Weeknote 38/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #275 was entitled ‘Face facts’. A reminder that all the links for the newsletter (and more!) go out via the Thought Shrapnel Live! channel on Telegram. High-fives to those who have become valued supporters.
  • Recording and releasing Episode 87 (‘About Face’) of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast, which I record with Dai Barnes. This was the first episode since July and so this week we discussed what we got up to over the summer break, why you shouldn’t unlock your phone with your face, student uniforms and tuition fees, productivity, the future of work, and more!
  • Spending time thinking and talking about something I can’t announce just quite yet. Exciting, though!
  • Researching and writing a research report on technology-enhanced teacher professional development for the Education Development Trust with Sarah Horrocks from London CLC.
  • Attending the first meeting of the local Scouts Executive Committee in the role of Secretary. I’m going to try and bring them into the 21st century a bit.
  • Working with Totara Learning continuing to work on the vision and strategy for their community migration project. I spent time on things like putting together a community survey, meeting with the project team, and putting together a draft code of conduct.
  • Hosting this month’s Badge Wiki barn raising, which I’ll be writing up soon. Things are going pretty well, and it’s great that people are so willing to step up to help build a knowledge base for the Open Badges community! Check out what we discussed here.
  • Writing:

This weekend, I’m helping with the Scouts expedition (map reading, etc.) Next week I’m working from home on Monday and Tuesday morning, mainly on London CLC-related stuff. Then I’m heading down on the train to Brighton to work with Totara. I’ll be working from their offices on Wednesday and Friday, spending Thursday in London at Learning Pool Live.

Upcoming travel in October:

  • Barcelona (3rd-8th)
  • Geneva (9th-10th)
  • Brighton (18th-20th)
  • Gozo (24th-31st)

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology. If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Photo of a page of The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, which I picked up for 10p in a charity sale as it was falling apart. Excellent story, highly recommended.

Digital myths, digital pedagogy, and complexity

I’m currently doing some research with Sarah Horrocks from London CLC for their parent organisation, the Education Development Trust. As part of this work, I’m looking at all kinds of things related to technology-enhanced teacher professional development.

Happily, it’s given me an excuse to go through some of the work that Prof. Steve Higgins, my former thesis supervisor at Durham University, has published since I graduated from my Ed.D. in 2012. There’s some of his work in particular that really resonated with me and I wanted to share in a way that I could easily reference in future.

In a presentation to the British Council in 2013 entitled Technology trends for language teaching: looking back and to the future, Higgins presents six ‘myths’ relating to digital technologies and educational institutions:

  1. The ‘Future Facing’ Fallacy – “New technologies are being developed all the time, the past history of the impact of technology is irrelevant to what we have now or will be available tomorrow.
  2. The ‘Different Learners’ Myth – “Today’s children are digital natives and the ‘net generation –they learn differently from older people”.
  3. A Confusion of ‘Information’and ‘Knowledge’ – “Learning has changed now we have access to knowledge through the internet, today’s children don’t need to know stuff, they just need to know where to find it.”
  4. The ‘Motivation Mistake’ – “Students are motivated by technology so they must learn better when they use it.”
  5. The ‘Mount Everest’ Fallacy – “We must use technology because it is there!”
  6. The ‘More is Better’ Mythology – “If some technology is a good thing, then more must be better.

The insightful part, is I think, when Higgins applies Rogers’ (1995) work around the diffusion of innovations:

  • Innovators & early adopters choose digital technology to do something differently – as a solution to a problem.
  • When adopted by the majority, focus is on the technology, but not as a solution.
  • The laggards use the technology to replicate what they were already doing without ICT

In a 2014 presentation to The Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills (TULOS) entitled Technology and learning: from the past to the future, Higgins expands on this:

It is rare for further studies to be conducted once a technology has become fully embedded in educational settings as interest tends to focus on the new and emerging, so the question of overall impact remains elusive.

