Stand out writing
Ten tips for engaging readers
If you want to be noticed as a school or individual, the skill of writing for publication is of growing importance. Andy Homden has ten ideas to help you engage an online audience.
1. Think about your audiences
Who are you writing for? This will profoundly affect what you say and how you say it. As a writer involved in education you will have a number of potential audiences (note the plural). Common audiences for educational writers are:
- Fellow educators – teachers, TAs, teacher trainers, school leaders
- Prospective parents
- Teacher trainers
- Educational thinkers
- Governments and leaders
- The local community
- The media
Be aware of your target audience and write with them in mind.
2. Look for “the trigger”: listen to your inner voice
Getting started is the hardest thing about writing. You need to look out for a “trigger” that, when found will compel you to get underway. Heighten your own awareness of your surroundings. Don’t just walk from room to room – use your senses. What is happening? What are people (children, teachers, parents, gardeners, dinner ladies, security personnel) saying and doing? Have conversations and attend meetings in which you listen rather than speak. Analyse how your perception is affecting you intellectually and emotionally (particularly emotionally). Take notes, record events, observations, thoughts and feelings – they could become that future “trigger”!
Do your thoughts and feelings contain the germ of a story? Can it be connected in some way to your teaching? If so, pick it up and run with it!
3. What is the story?
You will frequently have a multitude of ideas which you will want to share in a single story. Resist the temptation! Articles on line ideally should not be longer than 750-850 words as they are mainly read on mobile phones. Distil out the main story you want to tell, and tell that one. Save the others for later!
4. Break the story up
There are many different types of story, but the simple plan is to have a beginning, middle and end. Start with your “trigger”. What have you noticed? What made you notice? Next examine what it suggests to you, exploring your thoughts and feelings. Finally, return to your trigger, reconnecting your ideas with the observation that set them off.
It’s important to break up your story with subtitles. You’ll see this in all good journalism, whether online or in print.
5. Write as a journalist
Your own style will evolve as you explore what interests you. But if you are used to writing academically (for your dissertation?) or formally (letters to parents?) you will probably have to “loosen up” a little. Identify the journalists that interest and engage you and use their tricks of the trade. (Matthew Syed, Jim Alkalili and Gary Silverman are my current favourites). Read them. When writing, don’t be afraid to break a few rules of grammar, but do be careful about your spelling, punctuation, ensuring clarity and economy of expression.
6. Pictures and titles
A good “feature image” is essential. This is the picture that appears at the top of the article. You may have taken it yourself, or found one online. You have to be careful, though: you cannot use copyright images without paying, even if you find them on line. Go to tools/usage rights/labeled for reuse for images you can download or look in WikiCommons, Pxhere, Pexels, Pixabay, or Unsplash for free images. You can also subscribe to Shutterstock or iStock for more options.
Under the feature image write a short, memorable title, often a journalistic play on words. Cultivate the skill of writing titles!
7. Develop your editing skills
Writing is a bit like acting – it needs directing, advice and sometimes a change of direction. If you are working in a group, help each other by making suggestions about how the article might be changed to enhance its appeal. Brainstorming or mind mapping gives everyone a chance to contribute and lets the creativity flow.
Then, the most frequent need is for shortening an article: what are the most important aspects you need to keep and what can you afford to loose? The most valuable support an editor can give is about the story. Does it come through clearly? Is the focus right? Does the language need tweaking? Be supportive and considerate – but also firm! By becoming an editor, you become a better writer.
8. Share your story
Finding a platform for your story is crucial. Writing is about sharing educational ideas. If you start your own blogsite, and if blogs are shared on social media you can reach a wider audience. Individuals can join relevant Facebook Groups to share ideas and articles.
You can take things a stage further by sending your work to an online vehicle such as Edutopia or International Teacher Magazine – and ultimately to a magazine such as the TES. They are all on the lookout for good copy!
9. Start an on-line magazines
Schools are becoming increasingly aware of the need to cultivate their digital profile, especially for the purpose of recruiting both students and teachers.
By starting your own magazine section on the website, you can showcase learning and the school community in a completely different way, demonstrating the authority and good practice of your learning community at work – and at play.
10. Practise, practise, practise
There is no better way to learn how to write for on-line publication than by doing it. Only by practising will you become the best writer that you can be. If you help others out by editing their pieces your writing will also benefit.
Feature Image: Pixabay