Edutopia gives everyone the ability to share their secret sauce--the things they do to make student learning come alive -- by letting them contribute community posts. We even share the best of these posts with our audiences on Facebook and Twitter.
There's an art to writing good community posts though, which is why we want to share our secret sauce. Follow these tips and you'll find that your posts will be read more often and the likelihood that they'll be shared will go way up.
1. Know Your Audience
The community at Edutopia is diverse and includes educators of varying experience across a range of grades and subject areas. Also included are parents, policy-makers, researchers, and anyone else who has an interest in improving education.
The one thing that all these people have in common is that believe they can make a difference in the lives of students. As a result, they appreciate posts that are positive, helpful, and solution-oriented.
That doesn't mean we can't talk about serious issues or the challenges in education; just that when we do, we offer potential solutions to address them. Ranting, apathy, helplessness, and despair are counter-productive to our collective efforts here.
2. Get People's Attention Right Away
On the Internet, most readers will only give you 5 to 8 seconds to catch their interest before moving on. It's crucial therefore to get to the meat of the story as quickly as possible.
Introduce the topic succinctly. If you have to, tell people the benefits to be gained, but then move on. Don't bury the lead and don't make the reader dig for the post's substantive points.
Something we see frequently is an author using their introductory paragraphs to "write their way" into a piece, but all that does is create delay. If you can delete your first few paragraphs and not have it affect the substance or meaning of the post, then do so.
Also, don't try to hold onto readers' attention for too long. People are likely to be reading on their mobile phone, so hold the dissertation for another day and aim for 800-900 words.
3. Be Substantive, Tell a Story
The best writing is personal. It draws on your experiences and the experiences of those around you. The challenge then is to find a way to be substantive, to tell your story, and to say what you need to say within those 800-900 words. It helps to be concrete and use real-life examples.
Other ways to be substantive include:
- Lists and bullet points
- Offering a unique idea or perspective
- Fact checking and not making unsubstantiated claims
- Linking to additional resources (but be careful of self-promotion -- it's not allowed in our community guidelines)
4. Have a Voice, but Avoid Writing Gimmicks
Strive for clarity above all else. As noted earlier, the community is diverse, including many for whom English isn't their first language.
Certain writings techniques -- like word repetition, asides, and posing questions -- can be powerful tools. They can also be gimmicks when overused, so don't rely on them. Speak your truth, as honestly as you can, cut what's extraneous, and that'll be more than enough.
This tip also applies when writing titles. Resist the urge to pick an artistic, dramatic, and/or obscure title, even if it connects to something important in the piece. Not having read your work in advance, the readers won't make the connection. Instead, all they'll see is "A Rose from my Garden" or "What Would He Say Now."
The odds of someone clicking on either of these is slim, and for good reason. A title is how you introduce yourself to the reader, and they don't promise the reader anything.
Here are two better examples: "Redesigning a Middle School Classroom for Special Needs" and "Two Important Guidelines for Planning Your First Edcamp." Notice how upfront they are about what they offer?
So, to sum up: clarity first, style second.
5. Proof Before You Submit
Edutopia’s community posts are self-edited, so be sure to take the time to look over your work and fix any misspellings or grammatical errors. Better yet, have someone else look it for you. Their fresh eyes will help.
This tips applies whether you're a novice or experienced writer. I've been writing for twenty plus years, and I still appreciate it when a friend or colleague checks my work.
Bonus Tip: Join the Conversation
Publishing your community post is only the first step in its life. The real action happens afterward, when the readers interact with it and you. Join the conversation, and you'll find that your work will come to life in ways you didn't expect. Often, it's where the real learning -- for both author and reader -- happens.
You can get started writing community posts for Edutopia using the Start a Discussion tool.
For more general help about blog writing, I recommend How to Write Great Blog Content from ProBlogger.