Category: Everything Else (page 2 of 39)

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.


Finally…

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.

How to write a blog post

Last month, one of my clients got in touch to ask if I could send them some guidance around writing blog posts. They asked me to include the usual things such as:

  • Structuring a post
  • Making things clear for the reader
  • How to grammar/spell check

They asked me to put together something, which effectively is a couple of sides of A4 paper, for the start of the school term for a team they’ll be working with this academic year.

One of the reasons for my delay in getting started (other than the busiest summer, work-wise that I’ve ever had!) is that, rattling around at the back of my mind, is a series  on how to write blog posts. While it’s important to cover the bullet points above, I think there’s things to say about in situating blog posts within a wider discourse.

Here’s what I’ve written so far:

  1. Sitting down to write a blog post
  2. Putting your blog post into the world
  3. Deciding what to write about in your blog post
  4. Tools to help you with your blog post

I hope it will be of use.


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

My information environment (July 2017)

A couple of years ago this month, I created a page on my wiki to keep track of my information environment. Not long before, I’d written Curate or Be Curated: Why Our Information Environment is Crucial to a Flourishing Democracy, Civil Society for DML Central, and I was concerned to ensure I was getting a rich and varied information diet.

Fast-forward to 2017 and the world is a very different place. So different, in fact, that I’m not so concerned that I’m choosing to read more ‘biased’ stuff. There’s a war of attention going on and, in any case, there’s no such thing as non-theory-laden consumption of information.

I’ve quit Facebook and Twitter, the former completely, and the latter I now only post links to. Consequently, I converse with my friends on Slack, and in a very nice left-wing bubble on the Mastodon-powered social.coop. I’m OK with being partisan at this stage of my life.

So below is my current information environment, give or take a couple of things I’ll inevitably have managed to omit. The wiki page can be found here.

Newspapers

Aggregators

Newsletters

I try out other ones, but these are my favourites:

Podcasts

As with the newsletters, I subscribe to other podcasts on a regular basis, but here are my go-to ones that I wouldn’t want to miss:

Routines

Internet culture

Music


Recommendations welcome! I’m always on the lookout for high-quality sources of information.

Image CC BY Alexander Svensson

Listen to me witter on about co-ops via @VConnecting at #ccsummit

At the Creative Commons Summit this weekend I had my first experience as a participant in a Virtually Connecting session. It included others both onsite and online, but ended up with Laura Hilliger and I spending quite a chunk of time talking about co-ops. We start discussing that around the 8-minute mark.


(no video above? click here!)

Many thanks to our hosts for setting the session up. I’m always happy to answer questions about our work, whether We Are Open Co-op specifically or co-operativism more generally.

Image CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers

Goodbye, Grandma

At almost exactly the same time as I landed in Toronto yesterday, my grandmother took her last breath. She had her son, my father, at her hospital bedside. Freda Belshaw was 93.

Mourning is an intensely private thing, but celebrating someone’s life — as we shall do at her funeral when I get back home — is a more public affair. People process their grief in various ways, and I’m doing so in the only way I know: by writing about it.

My grandma was a matriachal figure, a large presence in any room. She was not someone to be crossed. More than anyone I’ve ever met, she knew her own mind, had definite values, and stuck to them. Apart from the last few months of her life, she stayed in her own home, fiercely independent until finally accepting going into a home for her own safety.

Grandma left school at 14 years of age and, at 15 suffered the dual traumas of her mother dying and the Second World War breaking out. She almost single-handedly raised her younger sister. Marrying my grandad after the war, they lived a happy, working class life in County Durham, where my father was born.

Grandma birthday

She was very proud of my father, her only child. You could not only see it in her eyes when he was around her, but in the way she talked about him when he wasn’t there. They travelled together quite a bit and I was always amazed that she was making trips to the Caribbean right into her late eighties.

As an historian, I’d often ask her about her family, and about experiences during the war, but the subject would quickly change, or she’d say that she couldn’t remember. Freda was not someone to dwell on the past.