If this is the situation, there may, of course, be different explanations. We know, for example, that it is difficult to scale-up innovation without a dilution of effect with expansion (Cronbach et al. 1980; Raudenbush, 2008). It may also be that early adopters (Rogers, 2003; Chan et al. 2006) tend to be tackling particular pedagogical issues in the early stages, but then the focus shifts to the adoption of the particular technology, without it being chosen as a solution to a specific teaching and learning issue (Rogers’‘early’ and ‘late majority’). At this point the technology may be the same, but the pedagogical aims and intentions are different, and this may explain a reduction in effectiveness.

The focus should be on pedagogy, not technology:

Overall, I think designing for effective use of digital technologies is complex. It is not just a case of trying a new piece of technology out and seeing what happens. We need to build on what is already know about effective teaching and learning… We also need to think about what the technology can do better than what already happens in schools. It is not as though there is a wealth of spare time for teachers and learners at any stage of education. In practice the introduction of technology will replace something that is already there for all kinds of reasons, the technology supported activity will squeeze some thing out of the existing ecology, so we should have good grounds for thinking that a new approach will be educationally better than what has gone before or we should design activities for situations where teachers and learners believe improvement is needed. Tackling such challenges will mean that technology will provide a solution to a problem and not just appear as an answer to a question that perhaps no-one has asked.

My gloss on this is that everything is ambiguous, and that attempts to completely remove this ambiguity and/or abstract away from a particular context are doomed to failure.

One approach that Higgins introduces in a presentation (no date), entitled SynergyNet: Exploring the potential of a multi-touch classroom for teaching and learning, is CSCL. I don’t think I’d heard of this before:

Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is a pedagogical approach where in learning takes place via social interaction using a computer or through the Internet. This kind of learning is characterized by the sharing and construction of knowledge among participants using technology as their primary means of communication or as a common resource. CSCL can be implemented in online and classroom learning environments and can take place synchronously or asynchronously. (Wikipedia)

The particular image that grabbed me from Higgins’ presentation was this one:


This reminds me of the TPACK approach, but more focused on the kind of work that I do from home most weeks:

One of the most common approaches to CSCL is collaborative writing. Though the final product can be anything from a research paper, a Wikipedia entry, or a short story, the process of planning and writing together encourages students to express their ideas and develop a group understanding of the subject matter. Tools like blogs, interactive whiteboards, and custom spaces that combine free writing with communication tools can be used to share work, form ideas, and write synchronously. (Wikipedia)

CSCL activities seem like exactly the kind of things we should be encouraging to prepare both teachers and young people for the future:

Technology-mediated discourse refers to debates, discussions, and other social learning techniques involving the examination of a theme using technology. For example, wikis are a way to encourage discussion among learners, but other common tools include mind maps, survey systems, and simple message boards. Like collaborative writing, technology-mediated discourse allows participants that may be separated by time and distance to engage in conversations and build knowledge together. (Wikipedia)

Going through Higgins’ work reminds me how much I miss doing this kind of research!

Note: I wrote an academic paper with Steve Higgins that was peer-reviewed via my social network rather than in a journal. It’s published on my website and Digital literacy, digital natives, and the continuum of ambiguity. I’ve also got a (very) occasional blog where I discuss this kind of stuff at ambiguiti.es.

Photo by Daniel von Appen

Weeknote 37/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #274 was entitled ‘Great running’. I send out all of the links for the newsletter via the Thought Shrapnel Live! channel on Telegram. Many thanks to those who have become valued supporters.
  • Bracing myself for Autumn. Someone flipped a switch on the weather and it’s been cold and rainy in Northumberland this week.
  • Working on a research report for the Education Development Trust with Sarah Horrocks from London CLC.
  • Starting to plan upcoming co-op work in Washington D.C. for the Inter-American Development Bank with Bryan Mathers.
  • Catching up with Dai Barnes after a summer break for the TIDE podcast. We’ll start recording episodes again next week.
  • Curating and sending out Issue #17 of Badge News, a newsletter for the Open Badges community.
  • Putting together a bullet-point overview of my presentation for the ALL DIGITAL Summit in Barcelona next month. I’ve given it the TED-style talk the title Future Infrastructure, Future Skills, Future Mindsets.
  • Working with Totara Learning on the vision and strategy for their community migration project. This involves me working in Confluence and JIRA a lot, tools both made by Atlassian. I notice they’ve launched a Slack competitor in the form of Stride, which I’ll hopefully be testing with them soon.
  • Writing:
    • (nothing public)

Next week is a rinse-and-repeat of this week — I’m at home all week, working on the EDT report Monday/Tuesday, and then with Totara from Wednesday to Friday.

