Writing the Ed-Tech List Article


The two top questions writers hear often include, “Where do you get your ideas for articles?” and “How do you have time to write?” For example, at a recent gathering of technology directors, someone walked up to me and asked, “How did you take notes and format them so quickly on the web?”

These simple questions are the foundations of new articles that allow me list the qualities of a wiki. For example, such an article would immediately mention that:
  1. Make your web site a wiki so you can edit and add to while online anywhere without special software (like Dreamweaver or Frontpage); 
  2. Allows other people to add content so that more than one person can maintain the content; and 
  3. Choose the wiki you need based on your criteria.
With those 3 points, an educational technology list article about wikis in education is easy to write. Charles Main shared the idea of a list article in The Handbook for Magazine Writing. He shared that the list article is designed to solve problems, present information and otherwise help the reader. This makes it perfect for education technologists to use to share their stories of success. I hope you’ll follow the suggestions in this article and submit your own to some publication.

HOW-TO WRITE THE LIST ARTICLE
The list article is my favorite article write because it is so simple. Here are the steps I follow:

1. When writing an article for publication, I start out with an engaging question, quote, or scenario.
2. A list of follow-up questions off the main topic (these are the ones that get answered)
3. A short summary conclusion or make the conclusion the final question.

1) ENGAGING QUESTION/QUOTE/SCENARIO
Here are a few examples of engaging questions, quotes, scenarios I’ve used in the past for my education technology articles, including some from the Download a la Mode series featured in TechEdge, a series of articles that answers the essential question for educators—what free stuff is available and out there?

“Your support in Technology,” shared the Human Resources Associate Superintendent in an email, “is the reason that we are able to realize these initiatives. Thanks so much for your help.” Of course, she was referring to the Clerical Assessment Battery (CAB), a screening program for new job applicants to the District. It’s implementation would save the Human Resources Department time in assessing clerical job applicants. Read the rest online at http://tinyurl.com/4cymy8

As a chief technology officer or director of technology, probably one of the toughest challenges you face isn’t keeping up with the technology, but rather understanding how to leverage it for your organization. While in the past, we were limited by the occasions that served as “learning experiences,” in the 21st century, learning isn’t restricted to a special event bound by time and place. We don’t learn just when sitting in a meeting, or at a conference or from 8:00 to 3:30 PM when school is in session. Today, we have the potential to tap into a flow of conversation, a web-based learning ecology, that we can learn from 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Read the rest online at http://tinyurl.com/ywfzy2

“I can’t wait for my mobile phone to ring. And, if they don’t call me,” shares one beleaguered principal trapped in a principals’ meeting, “I call them as I walk out pretending that I’ve received an all-important ‘Please deliver us!’ call from my campus.” Like a child playing an online action game at CartoonNetwork.com, principals roll from problem to problem, guns blazing, from meeting to problem to meeting.

“So, what new software,” I ask myself some late evenings, “is available out there for free?” Over the last few months of research, over 51 software programs have jumped out at me, 92% are free (or, if you prefer, 95% of Windows programs mentioned here are free, as opposed to 75% free Mac programs). On the Windows side, you could get by with free tools and not purchase a single program. On the Mac, purchase depends on what your needs are, and, Macs come with many free software tools already (e.g. iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie). Also, you won’t need all 51 or more software programs depending on your platform, needs, or choices. You have a few choices to pick from!

“The thief broke in, stole my computer, my USB external drive,” the potential identity theft victim began, “and now I’m worried that my unencrypted bank account files, my social security number and health information…my whole life is out there on the Internet being shared among thieves.” If you have not considered this scenario, then you need to. How do we protect computer data against unauthorized use?

“What do you mean I can’t install software on my desktop computer when I want to?” asked Charlie. “You mean, I can’t just download software and install it? What if I need it with my students?” It’s not an uncommon question. More and more school districts are placing restrictions on the rights of teachers to select and install software they view as relevant to classroom needs and/or instruction.

As you can see, I start each of the articles with some question or quote, usually a real quote I’ve heard from someone or that has come to me via email. What an easy way to jump into the questions that need to be answered. Another neat approach is to incorporate into the response of each follow-up question a short scenario. Example follows below in the response to this next follow-up question.

2-LIST OF FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS
Writing a list of follow-up questions—the list—is also pretty easy. In preparing for my Download a la Mode series, I often use my bookmarking tool to note great programs that are worth using and can solve specific problems for user questions that I read about or hear.

