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Celebrating Five Years of Inquiry

Birthday cake with the word "Inquiry" atop

Inquiry is growing up! According to WebMD, at this stage of life, Inquiry is more independent, confident, and creative. Its language skills are expanding, its vocabulary growing, and it’s better able to express its feelings. For example, Inquiry would like its audience to know it is “thrilled to be five!” and once it learns to read and type on its own, it will not need any more help from Kevin Coss (its most prolific writer).

Well… maybe that’s not such a good idea? More likely we will continue to monitor Inquiry’s growth and development as we strive to deliver the University of Minnesota’s most relevant and interesting research stories.

Launched on June 9, 2014, Inquiry rose from the ashes of two previous blogs produced by the Office of the Vice President for Research (one aimed at a business audience, the other focused on research) to better promote research and innovation systemwide and more broadly.

So, after five years, what have we learned?

There’s A Lot of Really Cool Research Happening at the U

In the years since, we’ve had the opportunity to explore research across many of the centers, institutes, colleges, departments, and campuses at this University. At a rough count, that amounts to 422 published posts, exploring everything from the tiny bacteria in our gut to a startup company that removes invasive carp from our waterways to the detection of gravitational waves that confirm Einstein’s theory of relativity.

These stories offer a glimpse into how University researchers are working to grow our understanding of the world and develop new technologies that improve our quality of life. Inquiry is our way of showing the U of M’s research mission in action, highlighting how U research brings people together in new ways, fosters discoveries, and, ultimately, makes our world a better place.


Image of stars swirling into a black hole
iStock / gremlin


Sharing is Caring

Thanks to our many communications and research partners across the U who share our stories through their websites, newsletters, and social channels, our blog and newsletter readership has continued to grow (averaging 50 new contacts a month and a total of 6,618 subscribers at last count), expanding our reach and affirming that Inquiry is well-adjusted and still developing.

Sometimes crazy things happen, like the day when our story about the U’s 10.5 Tesla MRI magnet went viral (largely due to one Facebook post with 150+ comments and 974 shares) and received 9,000 page views in one day, March 12, 2018, and then 7,000 on March 13, and 2,000 on March 14.


Give Pop Ups a Chance

For our small publication, the magnet story bump was an exciting event, though we realized after the fact that despite all of this new, outside traffic to our blog, we had no really good way of capturing these potential subscribers. In addition to making some other tweaks to our engagement strategies, we promptly created a pop-up form for new visitors to the site. (Yes, a pop-up form!) And now we are capturing many more of those new visitors (about 30 percent of our new subscribers come from the pop-up form) and building our external audience base. Currently, a little less than a third of our subscribers are external to the U. We’ll be curious to see if that grows next year.


We Need (and Appreciate!) Your Help

We appreciate how many great story ideas we receive from our readers. While we try to stay on top of all the latest research news, it’s hard for us to know about everything that’s going on. So, if you have a story idea that seems like it would be a good fit for Inquiry, and in particular has a focus on interdisciplinary or systemwide research, we’d love to hear it. We can’t always use every story idea, but we appreciate knowing about new and exciting research endeavors nonetheless.  

We have had several contributing writers over the years, in addition to our own Kevin Coss, though Deane Morrison, U of M writer-at-large, carries special status as not only one of the best and most creative writers on science topics for a general audience, her story on why autism strikes mostly boys has the distinction of having the second most page views of all time on Inquiry (after the large magnet story).

To be sure, we’ve learned many other valuable lessons during the five years we’ve published Inquiry, including the value of covering timely and hot topics, the importance of using high quality, eye-catching images, and the importance or targeting specific channels and affiliated interest groups for extra distribution oomph. And, we hope to keep on learning and getting more mature as we find new audiences for stories about U of M research and discovery.

In the meantime, thanks for reading Inquiry. We hope you’re enjoying exploring U of M research as much as we are.

Erin Dennis

Erin Dennis

Erin is assistant communications director for the Office of the Vice President for Research.

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