#10 will shock and appall you…
Here are 16 best practices we try to follow as writers on this blog. Many of them stem from two key factors: one, people online now have the attention span of lint, and two, search engine algorithms are really picky about what they deem “quality content”. And you want to keep people reading all about the amazing work going on in your schools!
So let’s jump right in with those guidelines.
1. Use short paragraphs and short sentences. As of 2015, when we’re online, we officially have less of an attention span than goldfish. Goldfish: nine seconds. Humans with multiple browser tabs open: 8.7 seconds.
2. Break up blocks of text with images or videos. It’s the attention span thing. You can reset your reader’s attention span by letting them off the hook on reading. Let them relax their eyes looking at something that’s not text, along with some restful white space.
3. White space is your friend. For both print and online reading, human eyes like white space. It’s a nice way to rest your eye muscles as you consume a large amount of text.
4. Use frequent subheadings.
Even if a reader’s skimming your post, at least they’re still reading.
5. Feel free to write Listicles. (We know, we know, but it’s a term recognized by the AP Stylebook.) They take less time to consume than actual articles and are super popular.
6. Bold key terms. A lot of your readers are skimming. We’re guessing right about now you yourself have started skimming to see what other items are included in this lovely reference guide. Don’t lie; we’re just excited you didn’t run off to check twitter. But bold terms make it possible to skim lists in a way that’s similar to what subheadings do for regular articles.
7. Don’t ever do the clickbait thing with lists. You know the thing I’m talking about: where you promise N things about a topic, and assure the reader that [thing N-minus-five] “will shock and appall you…” For one, search engines have totally caught onto this and it lowers your overall quality assessment as a resource. But for two, it’s gross.
8. End your blogpost with a question to spur reader reflection. This works especially well if you frame the question in such a way that you explicitly invite the reader into a conversation with you. Say you’ve just written a kick-butt post on 16 ways to incorporate live snails into content units. A great way to end that post might look like: “What are some ways you’ve used snails to liven up your content?” You’re inviting readers to tell you their stories.
9. Create a connection with your reader by addressing them directly in the second person. (“You’ve tried every trick in the book to keep students engaged. Well, here’s something you might not have tried: clowns.“)
10. Stick to one topic per blogpost, and feel free to go deep with it. Blogposts can quickly get out of hand if you try to address too many topics or ideas at once. Remember, you can always create a series of thematically linked blogposts.
11. Use active voice. Do not let yourself get used by passive voice.
12. Feel free to take and include screenshots. Rubrics and lesson plans are great for breaking up long screens full of text. Even a Google Doc makes a nice screenshot for teachers who would really love to get their hands on those rubrics and lesson plans.
13. Present your information independent of media type. Not everyone watches videos. Not everyone listens to audio pieces. The default internet stream is still text, with multimedia adding to the information presented in the text. So if you bring in a video, make sure you’re summarizing the relevant information in the video in your text. Not just:
“Watch the video above and notice what Katy says at the 3:10 mark. Powerful!”
For everyone who skips videos, the information is lost. In a case like this, you’d probably want to take the quote, type it up, and set it as a blockquote.
14. If you link to a document that’s not a webpage, indicate what it is in parentheses after the link. No one likes surprise downloads. Example: How Excited Are You For The New Year? An Exercise for Teams (.pdf)
Now, we realize you’re just skimming at this point, but if you take only two things from this page, it should be this:
15. Be nice
16. Practice accessibility
Nice means inclusive and respectful. The Sum of Us (.pdf) is a wonderful comprehensive guide to intersectional, respectful and inclusive language use. We all try to avoid language that negatively reference people’s ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, economic backgrounds, physical ability and citizenship statuses. But we’re all carrying implicit, unpacked biases, so it’s useful to have touchstones and to just keep niceness present.
Accessible means that our readers should be able to access all our content regardless of physical ability. Writing for screen readers, transcribing audio and captioning videos is an equity issue. It’s also an issue when we’re choosing what types of examples, links and other media to include with our posts.
Accessibility also includes other less well-known strategies, such as:
- Don’t use color to indicate semantic differences. (“Click the red button for flexible pathways, and the green button for flexible classrooms.”)
- Include three or four words in your links. This way visitors using motion-support devices can easily move to your link.
- Maximize the difference between text and background colors. Black text on a white background always works. White text on a black or dark background works for very short pieces of text. Pale pink text on a medium orange background is illegible to pretty much everyone.
- Use alt-tags. Alt-tags are descriptions of images that are read out by screen readers. They’re fairly crucial.
- Twitter has a built-in screen reader tool. So if you include a photo or image, you can write a quick description of it for screen readers. Here’s how to turn that feature on.