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Photo taken on my run along Morpeth bypass on Tuesday morning.

Weeknote 36/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #273 was entitled ‘Sycamore Gap’. There are now 50 people signed up to Thought Shrapnel Live! and using Telegram to receive links as I come across them. You can also become a valued supporter.
  • Hanging out with my kids before they headed back to school this week. There were celebrations and activities around the Tour of Britain cycle race, which pretty much went past our house!
  • Celebrating being married to my wonderful wife, Hannah, for 14 years.
  • Deleting all of the tweets I’ve sent over the past 10 years. I explained why in this post.
  • Catching up with Bryan Mathers about some work we’re doing in Washington D.C. on behalf of We Are Open Co-op in November for the Inter-American Development Bank.
  • Spending a lot of time getting to grips with JIRA, putting together a list of project risks, and experimenting with the admin interface relating to some work I’m doing with Totara Learning.
  • Dismayed that Salesforce seem to be trying to patent digital badges. We’ve begun to crowdsource prior art on Badge Wiki.
  • Accompanying my children who ran in the Mini and Junior Great North Run respectively. I’ve only recently started running again myself (I don’t seem to get migraines afterwards any more) so perhaps next year I’ll enter either the main Great North Run or Great North 10k!

Next week I’m doing some work for London CLC on Monday and Tuesday, and then working with Totara Learning from Wednesday to Friday.

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Photo taken by me as the Tour of Britain came past the road near our house in Morpeth.

Tools to help you with your blog post

This is part of a series. In the following, I cover some tools you might want to use when planning, writing, and editing your blog post.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watch other people write, and reading what people have written about how they write, it’s that everyone writes differently.

Bloggers rock

One way of thinking about this is through rock formation. Bear with me. Remember at school you learned there were (broadly) three different types of rock?

  • Igneous — formed when volcanic lava cools
  • Sedimentary — formed from the repeated deposits of sediments
  • Metamorphic — formed by transforming existing rock through heat and pressure

Writing can be a bit like this too. Some writers sit down in a burst of frenzied activity and their writing is the result of that volcanic eruption.

Volcano gif

Others lay down words day after day after day to get to a point where they’re happy. Still others have existing stuff that they’ve worked on, but after a burst of inspiration it turns into something else.

While all writers can write in different ways at different times, it’s good to know what kind of blogger you tend to me. I, for example, tend to be an ‘igneous’ blogger. I like getting everything down in one go — as I’m doing now with this post. That doesn’t mean things are stream-of-consciousness, as often the post has been rattling inside my brain for a while.

Choosing your tools

The reason this discussion about blogging styles is important is that it has an impact on the tools you use and the ways you use them.

The three tools I recommend most often to people are:

There’s a whole list of blogging tools on the Buffer blog.

Interestingly, although I recommend these three, the only one I actually use on a sporadic basis is Hemingway. It’s a great way to spot things your high school English teacher pointed out, such as when you over-use the passive voice.

The other two tools help in-line with your blog post punctuation, grammar, and spelling (Grammarly) and planning (Workflowy).

When it comes down to it, though, the tools you need for writing a blog post are either in your blogging platform or are ones you probably use every day. You need a version history: that’s built-in to WordPress as well as into tools such as Google Docs (and Draft). You need a spellchecker, that’s built into web browsers and word processors. You’ve got pretty much everything you need already!

Getting graphical

What people often miss when putting together their blog post is the importance of showing rather than telling. If a picture paints a thousand words, then a labelled screenshot is worth even more — and what about a two-minute YouTube video?

It’s easy to default to words when you’re comfortable in that medium and can type quickly. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes, however, and think about what’s the quickest line from what’s inside your head to what you want to be inside theirs.

