Types of geological blog posts

I write a geological blog. I read lots of them too. The old geological training has kicked in and I feel an urge to classify the various types of blog posts. Metageologist is about to get meta….

IUGS_Volcanics_Diagrams

The current research post

A staple of sci-blogging, the ‘current research post’ centres around a recent journal article. A good one will tell you about the paper, its methods, its conclusions and above all, why it is important. Within print-bound science journalism, I find it is often too brief and too dependent on quotes from scientists. Within the wide open spaces of a blog, there is an opportunity to let the science breathe.

Among many others, Brian Switek (Laelaps) and Ed Yong are masters of the genre.

The ‘what I did on my holidays’ post

The slightly derogatory name reflects my feelings about my own attempts at the genre. The hard facts of hits and retweets suggest you agree that my attempts of turning a rocky journey into a blog post are somewhat lacking.

At their simplest they can be a string of photos with brief descriptions, which can be very nice indeed. As a mediocre photographer I find myself leaning towards the research-heavy and the more ‘literary’.

What these posts need are fantastic field photos, lots of context (not just geological) and a strong narrative. See Geotripper’s great posts to see how it should be done.

News and events posts

Some posts live in the moment. Sometimes this is putting a geological context on mainstream news. Others comment on geological events that are only sometimes part of ‘the news’. I’m thinking of Dave Petley on landslides and Erik Klemetti on volcanoes. For these two the combination of scientific context, an understanding of the human impact and awesome visuals is pretty potent.

Meta posts

Blogs are sometimes seen as narcissistic, self-obsessed, all about the author.  Sometimes this is true. In New Year 2013 WordPress.com sent its bloggers a traffic report for the year which caused a rash of introspection. I’ve done it myself – a yearly review is a nice thing to write. The competitive side of me relishes the opportunity to get a peek at other blog’s traffic statistics, if only to see what is possible.

Some posts are about the business of science communication, science making or blogging, including this one. So this post, seeking to be a set of all sets of blog posts, avoids paradox by containing itself.

‘It’s been a bit quiet here’ post

A unkind blog cliche is the site that contains only one substantive post and then a series of posts apologising for the lack of posts. It’s been quiet at times here, but I’ve always feel a post just to explain is a bit naff (unless the reason for silence is significant). It may be because I consume blogs via Twitter,  Google and all-geo. If I followed the original subscribing-to-a-feed model it might more sense.

‘About my research’ posts

I think these are excellent, ace, brilliant and lovely: see the folks at Geojenga. They are also important.

Of course too much honesty about your work can be risky, of course you don’t want your journal paper pipped at the post, of course you are busybusy. But all you researchers out there PLEASE write about more what you do. Science communication should be about not just the findings, but the research methods, techniques and people that led to those findings. That machine you spend your time cursing may be doing things that are astonishing to others, even to a chap like me a mere 15 years out of the game.

There are lots of reasons why communicating your research is important, I won’t rehash them here, but here’s a new one: you writing a post about your research will make me happy. What could be more important than that? So get to it.

The round-up

The classic is Ed Yong’s “I’ve got your missing links right here”. Only those with the power to command many clicks write these. The rest of us wait and hope to be picked. One day….

Series of posts

Sometimes a subject is just too big for one post. It spreads over into a whole series like Dana Hunter’s gripping posts on Mount St Helens.

Blog carnivals fit in this slot as well. Hosting an Accretionary Wedge felt like a rite of passage for me and Where On Google Earth got me starting my first blog. Gateway drugs.

A themed post a week is deservedly popular. I always keep an eye out for Callan Bentley‘s Friday Fold, which is a reminder that sometimes one great photo with explanation is all that is required.

Finally, lets bow our heads in gratitude to those crazy fools Lockwood DeWitt and Ian Stimpson who have both written a series of posts with one for every day of a year. Lockwood’s doing one this year and promises a grand finale.

A bit of fun

Humour creeps into my posts, to various degrees and I’m not alone in this. Sometimes it can be overdone. Sometimes the best policy is to have an entire site dedicated to it like Trust Me, I’m A Geologist or Geokittehs.

The explainer post

These are my favourite, both to read and write. A good explainer post will take a reader by the hand and lead them through unfamiliar territory and out again a more informed person. Erik Klemetti’s post on ‘Why do Rocks Melt on Earth?’ is a great example of the genre – it answers an important geological question in an approachable way.

They can be hard work to write. My own tend come from following my own curiosity, which makes it easier – the post can retrace my own journey of discovery. I tend to have two readers in mind – a keen amateur and a nit-picking professor. Writing to keep both happy is quite a challenge.

Explainer posts are important because they fill a gap. Increasingly people get information from the Internet, where very high-level information is easy to find. However much of the knowledge required to understand what scientists are actually doing is ‘locked up’ within textbooks and scientific papers. This isn’t just an ‘Open Access’ issue, because knowledge can remain hidden in plain-sight, behind layers of technical language. Good explainer posts are a way of bridging this gap, removing barriers between academia and the intelligent lay reader.

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Have I missed any types in my classification? Know any better examples? Let me know below.

Categories: Navel gazing

Comments (4)

  1. The other category I can think of is book reviews. I find it helpful to hear what others in my field think of those new text books and mongraphs that are being published…

  2. Hollis says:

    Personally, I like your “what I did on my holidays” posts, especially when you bring in history, mythology, etc. I agree re “explainer posts” — very useful to me (amateur geologist with lots to learn).

  3. Garry Hayes says:

    Great post! Thanks for the shoutout.

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