I would like to write engaging summaries/discussions of research papers in my field for non-specialists. These summaries/discussions would be posted on my personal website. The original article, authors, and journal would be transparently and prominently cited.

The objectives are two-fold:

(1) To improve my communication skills, specifically the effective communication of complex ideas.

(2) To develop more traction for my own work in specific and my area of work in general [I am an early career researcher].

Is this an acceptable and encouraged practice? Specifically, are there any cautions I should take to avoid copyright violations or ruffling feathers?


This is certainly acceptable. It is probably a good way to practice your communication skills.

Unless it is really well done and turns out to be useful for others I think it unlikely that it will develop much traction for your own work.

The only downside might be using too much of your time on this instead of that work.

If you carefully cite all the sources you use and don't cut and paste large chunks of words you are unlikely to ruffle feathers or encounter copyright problems. You should ask before reproducing images.

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    Thanks, the point about spending too much time is well-taken. – AppliedAcademic Mar 15 at 7:10

One person who is very well known for communicating difficult technical subjects is Richard Feynman. He wrote a book on QED that was intended for non-physics folks. It's a classic. But note, he wrote it after he did the Nobel-earning work on the subject. He wrote several books on various aspects of physics from a personal point of view, semi-biographical, to detailed technical stuff.

He did lots of other teaching material for non-specialists. He wrote a book called Six Easy Pieces about (Surprise!) six ideas from physics. And another Six Not-So-Easy Pieces. And nearly ever undergrad in physics is pushed to read The Feynman Lectures on Physics.

His remarks on these books included the idea that they were some of the hardest work he ever did. And, that he was never satisfied with the job he did, especially for the students who read his lecture series. Maybe it's because he was very far out on the curve of expert knowledge and capability. He may have been feeling frustrated that he could not get everybody up to his level.

But they did get him a huge following and popularity.


Along with the good advice in other answers here, cautioning about spending too much valuable time on this, let me suggest:

Know your audience.

If you want to write for a particular audience, spend some time trying to understand what they already know and are interested in.

There has been some discussion here recently on the Curse of Knowledge in which one person fails to take account of the knowledge of another in some conversation and "speaks past them".

It may take a while to find that level of discourse that satisfies both you and your readers, but it may also be a valuable thing to do if you want to eventually teach at the university level.

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