What readers want from science blogs

Blogging, as we have previously noted, affords opportunities as well as pitfalls for researchers both established and in training. But how do readers use this Internet verbiage? And who, in fact, are the readers of science blogs? A pair of surveys by Louisiana State University (LSU), Baton Rouge, postdoc Paige Jarreau provides some answers, which may be of interest to current bloggers and those considering getting started.

One of her surveys—of just under a thousand readers of the more than 2 dozen offerings of the PLOS blog network—found that “a majority are active researchers,” Jarreau writes in an article at PLOS. In addition, “[a] majority are … most interested in expert commentaries on current scientific issues, in-depth analyses of single research papers and basic explanatory science posts.” But, notes, “[d]espite the popularity of blogs … few researchers [who answered the PLOS survey] see them as platforms to showcase their work before it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.” That’s mainly because most respondents fear that some other researcher may “scoop” their work or that journals may reject it as already published, Jarreau writes. 

The writers on the PLOS network are, however, a pretty elite group of bloggers chosen and hosted by the prominent publisher. The PLOS blog readers also appear to be a fairly high-powered segment of the online scientific reading public, at least compared to another survey Jarreau conducted with Lance Porter, an associate professor at the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication, that she reports at her own blog (which is not part of the PLOS network).

In this survey, the answers from 2955 readers of “40 randomly selected science blogs” indicate three distinct groups of readers. The largest group is “one-way entertainment users,” who “read science blogs predominantly for entertainment and ambiance.” This group had “the highest percentage of users with non-science degrees (23%) and those not interested in a career in science.” The second largest group, and the likeliest to have pursued or to still be pursuing careers in science, is “unique information-seeking users.” They “read science blogs primarily for information they can’t find in traditional media venues, to keep up with current events and as educational tools,” Jarreau writes. Finally, the smallest group is the “super users,” who read “to be involved in an online community, get advice and find content for their own blogs/social media accounts.”

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