Often, the source for questions comes from casual conversations with people I connect with during the work week, as well as the hundreds of emails that drop into my inbox. I’ve been augmenting my access to questions by reading a variety of blogs that also share solutions without problems. From that point, it’s easy to make my own connections and I usually write about them in my Around the Corner blog, which is an education-centric blog.

Here are a few follow questions on the subject of Download a la Mode:

How do I uninstall a program on my Macbook so that ALL the preferences and settings are gone?
How can I easily combine PDF files without Adobe Acrobat Professional?
How can I turn turn a USB Flash drive into a Mac OS X diagnostic, repair, and maintenance tool?
How do I run a Windows programs on an Intel Macbook?

As I shared in the previous section, a winning technique is to include a mini-scenario for each follow-up question. So, in response to the question, Where can I find an easy to use staff appraisal tool for my handheld computer?, I wrote the following mini-scenario (which is adapted from a true quote):
“When I do a staff appraisal,” shares Suzanne, a district level appraiser for a large Texas school district, “I walk into the classroom, pick out a spot, take my legal notepad, draw a line down the middle, and start writing. It’s not until I get back to the office that I start pulling the notes together, doing the reflection needed, to do my appraisal.”
By including these mini-scenarios to the top of my response for an individual follow-up question, I’ve noticed more reader (and editor) engagement for the article overall. Generally, including more people quotes makes a difference.

3-SUMMARY CONCLUSION OR CONCLUDING QUESTION
As much fun as a list article is to write it’s also fun to bring it to a close. Here are some of the ways I’ve ended other list articles; note that each bullet represents a conclusion to a list article:

Wishing can be a dangerous experience for handheld computer implementation in your district. As administrators, we seldom have the time to seek out what we need. If the Palm Handheld Computer will not work for us the way we need it to, we may choose to go back to the old way of doing things. Yet, the power of “I wish” can also transform how we do our work, if only we can realize the benefits we wish for.

Next time you find yourself sitting in a meeting, and someone says, “Hey, when you get back to the office, find out what’s been done about this,” you won’t be limited to a simple affirmative. Instead, email your secretary and find out what IS happening and report back to the group. Or, keep your inbox clear as you multi-task your way through a meeting. Even more so, you can share data with students and teachers. All the data is in the Palm of your hand, and data-driven administration is what it’s all about these days.

While some see the use of encryption tools like those discussed in this article as the recourse of the paranoid, remember that identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States. If you are a victim of identity theft, you may spend an average of 607 hours and at least, a $1000, in clearing your name. Make sure that your computer is not one of the sources of confidential information. Protecting yourself online is as much a digital literacy as being information literate. Pass it on!

One of my favorite quotes — which came to me via Mark Wagner — is, “He who learns from one who is learning, drinks from a flowing river.” I hope you’ll continue to learn every moment and share that learning via the list article with others. The rewards are infinite.

CONCLUSION
Remember that the list article format can be used for almost anything—article to be published, email, summary meeting notes—and is adaptable to ANY subject you might want to share about. What is even more thrilling about the list article is that you can write anything and use writing you have published elsewhere as examples, exactly like I’ve done here.

Give it a try, won’t you? Share back and let me know what you’ve done.


References
Image Source - http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/photos/uncategorized/2007/08/31/list.jpg


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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

Comments

Terry Freedman said…
Great article, Miguel. I've thought about writing a similar how-to article myself, which would be different to yours, but I want to spend more time savouring yours!
I love the way you've gone into such depth, with some really good examples. You're absolutely right about the opening 'hook': Stats vary, but it's fairly well-established that most people only spend 5 to 8 seconds on a story before reading further or moving on. It's why, of course, newspapers always put the meat of the story in the first paragraph.
In explaining how you make your posts such a great read, you've written an article which in itself is highly readable and valuable. Thank you.
Miguel said…
Terry, thanks so much for the feedback! When I first read about the list article, I knew I'd struck gold. The formula approach to writing made cranking out articles easy and fun, and I've been doing it ever since...almost 20 years! I'm not sure I know how to write any other way.

I would definitely welcome a how-to article from you! It's always fun to see how others approach article writing and I have no doubt I'd learn from someone as prolific as you!

With appreciation,

Miguel Guhlin
Terry Freedman said…
Blast! I suppose now I will HAVE to write my own how-to write article!

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