I’m sure that over the next couple of weeks, I’ll get some more thoughts together to be able to provide some vignettes and memories for the funeral. Things are a bit raw right now, and I’m writing this with tears streaming down my cheeks.

Goodbye grandma, rest in peace. xxx

How to build an architecture of participation

Back in 2014, when I was still at Mozilla, I wrote a post entitled Towards an architecture of participation for episodic volunteering. I bemoaned the lack of thought that people and projects put into thinking through how they’re going to attract, retain, and encourage the volunteers they crave.

‘Architecture of participation’ is a term used to describe systems designed for user contribution. It’s a term I use relatively often, especially at events and thinkathons run by our co-op. Not only is it a delightful phrase to say and to hear, but (more importantly) it’s a metaphor which can be used to explore all kinds of things.

In my 2014 post, I made some suggestions for ways to improve your project’s architecture of participation. I’ve updated and improved these based on feedback and my own thinking. Based on my experience, to build an effective architecture of participation, you need:

  1. A clear mission – why does this project exist? what is it setting out to achieve?
  2. An invitation to participate – do you have an unambiguous call to action?
  3. Easy onboarding – are there small, simple tasks/activities that new volunteers can begin with?
  4. A modular approach – do volunteers have to commit to helping with everything, or is there a way which they can use their knowledge, skills, and interests to contribute to part of the project?
  5. Strong leadership – do the people in control of the project embody the mission? do they have the respect of volunteers? have they got the capacity to make the project a success?
  6. Ways of working openly and transparently – does the project have secret areas, or is everything out in the open? (this post may be useful)
  7. Backchannels and watercoolers – are there ‘social’ spaces for members of the project to interact over and above those focused on project aims?
  8. Celebration of milestones – does the project recognise the efforts and input of volunteers?

Most of the links I can find around architectures of participation seem to be tied to Web 2.0 developments pre-2011. I’d love to see a resurgence in focus on participation and contribution, perhaps through the vehicle of co-operativism.

If you’ve got another couple of features that lead to a positive and effective architecture of participation, I’d love to hear them. Then this can be a 10-point list! As ever, this post is CC0-licensed, meaning you can do with this whatever you like.


(Image drawn by audience members during a keynote I gave at Durham University in 2015)

Blogging for a third of my life

I was in the midst of presenting to a conference in Australia last Wednesday night when it struck me just how amazing some things are that I consider to be ‘everyday’. There I was, getting praise, pushback, and questions via Twitter in realtime while I presented, lag-free, to the other side of the world.

Similarly, I take for granted my blogs, and the ability to connect to people around the world. When I step back and think for a moment, it’s truly amazing to be able to have an idea one moment, and communicate it to a worldwide audience, the next.

I’ve now been blogging for around a third of my life. In 2005, after some brief dalliances with dajbelshaw.co.uk (no longer available, even via the Internet Archive) I was inspired to start my own blog by reading the work of Will Richardson and others.

This led to a fertile period of blogging at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk from 2005 to 2007. My main focus was on History teaching and related education issues. However, as my career developed, my writing started to cover other areas, so I started a new blog (this one!) to focus on education, technology, and productivity.

Since 2008, my interests have diversified to such an extent that it’s made sense to have several blogs, on different platforms, as well as a newsletter and a podcast. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past 12 years, it’s that most people care too much about intellectual property and not enough about owning their own data.

You’ll notice that, these days, I release almost all of my work under a Creative Commons ‘zero’ license. In effect, this is donating my work to the public domain. It’s not that I over- or under-value my work by doing so. Instead, it’s driven by a desire to spend more time creating than worrying about who’s remixing my work.

On the other hand, I do obsess about the tools and platforms that I use. I try to use Open Source wherever possible which, to my mind, is just a sensible way of investing in the sustainability and longevity of my work. I don’t think anyone should be able to shut down the platform on which I share my stuff. Even on the odd occasion I’ve used a proprietary platform, I’ve at least manged to hook it up to a domain name I own.