Three tools/resources that can help up the graphical content of your blog post are:

These are examples of types of applications that should be in your toolkit.

For example, I’ve included Unsplash because you don’t have to credit the author of the photo you use to illustrate your post, although they make it easy to do so. You can discover many more Creative Commons-licensed images here.

Although I’ve long been a fan of the Awesome Screenshot browser extension, the latest versions of Firefox have a new screenshotting tool which is incredible. Try it!

Firefox Screenshots

Finally, the weirdly-named LICEcap allows you to create animated GIFs of areas of your screen. Once you start doing this you’ll begin to realise how incredibly useful it can be. I’m sharing this in the knowledge that most people who read this post will use Windows or macOS. If you’re on Linux, like me, try Peek.


Use blogging as an opportunity to experiment with different tools and approaches. Your focus should always be to convey something to the reader, and experimentation will help you with ways of doing that!

Photo by WOCinTech Chat used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Why I just deleted all 77.5k tweets I’ve sent out over the last 10 years

Earlier this year, when Twitter changed their terms and conditions, I resolved to spend more time on Mastodon, the decentralised social network. In particular, I’ve been hanging out at social.coop, which I co-own with the other users of the instance.

Today, I deleted all 77.5k of my tweets using Cardigan, an open source tool named after the Swedish band The Cardigans (and their 90s hit ‘Erase/Rewind’):

Yes, I said it’s fine before
But I don’t think so no more
I said it’s fine before
I’ve changed my mind, I take it back

Erase and rewind
‘Cause I’ve been changing my mind

Why delete all my tweets? Because I’m sick of feeling like a slow-boiled frog. Twitter have updated their terms and conditions again, and now this service that used to be on the side of liberty is becoming a tool for the oppressor, the data miner, the quick-buck-making venture capitalist.

I’m out. I’ll continue posting links to my work, but that’s it. Consider it an alternative to my RSS feeds.

Deleting my tweets was a pretty simple process: I simply downloaded my Twitter archive and then upload it into Cardigan. This enabled me to delete all my tweets, not just the last 3,200.

The upside of doing this is that I could take my Twitter archive and upload it to a subdomain under my control, in this case twitter.dougbelshaw.com. All of my tweets are preserved in a really nicely-searchable way. Kudos to Twitter for making that so easy.

In addition, I realised that deleting my Twitter ‘likes’ (I’ll always call them ‘favourites’) was probably a good idea — all 31.4k of them. They’re not much use to me, but they can be data mined in some pretty scary ways, if Facebook is anything to go by.

I used Fav Cleaner (note: this service auto-tweets once on your behalf) to delete my Twitter likes/favourites. It’s limited to deleting 3,204 at a time, so I’ve left it running on a pinned tab and am returning to it periodically to set it off again. I may need to use something like Unfav.me as well.

To finally do this feels quite liberating. As a consultant, I often point out to clients when they’re exhibiting tendencies towards the sunk cost fallacy. In this case, I was showing signs myself! Just because using Twitter has been of (huge) value for me in the past, doesn’t mean it will be, or in the same way, in future.

Postscript: at the time of writing, Twitter’s still showing me as having tweeted a grand total of 67 tweets. However, it seems my timeline actually nly features one tweet; something I retweeted back in 2016 — and can’t seem to un-retweet. I think it’s oddly fitting:

Ready to make the jump to? I’m happy to answer your questions, I would love to connect with you on Mastodon. I can be found here: social.coop/@dajbelshaw.

Weeknote 35/2017

This week I’ve been:

Next week I’m looking after my children on Monday as it’s their last day of the summer holidays and my wife’s got a teacher training day. I’m working from home on Tuesday doing some research for London CLC, and then with Totara Learning from Wednesday to Friday.

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Photo taken by me as we walked along Hadrian’s Wall from The Sill to Sycamore Gap.

Deciding what to write about in your blog post

This is part of a series. In the following, I cover some of the things you should consider as you think about what to discuss in your blog post.

Usually, when people ask me about blogging, they ask me about one of two things. They either wonder where I find time to write, or how I find things to write about.

