Blog Your List of FAQs with @Evernote and @Postachio #PostachioEd

Note: This continues my series on Evernote and Postach.io to impact teaching, learning and leading. If you decide to get an Evernote Premium account, I hope you use this referral link.
Image Source: http://goo.gl/SI5SqC

At a team meeting last summer, my kind co-workers asked, “Where do you get your ideas for your blog entries?”  Perhaps they feared they were the source. In truth, we all learn something every day and if we share just one of those each day, we would soon have enough content for a never-ending book (also known as a blog).  I suspect that most people don’t write because they identify with the statement and the implied question, “It takes me weeks to put together a memo, much less even think about blogging a few times per week. How do you do it?” In this article, you’ll learn two things: 1) How to write your own article; and 2) How to publish. We’ll cover the latter first because it has become so easy.

WHY WRITE?
You might as well ask, Why breathe? The act of sharing is a human activity. Sharing can involve writing list articles, but it can also involve clipping pictures off the web, articles, and more and making them available online. Many of us have profound life lessons about being a student, an adult, a learner that we can and should share with the world. 

The question is important because learning to write non-fiction, to share informational text is critical for most grade 6-14 students and adult learners. Let’s be honest, writing to inform, to share research information or our experiences, can eat up our time. Wouldn’t it be great to have a formula for cranking out informational writing—emails, memos, short blog entries, articles, flyers, handouts and tutorials? Improving your productivity while shortening the time it takes to write something is always sought after. You’re not writing a doctoral dissertation, after all. 

My eureka moment came when I opened The Handbook for Magazine Writing and read Charles Main’s piece on Writing the List Article. It was an article at the back of the book, only a few pages long. Of all the chapters in that book, this article resonated with me. He shared that the list article is designed to solve problems, present information and otherwise help the reader. This makes it perfect for anyone 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. 

But I’m going to go one further than Charles—take advantage of the free tools in this article—Evernote and Postach.io—to make list article composition, authoring and sharing easy. After all, while Charles Main had to publish his article in a book of articles, you can create a blog and start publishing immediately!

HOW I GOT STARTED
Recently, someone walked up to me and asked, “How did you take notes, adding an audio recording and a picture, then publish it so quickly on the web?”  We were at an education conference, my iPad and I in the front row. While other people were thinking about their next session, I was enthralled by the presentation students creating content on their iPads. I snapped a few pictures of the big screen, of the presenter, and wrote up my notes. When I tagged the information ready to publish, it published on the web, automatically being sent to Twitter, and Facebook. 

While there are many tools for the job—and I’ve used most, if not all of them--these can be complex and hard to use. Even when they are easy, they involve you learning ONE MORE THING. Why not learn one more thing that you can use many times over throughout your life?

ONE MORE THING TO END IT ALL
Learn how to use Evernote Notebook and Postach.io for collecting information, shaping it into something useful, then sharing. Here are the 3 steps you can follow to get started.
  1. You will need to create a free Evernote account then a Postach.io blog account; 
  2. Start typing and sharing content—including text, audio, images--into the Evernote Notebook using the web-based interface; this enables you to edit and add to while online anywhere without special software. Evernote also has an app for your computer and each of your mobile devices (e.g. Android, iOS); 
  3. Share your unique Postach.io web address/URL (e.g. http://mguhlin.postach.io) with others via social media, or email.
An optional 4th step—and it’s entirely your choice—is to sign up for an Evernote Premium ($50 per year) account, you can invite others to add content to your Notebook. This will allow others to edit and modify content. I would definitely do this if I were working with a team or had a class of students.
Now that we have the “how-to publish a blog”—wasn’t that easy?--out of the way with Evernote and Postach.io, we can move on to the real fun, which is how to write the list article.

HOW-TO WRITE THE LIST ARTICLE

The list article is my favorite article to write (in fact, this blog entry is a list article) because it is so simple. Here are the steps I follow, honed after 100+ published articles following this formula or some variation thereof:
  1. Start out with an engaging question, quote, or scenario.
  2. Develop a list of follow-up questions (e.g. frequently asked questions are a good source of these kinds of questions) off the main topic. For maximum effect, you will want to develop an engaging quote, or scenario for each question before offering a short, pithy solution.
  3. Conclude with a short summary or end with the final question that references how you started the article.