Anyway, this was meant to be simply a brief post to mark a milestone. If you’ve been reading my work since the beginning, as I know some of you have, then thank you. For those of you new to my work, there’s a list of the various places I update on a regular basis at dougbelshaw.com.

Image CC BY Amy Gahran

#BelshawBlacksOps16 (Pt.2) has begun. See you in 2017!

As usual, I’m taking December off from social media, personal email, blogging, podcast-recording, and newsletter-writing. You may still see some of my stuff published if I’m doing some work for a client, but that’s it. You can still contact me via my Dynamic Skillset or We Are Open Co-op email addresses, but keep it work-related please.

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to my digital hiatus this year. What a year 2016 has been! I think we’re all suffering from mild collective  PTSD. I’ll be spending December resting more, spending more time with my family, and taking the opportunity to think more deeply about things I’ve put on hold for too long.

If you’ve got some potential work for me in early 2017, please do get in touch before Christmas. I’ve enjoyed helping clients with a whole range of things this year — edtech strategy, digital skills/literacies, Open Badges. I guess, in general, I translate things that could be seen as complicated into things that are easier to understand.

One of the best things to have happened this year is that a few of us founded a co-op called We Are Open. That’s been a ray of sunshine in a year of trouble within the wider world. So my joyful thanks to co-founders Bryan, John, and Laura for keeping me sane.

My biggest thank you, however, is reserved for my wonderful wife, who not only has had to come to terms with the ups-and-downs of me being self-employed over the last 18 months, but has stepped up to do the admin and finances for both my consultancy and the co-op. Thank you, Hannah. You’re awesome.

See you all in 2017! If you tend to celebrate them, I hope you enjoy both Christmas and New Year.

[INCOMING] #BelshawBlackOps16 (Part 2)

In a little over two weeks it will be December. For those who have followed my work for a year or more, you know what that means: I go ‘dark’. No personal email, blogging, or newsletter from me for the entire month.

I’ll still be working, so remain available via my consultancy, Dynamic Skillset, as well as via my We Are Open co-op email address. You may see the occasional article that clients have paid me to write popping up via various channels, too. The important thing is that I step out of the stream for a while, going more ‘read-only’.


While I’ve got your attention, I’d like to give you a quick heads-up that things will be changing with my weekly newsletter. I’ve enjoyed putting together Thought Shrapnel during the last few years, but Issue #239, going out on 27th November 2016 will be the last in its current format.

Why? Well, I’ve currently got over 1,500 subscribers and have attracted sponsorship over the last 18 months, but list growth has plateaued and I’m itching to do something different. If you’re subscribed my newsletter, don’t worry, I’ll let you know what’s coming next. It might involve several ‘pop-up’ newsletters; I’m not quite sure yet.

Also, given how out-of-touch I’ve felt with such a large part of the world after the results of the EU referendum and US election, I may do something fairly dramatic with my use of social networking. I’m unlikely to quit anything completely, but I can envisage unfollowing everyone I currently follow on Twitter and starting again in that regard. We’ll see.

The great thing about disconnecting for a while — over and above spending more time with family and avoiding showing my grumpy side — is that it provides the time to reflect on my current ‘ways of being’ in digital spaces. I always contemplate not coming back at all after my time away but, when I do return, feel that I tend to use technology more intentionally.

Anyway, I’ll be around for the next couple of weeks. Let me know if you need anything before then!

Image by Rodion Kutsaev

3 quick updates

Just a few things to share, briefly:

  1. Workshops — I’m going to be running  at least one workshop on Wednesday 7th December at London Connected Learning Centre. Save the date! More details soon, but the focus will be on digital skills / badges / working open.
  2. Consultancy — One of my clients hasn’t managed to secure the funding to do some work we’d planned before Christmas. That means I’ve got more availability that I expected in the next few weeks. Let me know if I can help! My consultancy site: dynamicskillset.com
  3. Audiobook — I’ve been working on Chapter 2 of #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity. Thanks to those who have given me positive feedback after being an ‘early adopter’ and listening to the first chapter on sleep.

Image by Jungwoo Hong

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