How to: Write #0:
Beyond the Article
This is an introduction to a series on pushing beyond “The Article”. But where to draw the line? Health economist Christopher Sampson tackles the question head on and makes some fantastic points about the benefits of communicating through alternative channels like blogs and platforms outside of traditional journals.
This series is about extending communication even further: outreach, non-traditional dissemination, writing for different audiences, and how to get more eyes on your work without resorting to click-baity titles (full disclosure: title was almost “7 Things You Won’t Believe Increase Your Online Presence and DOUBLE the size of your h-index!”). Simply, these are more ways to extend scientific communication into the 21st century.
Anyone involved with scholarly communication knows there’s tons of work competing for limited attention. And with the annual rate of STM (sci [science], tech [technical], and med [medical]) publications over 2 million, fields keep getting noisier.
Clearly, no (sane) person can read every article relating to a given discipline. As authors, though, we want to contribute, have our efforts seen, and (ideally) cited. There are new services trying to make article discovery easier, but we still run into the attention problem: I don’t have time to read every 5+ page article I should and reading abstracts and skimming figures isn’t sufficient (and we’re not even touching the terror of paywalls).
So why are we suggesting you write more given the current glut in academic publications? Well, there’s a lot you can’t say or fit into a traditional journal article (history, stories, data, code, etc). What’s more, people can’t digest let alone find every single article they want, so providing a summary of a key finding might entice readers to learn more (and you can link directly to your work!). Also, there are tons of citizen scientists out there who love reading about science, but don’t have the time, resources, or background to sift through standard scholarly accounts. We’re all connected now. Share your knowledge with the world.
That is the first suggestion for “How to: Write”.
If I wanted to really emphasize the point I would stop here, and after checking the Word Count (we have a button for that now), I see I’m already over 400 words. Not that there is a magic number, but the more concise (but still easily readable), the less an investment people have to make to read your work. This should be obvious whenever you see a 20 page review versus a ScienceShot about an ancient Scottish reptile. This is also one reason many scientists follow sites like astrobites to keep up with the literature in their field.
So remember, make it as easy as possible for people to choose to read your extracurricular content. This could lead to fruitful discussions, more eyes on your scholarly work, and public outreach and engagement.