Where do ideas come from?

I’m a bit like the novelist Henry James in thinking that ideas for writing surround us. They’re in the air,  sparked by conversations, things we read, and thoughts we have. Almost always these writing ideas are prompted, which means that if you want to improve the rate of your outputs, the easiest way to do so is to increase the rate of your inputs. Read more. Have more conversations. Spend time walking and thinking.

Ideas come from other ideas, as Steven Johnson notes:

When it comes to the nitty-gritty of writing, however, I came across some fantastic advice shared in a wonderful book by Anne Lamott entitled Bird by bird: some instructions on writing and life. In it, the author, who runs writing classes as well as writing works of fiction and non-fiction, writes:

 “E. L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

Just start writing. Many blog posts I’ve started writing have morphed into something completely different. I often start with a title and the subject I want to write about. By the time I’ve finished my first draft, I have to completely change the title because what I’ve written bears no resemblance to what I set out to write. And that’s OK.

There’s nothing new under the sun, so it’s probable that someone’s written a blog post similar to the one you’re planning to put out into the world. That doesn’t matter. The world’s interested in your perspective. What have you noticed? How did that thing turn out when you applied it to your situation? Why did this idea remind you of something else you’ve experienced?

Contributing to the wider conversation

You never know what effect you’re going to have on a reader until you put your thoughts out there. I can remember being encouraged at church when I was younger by hearing that people need to be evangelised to six or seven times before they’re ready to engage. The same is true of brands trying to make a sale. You don’t know where people are on their journey, and you’ll never know (unless they tell you) what effect your writing will have on their life.

Think of your writing as part of a the wider tapestry of the web. You’re providing a thread that other will weave together into a more complex whole. It’s worth noting, to quote Anne Lamott again, that, at least until you’ve got into your blogging groove, your first drafts are likely to be terrible. Lamott suggests recognising and celebrating the fact that no-one will ever see these ‘shitty first drafts’:

“All good writers write [shitty first drafts]. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. . . I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts.”

The upside of this is that you’ll have an insight into the trials and tribulations that other writers, bloggers, and essayists go through in order to get just the right word or sentence formation to convey their meaning. You’ll be more likely to share and comment upon good writing. In turn, seeking out that quality writing will have an impact on your own.


If you’re sitting there with the cursor blinking in front of you or a vast white expanse of emptiness to fill, then tighten the focus. I can’t find the exact quotation, but I think it’s in Bird by bird that Lamott talks about describing a particular scene in as much detail as possible.

While she’s talking about fiction-writing, Lamott’s advice is useful for any kind of writing. Focusing in on a particular aspect of the thing you want to talk about helps get you started, helps get you some of the way towards finishing that ‘shitty first draft’ that you can then build upon.

Again, just get started. If you feel like something’s on the tip of your tongue, literally write gibberish using your pen or keyboard until the words come. The brain is wonderful at self-correcting when it sees something that’s wrong. If what you see in front of you is different from what’s latent inside your mind, often the right words come tumbling out. Try it!

Photo by WOCinTech Chat used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Putting your blog post into the world

This is part of a series. In the following, I cover some of the things you should consider as you put your blog post out into the world for others to read. This includes discoverability, commenting, and following-up.

According to one source, over two million blog posts are published each day. Some of these are personal in nature and will be read, and are intended to be read, by a very small audience. Meanwhile, some of these blog posts are written by paid staff and are meant to be read by as wide an audience as possible. The latter is often known as content marketing.

Content marketing means attracting and transforming prospects into customers by creating and sharing valuable free content. The purpose of content marketing is to help the company to create sustainable brand loyalty and provide valuable information to consumers, as well as create willingness to purchase products from the company in the future. This relatively new form of marketing usually does not involve direct sales. Instead, it builds trust and rapport with the audience. (Wikipedia)

You might be reading this and thinking ‘content marketing doesn’t apply to me’. I want to persuade you otherwise. Like it or not, people will use your writing as a way to think about you as a person.


