Sometimes it's better to show rather than tell. For a while I have been reading posts and speaking to users about their crappy posts and the problem is thematically the same in every case; people seem to be writing for the sake of writing. Or money. Passion on a subject is often absent but also knowledge of how to write one is often limited to 'reading Wikipedia'.
For this reason, here is an open blog about how I personally construct a post for SteemSTEM. It might be insightful to n00bs and even 0ldz. This will be about a so-far-unwritten post for my series on the Tree of Life. Later, or tomorrow, I will have used all the material to create the final product from whatever I find during the making of this post.
Feel free to try and beat me to my own blog =P
Finding what to write about
Everyone is on even territory when it comes to creativity of posts and a sustainable 'business model' as a blogger. For me the best solution has been making series. This not only gives a flow of direction I can continue indefinitely, but it also allows me to break clickbait-style topics apart and engineer them into far more valuable and learned posts. More on that later.
Now, I consider myself well-informed in evolutionary biology, but even if I was an expert - which I'm absolutely not - there are no single experts that cover such a vast swath of evolutionary time and processes. This is totally fine. Writing about things I'm legitimately interested or even passionate about is the way to go. In the past I have written about anything from the bugs I find in the bamboo garden below my apartment to crazy celestial objects and obscure island locations. Limiting myself to what I happen to be an expert at would be just that; limiting. So I like to expand to whatever my eyes land on that day.
Once I found my primary topic - for this example, the 'Tree of Life' series - I needed to think of the direction - Writing a timeline from animal to animal, historical events, genetic variation? there are many ways to approach the subject. In the case of this series, I use an interactive tree for reference. and follow the tree down the line from the beginning of life to modern humans, making a new post whenever a significant branch breaks off. If I wanted to do this forever, I could always change topic and split off earlier to reach any other modern animal in the same way.
Finding the knowledge
To start off, I might use Wikipedia as a reference of terminology, or I might use personal experience in the case of the Chinese Pseudoscience series, it all depends. Google is also my friend here, but my best friend so far has been Google Scholar. There are plenty of other sources to access academic content but for the most part, Google and Scholar suffice for the Tree of Life series. Others, like my 'New Discoveries' series required me to dig much deeper, even personally emailing authors for more information on their current projects.
So last week I was looking at eggs and how they changed to adapt to land-based hatching rather than depending on water to survive. Where do I go from here? Well, I use the interactive map and get zooming. We were last looking at Amniotes:
The next part here is of course mammals but I notice here that the monotremes - Egg-laying mammals - break off here. This makes total sense and I might want to write about this moment before moving on to Therian Mammals. A quick google takes me to the wiki page Theria, which I will quickly brief over. I'll try to find a point of interest here or on Google, and if nothing comes through, move on to a later part of the branch.
In this case, I found a few things:
- Key proteins called syncytins
- The coracoid bone
These are where I can start digging further. Another Google takes me naturally to more academic sources, but Google Scholar can come into play here, too. As an example search, I came across this, this, this and this.
Some of these might be stuck behind a paywall, others might only offer the abstract and many will be totally open access. It depends. I should note that I make use of the timeline feature on scholar.google because it's always useful and interesting to find the most recent research on a given topic and any controversy and disagreements that come with it:
Using the knowledge
At this point I simply have to get reading. It would be absurd to read the entirety of every paper and search result I come across, so for most research papers I generally read the abstract and then skip down to the Discussion section. This is so I both know what I will be reading about, obviously, but also to find out any flaws in their methodology.
In the case of the third example above, it's a Chinese authored paper which for me raises a big red flag, so it's important to read their personal insights of limitations but also to read more carefully into the whole paper to see if anything fishy sticks out.
Once all this is done, I'll read in depth the sources I decided were fully useful to me, or I'll google for some more. I might even google some clickbait journalism on a discovery on the topic. Anything of any quality is a good place for a jump start. Looking at this topic, I might read more into the placenta; a seriously complex system that, in my head, seemed to evolve from nowhere. This is a gap in my knowledge I want to fill up.
I should have a pretty good picture of where I'm actually going to go with the article at this point, whether it's the the development of the placenta, the separation of marsupials, both or neither. Whichever way I decide, once a theme is established, I can then dig even further and repeat the above process with Google and Scholar if necessary.
On the chance that this isn't enough for a full post (unlikely), I'll just move through the tree, or in the general sense, move to what might have been the next episode and join it into one. No harm in that.
Usually images are just a tool to break up the text into easier chunks, but sometimes they need specific images from particular researchers. This is where I am forced to either email them and wait a day or so for a response (Always yes so far), or do a crude drawing of my own (Rarely had to do that, thankfully). As long as people get the point, it doesn't have to be some superb rendition from some famous artist called Giovanni in the mountains of Tuscany.
It's likely that I've made a total mess of the structure of the post by this point. It took me the longest time to realise I can actually go back and edit whatever I've written, even delete entire paragraphs if I've gone off on some pointless rambling tirade. I'll typically aim to wrap it up at about 1,000 words, but this isn't a hard rule, sometimes it's 800, other times 1,400. It depends.
This is also the point where I might already give myself a good idea for where I should go in the next week's post, having researched already up to this point. Sometimes I'll drop a note at the end as a cliffhanger, but really it's so I can go back to that post and remind myself of what I was gonna do.
How long does it all take?
I'm not really sure to be honest... There was a time where it would take a solid 12 hours or a couple of days to make a post far worse than what I produce nowadays. I tend to juggle the post between other parts of my day and I don't typically start at a consistent time - though usually at night. I suppose a post that takes around 3 hours is likely going to be a pretty decent post for me. I don't rush or pressure myself to get it done, I think that's the most important thing.
I have to think in terms of sustainability. I love doing this and so I don't want to make myself bored or stressed about something I love. I learnt this from Roger Federer, now a 36 year old tennis player yet again ranked no.1 or 2 in the world, depending on when you look. He learnt to sustain his passion for decades.
Hope this helps
I am not @gandalf, and thus my abilities as a writer are not on par with wizardry, so perhaps others in steemSTEM would like to write a post on their processes. Programming, maths, physics, geology, history, people who write about their profession, students, I imagine all of these will have totally different ways of writing posts. It'll be good for users who are trapped in a cage of copying Wikipedia or WebMD to get some healthy ideas from pro SteemSTEMmers.