I experimented with topics, lengths, forms, and voices, quite a lot this year, trying this and that to see what works for me, what works with the readers, etc. This is what I learned:
I can still write a standard ResearchBlogging post of reasonable length, yet covering all the context it needs.
And I can post it at the time embargo lifts. And I can get quite nice traffic for it:
I can blog a conference, even if the topic is not my narrowest area of expertise.
I wanted to learn how to cover a meeting like a journalistic pro. Instead, Editor-in-Chief told me “No, you should blog it”. So I did. And I had fun, I added my own photos, and people in the field liked it:
I can get outside of my area of expertise when the news cycle requires it, learn about it fast, and become a temporary expert on it.
And then get interviewed and quoted by the other new outlets as if I really am an expert on the topic:
But my personalized follow-up on the Big News story, does not work as well as the original.
But heck, at least I finally got to publish some old photos:
I can write on deadline, with word-limit, and I like getting my stuff edited.
When all the editors started nominating stories for our Top Ten 2012 Stories list, I suggested ENCODE, so I was assigned to write about it. I was worried about having to re-write everything from scratch, so I turned it in two days ahead of deadline. When I got the piece back, edited by Phil Yam, it looked very, very red on my screen. But as I started checking all the edits, I realized that each edit was small – a punctuation here, a word-order there, a small change in wording, etc. No huge changes, but LOTS of tiny changes. And each little thing made my article a little bit better. All the changes together made my article much better. So I am quite happy how it turned out:
Long posts with strange structure can work well.
I experimented with coverage of several papers in a single post. I covered each one briefly, had subheadings (e.g., What is it about, What is new, Take-home message, Some more thoughts, Good coverage elsewhere, etc), finishing with my own summary of how all of the papers fit together, how they move the field as a whole forward. And it got quite decent traffic:
I can write fast, publish as embargo lifts, and STILL manage to get a lot of context and lot of my own thoughts.
It helps that I have written, few years before, a very involved post on a related topic, so I could draw from that pool of information, build up on it. Many people told me they really loved this post:
Totally quirky stuff has its own fans.
It started with a bet that I could seriously use the word “callipygous” in a science article. That led me on a search for topics in which I could potentially use it. That brought me to spiders (yes, it could have been sheep instead). So I wrote a completely stream-of-consciousness post connecting all sorts of seemingly unconnected things about spiders. I wrote about spiders before. I talked about spiders very recently. I saw the Spider exhibit at the AMNH just before it. I included bits and pieces of all of that somewhere in the post. And I timed the post to show up on the anniversary of ‘Charlotte’s Web’. All of that combined into a quirky post with surprising twists and turns, cool scientific information, fun videos, personal stuff, and more. And people just loved it:
I can write REALLY fast! And lack of time for over-thinking makes it better.
I heard about the study at 8am. I published my post at 11am. While multitasking other stuff I had to do at the time. Yes, I carefully read the paper first. And the paper got lots of media coverage elsewhere, yet the author contacted me to tell me specifically how well I did it. And the PIO in charge of the paper bought me a beer a few months later for giving the paper so much visibility and good coverage. And the post even resulted in a comic strip, the original of which is now hanging on the wall of the institution where the research was done. My favorite post of the entire year:
Next year, I’ll try some new approaches, do new experiments, try to make it fun for me and you. We’ll see how it works out in the end….