Your blog posts will turn up when people use a search engine to find out more about you. This means that you’re in the game of reputation management. While you’re not neccessarily “attracting and transforming prospects into customers” the whole point of you writing the post is to inform, engage and/or entertain and audience.

Although some people (including me!) still use RSS readers to get updates on news that interest me, most people these days come across things via social networks. Unless you are actually blogging on behalf of a brand, the chances are you won’t have the time, patience, or inclination to post to every possible place where you could promote your work.

Instead, focus in on what you’re trying to achieve, and select the places you’re going to prioritise. For example, I don’t have a Facebook or Instagram account, and have long since given up on Google+. As a result, every time I write a new post, it goes straight away to:

Then, at the end of the week, I include the posts I’ve written in my weeknotes, as well as in my newsletter.

Although I’ve experimented with auto-posting to social networks, I’ve gone back to doing so manually. Each one has a certain ‘grammar’ to it and, well, it just seems obvious and a bit tone-deaf when people auto-post. It’s best to do it in a more organic way, I’ve found.

Remember that many social networks will auto-preview your blog post with at least the title and image you’ve chosen to accompany it. Make sure these tell the story (and/or give the vibe) of what you’re trying to get across.


Mainly as a result of the explosion of social networks over the last decade, I’ve found that it’s become less and less likely that people will leave a comment directly on my posts. Some people use plugins to allow Facebook to power their comments section. Some people do without a comments section altogether. It’s entirely up to you.

What I’d advise is that you should be intentional about the ‘call to action’ (as it’s known) that you provide. If you want people to leave a comment, then say so — and suggest what it might be about. For example: “I’d love your thoughts on whether comments sections are a good or a bad idea”.

Unless you decide to turn off comments, you’re going to want some kind of moderation system in place. Most these days allow you to hold comments by first-time commenters in a queue for you to review. Once they’ve proved they’re not a spam bot or a troll, you can let them post directly to the site.

I know others have had problems with commenting and, while as a straight white male in a developed country I’m speaking from a position of privilege, I’ve never had many problems with comments on the web. If people step out of line, tell them so. It doesn’t happen very often at all.

Most people who read your blog post won’t comment at all. Some who do comment won’t do so on the post itself, but give their thoughts, or frame it as they share it with their networks. Again, make sure the your title is both specific and generic enough to do the work you’re asking of it.


Once you’ve sent your blog post out into the world, don’t just expect it to fend for itself. Support it! Nurture it!

There are multiple ways of doing this. For example, given that most people pay attention to whatever’s in their social network feed at a given moment, you might consider re-posting it a few days later. Again, there a plugins that do this, you can schedule it, or just do it in a spontaneous fashion.

Another way of leveraging the work you’ve put into the post is by citing it in a follow-up post. Use it as a building block. As you’ll no doubt have already seen, this post that you’re reading is part of a series on the same topic. That’s a great way of pointing to an emergent body of work.

Finally, don’t be shy about making people aware of your work. You’ve written your blog post(s) for a reason, for an audience. If you think someone, or someone’s network, would benefit from reading it, then tell them! You can also drop in hashtags or post to particular groups.

Remember with the latter example, however, that an important part of blogging is reciprocity. That doesn’t just go for citing and linking to other people’s work within your post, it also goes for pointing to other people’s work on social networks. You scratch their back, and their more likely to scratch yours…

What have I missed? What would YOU add to this? Let me know in the comments section below, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Mastodon!

Photo by WOCinTech Chat used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Sitting down to write a blog post

This is part of a series. In the following, I cover some of the things you should consider as you sit down to write a blog post such a structure, style, and citing other people’s work.

1. Consider your reader

It’s a bit meta, but this is what my editing window in WordPress looks like as I type this:

WordPress editor window

The first thing to think about when writing a blog post is your reader. When you’re starting off, it can be difficult to know your audience so, instead, have a particular person in mind and write for them. If it’s a professional blog it might be a colleague. If it’s a personal blog it might be a friend. It’s up to you. But write for real people.

This means that your reality isn’t the editor window you see in the screenshot above, but the finished blog post. As such, check what you’ve written looks like several times before (and after!) you hit ‘Publish’. You can see the ‘Preview’ option at the top-right of the screenshot. Use it.