1) START WITH AN ENGAGING QUESTION/QUOTE/SCENARIO

As a columnist for a published magazine and blogs, here are a few examples of engaging questions, quotes, scenarios I’ve used in the past.  Can you identify problem in each that seeks to engage with a quote or scenario?
  • "Miguel," a dear friend and colleague asked me, "have you read the new superintendent's book?" At my blank stare, she pointed to the purple book in her hand entitled, 5 Temptations of a CEO"Oh," I responded, "Yes, I have. But have you read the other 5 books he's proposed the Cabinet read?  "No," she replied. "There's more? Unfortunately, there was. While I wasn't asked to read the books, I read them. In the end, it didn't matter because while my friend and I were ready to adhere to the principles of the books, no one else--including new leadership--was. The end result? Hypocrisy.  Read more.
  • “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. Read more.
  • "I'm desperately unhappy in my current position. Would you write me a letter of recommendation? wrote a friend.  If you've had to write a letter of recommendation for a colleague, then you know the challenges involved. It must be articulate, quickly unearth the treasure that the prospective employer can seize and spend to the benefit of the organization, as well as provide subtle direction on the best uses of a person's skills. Writing such a letter can be difficult. In this blog entry, you'll find a simple formula I follow.  Read more.
In each of article, 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-DEVELOP A LIST OF FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS

Writing a list of follow-up questions—the list of frequently asked questions—is also pretty easy. In preparing for writing an article, I often do some quick research. My goal is to find content that has quotable quotes I can include in the article. The search takes approximately 10-20 minutes and I use Evernote Clearly to highlight and save notes on great stuff I can include. Everything goes into my digital “writer’s notebook."

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 keep a special notebook for a friend who is constantly sending me questions (she’s a professional development facilitator who encounters scenarios and fields questions from adult learners). I’ve been augmenting my access to questions by reading a variety of blogs, email lists that also share solutions without problems. From that point, it’s easy to make my own connections and I usually write them up in my 
Around the Corner blog, which is an education-centric blog. Often those blog entries end up, depending on their topic, in other publications. The reason I recommend that YOU start a blog in Postach.io based on Evernote is that this will increase your exposure. More exposure usually translates into more pay when editors are looking for content to share with their readers.
In my article on What CTOs Should Get Fired for, I developed a list of what they should be terminated for. Each of the items on this list can be developed with a scenario. Here is one of those, but you can find the complete list online:
  • CTO failed to anticipate the next big thing or passed it off as something evil to leadership when other districts are clearly embracing it.
As I shared in the previous section, enhance this item with a mini-scenario. It might look like this:

Reason #1 - The CTO pretended that a new technology innovation was evil to District leadership to avoid implementation.
“In conclusion,” Mark Zorin said, “We shouldn’t use GoogleApps for Education because it exposes our critical data to the cloud, will certainly result in FERPA violations, and we won’t be able to archive staff or student email."

You can see that there are several false statements in this scenario, this real quote which flows from something a CTO actually said. In fact, the whole statement is false. Yet, because the assertions are so outrageously wrong that this quote serves as the perfect lead into this follow-up question on What CTOs Should Get Fired For

In response to the question, Where can I find an easy to use staff appraisal tool for my mobile device?, I wrote the following mini-scenario:
“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 each individual follow-up question, the reader is more engaged because the problem is relevant and real. And, like my Dad would say, “When I open something to read, if it doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, I don’t bother reading it.” 

3-CONCLUDE WITH A SUMMARY OR QUESTION

Ending a list article can be easy. Here are some of the ways I’ve ended other list articles; note that each bullet represents a conclusion to a list article:
  • One of the key components of writing is sharing and publishing. While there are many tools for organizing our writing, Evernote + Postach.io make a winning combination for enabling students and teachers. Specifically, it enables them to pull back the veil between that moment when ideas arise from the chaos, when those ideas are shaped and informed by information, then blended into a draft of non-fiction writing. Making this living, ever-changing draft of writing, updated as it happens, available online makes Postach.io a critical tool.
  • 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 your mobile device, 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!

CONCLUSION

Remember that the list article format can be used for almost anything—a blog entry, a memo to your boss or your team, an 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. If you use Evernote and Postach.io, then you can do it all quite simply in one place.

About the Author
As a lead learner of learners in K-12 public schools, Miguel Guhlin (Twitter: @mguhlin) encourages adult learners to engage in reflection on teaching, learning and leading in educational settings. He is most happy when helping others cross the digital divide via transformative, technology-based experiences. You can read more about those experiences at his blog, Around the Corner-MGuhlin.org - www.mguhlin.org


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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


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