of popular topics
  • Stories are updated every hour
  • Allows you to search by topic
  • A new feature allows you to create your own personalized “magazine rack”


Google Reader

Google Reader

Google Reader

  • Google’s solution to news aggregation
  • Excellent recommendations and easy to add feeds
  • no download needed
  • Google Trends and iGoogle integration

Other popular web-based aggregators:

Google News

Google News

Google News

Yahoo News

Yahoo News

Yahoo News

Application-based News Aggregators:

These are news aggregators which require the installation of software on your CPU


Cooliris provides an 'out of browser' experience

Cooliris provides an

  • A visual experience that takes you beyond what a standard browser can deliver
  • Browse through videos, photos, news stories faster than ever before
  • Shop, explore, and research tool all in one beautifully designed package
  • Available as an “add on” for most major browsers

Mozilla Thunderbird

Open source at its absolute best

Open source at its absolute best

  • Mozilla Thunderbird is a free open source email and RSS feed reader all in one
  • The fact that it’s open source means that you’ll have the most up-to-date version at all times

Search Term Aggregators and Analytics:

Google Insights

Google Insights gives you the whole story behind popular search terms

Google Insights gives you the whole story behind popular search terms

  • There is so much fun to be had by all with this one! Enter in a search term to produce a graph of interest in that search term over time (scroll your cursor along the graph to get date information). A bar chart graph is also displayed which shows interest in that search term by country.
  • Over at the top right in the Filter section, you can use the Worldwide drop down menu to select a country, and see what search terms are popular by country.
  • Note that Google Insights is an extension of Google Trends.

Conversation Aggregators:

Twitter Search

Twitter Search gives you the most up-to-date scoop on unfolding news events

Twitter Search gives you the most up-to-date scoop on unfolding news events

  • Twitter search allows you to search Twitter conversations in real time. For example, you could enter in a search term such as eLearning to bring up hits of conversations about that topic as recently as a few hours ago.
  • Discover what people are saying about a unfolding news event in real time
  • See this blog post for more info on this new and powerful search tool

Aggregator of Aggregators:

Popurls is an aggregators of aggregators, bringing you the latest in web buzz from Digg, Reddit, Delicious and copious other sources.

Popurls is an aggregators of aggregators, bringing you the latest in web buzz from Digg, Reddit, Delicious and copious other sources.

Book and Journal Article Aggregators:

Google Scholar

Google Scholar allows you to search millions of published academic journals, books and articles

Google Scholar allows you to search millions of published academic journals, books and articles

  • Are you a scholar, or are you not? It doesn’t matter! With this spectacular Google service you can find and read all of the latest research articles. In some cases a journal subscription may be required to read the full article, but in many cases it is not.

Media Review Aggregators:


Metacritic aggregates reviews on media from around the internet and gives media (movies, music, video games) a score based upon those reviews

Metacritic aggregates reviews on media from around the internet and gives media (movies, music, video games) a score based upon those reviews

  • Aggregates reviews of music albums, games, movies, TV shows, DVDs, and books. Gives a numerical score for each review with a color coding.

Rotten Tomatoes

Rotten Tomatoes - the premier movie review aggregator

Rotten Tomatoes – the premier movie review aggregator

  • Rotten Tomatoes is a movie review aggregator, that gives movies a binary rating of “fresh” or “rotten”
  • Actual humans decide whether or not the reviews are positive or negative, then tabulate the fresh reviews as a percentage of the total number reviewed. 60% positive reviews will get the movie a rating of fresh.
  • Rotten Tomatoes is one of the most popular movie review websites on the net

Job Site Aggregators:

Wowjobs Canada brings Canadian job listings under one roof brings Canadian job listings under one roof

  • WowJobs is a job posting aggregator for job postings all across Canada. This service will pick up postings from all the major employments sites such as Monster and Workopolis, in addition to postings from individual company sites and organizations.

Blog Posting Aggregators:


Technorati is the internet's largest blog aggregator

Technorati is the internet’s largest blog aggregator

  • A web-based search engine for blogs with an easy to navigate categorical database of hundreds of thousands of blogs
    Browse popular blog postings from all areas of the net

Find me on Twitter: @jacbird and @masitblog

Do you have any suggestions of some less popular aggregators not mentioned here? Send me your comments and I’ll include them in my next installment!

An Overview of Document Types….

I thought it would be helpful to write about the different document types I have encountered while working as a technical writer in various industries (environmental, telecommunications, medical software, medical communications, etc.).

I have made an attempt to define the documents based on my own ideas about them. The text in red was added in after googling the search term define: [document type].

White Paper: almost like a marketing piece / proposal type of document. Its purpose is to outline in great detail new technologies or existing technologies in order to present the information to some third party who usually has a stake in funding for that project. “Used to educate readers and help people make decisions.” “A purpose to educate industry customers.”

End-User Manual: aimed towards end-users of a software program or other piece of technology. The audience can vary in technical aptitude from absolute beginner to advanced.

Release Notes: outlines all new features of an updated version of software. Usually with a table of contents and brief paraphrase of all new features. From Wikipedia: “A release note is usually a terse summary or recent changes, enhancements and bug fixes in a particular software release.” “Not a substitute for user guides.”

FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions. A compilation of questions about a piece of software or a system in a question & answer format. Best if based on real life questions asked by customers / clients.

Data Sheet: OK, this one I haven’t actually ever had to do before……but it seems to keep popping up. So from Wikipedia: “A document summarizing the performance and other characteristics of a component (i.e. an electronic component), a sub system (i.e. a power supply) or software in sufficient detail to be used by a design engineer to design the component into a system.”

Online Video: These, I absolutely just love! A short segment, usually running from 3 to 6 minutes in length with a purpose to demonstrate / visually show how something works. This could be how to use a component of the software, how to carry out some kind of procedure or function, or really anything under the sun where the user could get a better idea by watching rather than reading about it.

Find me on Twitter: @jacbird and @masitblog