Note: if what you’re writing about is particularly important, or a sensitive topic, you might want to share what you’ve written with someone else first. In those situations, I’ve found writing in something like Google Docs is an easier way to elicit comments before copying-and-pasting into whatever blogging platform you use.

2. Write like a journalist

When I was 14 years old, I wanted to be a journalist. A couple of weeks on work experience at a local newspaper put paid to that idea, but there’s several things that have stuck with me as I explored that potential career.

There’s a particular style of writing that journalists are good at: getting to the point. The first paragraph of what you write should sum up for the reader what you’re going to cover. If that doesn’t come naturally, then internet culture has come up with a useful get out of jail free card: TL;DR.

TL;DR, short for “too long; didn’t read”, is Internet slang to say that some text being replied to has been ignored because of its length. It is also used as a signifier for a summary of an online post or news article. (Wikipedia)

You can see that I’ve used the TL;DR approach at the top of this post. It’s a useful way of initially scaffolding the reader’s attention.

Another way that journalists’ writing is distinctive is the length of their paragraphs. Keeping them short makes them easier to read. Like this one!

3. Use sub-headings

Even short blog posts benefit from sub-headings. The reason that list-based posts (known as listicles) are so widely shared is partly because you know they’re going to be easy to scan and parse as a reader. You feel you’re guaranteed to get something useful out of it.

Take the post you’re reading right now. Chances are, based on eye-tracking studies, you’ve already scrolled down the page to see how long this is, and the sub-headings have caught your eye. You’ve decided that this is something relevant to you, so have gone into further detail.

Sub-headings are another way of scaffolding your reader’s attention. Let’s not forget that attention is the currency of the web.

4. Link to everything

The fundamental difference between reading on paper and reading on the web is the hyperlink. We take this for granted these days, but it’s an immensely and transformative thing. Not only can you tell your readers about a thing, but you can show it to them!

Already in this post, I’ve linked elsewhere on the web. This can be for several reasons, including:

  • Defining the thing you’re talking about (in case your reader hasn’t come across a particular term before)
  • Backing up the point you’re making (so that your reader knows it’s not just you who thinks this way)
  • Providing further information about the topic (in case your reader is really interested in this area)

If in doubt, provide a link!

5. Credit everyone

If attention is the currency of the web, then recriprocity is the way it obtains its cash value. I cite your work, and you cite mine. The most obvious and easy way to do that is to quote a source and link to it. I’ve done this with the Wikipedia example above.

Another way to do this is when you use images. Every post should have at least one image as including something visual helps readers remember the post, and entices the reader in when sharing beyond your blog.

As you’ll see with the image accompanying this blog post, you can use Creative Commons-licensed content in your own work, so long as you stick to the terms by which it was shared.

So, for example, in this series I’m using images provided by WOCinTech Chat. They make all of their content available under the least restrictive license – CC BY. This means that as long as I say who the image was originally by, I’m free to use it in my work. Etiquette dictates that I also link to the source, as you’ll see if you scroll to the bottom of this post.


I think it’s worth saying that blogging is different to any other kind of writing. It’s wonderful in that respect. Unless you want one, you have no editor other than yourself, and there’s almost an expectation that you’ll add your personality and experiences into the mix.

In this post, for example, you’ve learned that I wanted to be a journalist, that I sometimes write about sensitive topics, and that I’m a believer in (what used to be called) netiquette. As your audience read more of your work, your personality seeps through, meaning they’ll be more willing to comment on your work.

We’ll cover the read/write nature of the web in a future post of this series. Again, it’s something we take for granted these days. You might think that you just want to quickly share something for the benefit of a few people, or are writing because you have to, but I’ve found blogging to be one of the best ways of informing the world of things I care about. It’s a powerful tool.

If you’re reading this without having started a blog, then go and get started! It almost doesn’t matter at this point where you decide to start writing. Unless you’ve been asked to write in a particular place, or really want to delve into hosting your own blog, just head over to WordPress, Medium, or Blogger and get started!

Photo by WOCinTech Chat used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.