How to Write
This page demonstrates how to practically implement the guidelines for writing new blog entries provided under another page titled “Join the Conversation.” If you’d like to see our thoughts on “what kinds of issues” you can write about, the page titled “What to Write” provides some suggestions.
For the purpose of illustration, let us pick one of the entries on this blog in which the writer, Davi Reis, has (consciously or not) implemented the guidelines provided and written a blog-like essay.
First, this blog entry is within the word limit of 2,000 words (the body of the essay is 1945 words, to be precise). The length of your entry will depend on your writing style, the nature of the topic you are writing about (or the need to do justice to the nature/complexity of the topic), the need to provide background, etc. However, please revise/edit your draft to trim down unnecessary sentences, details, and words. Entries that are as short as 500 words look perfectly fine if they do justice to the topic. The genre/type of your writing may also influence how long your essay is. A teaching tip or a classroom anecdote may be a few hundred words long, whereas a discussion of a broader educational issue challenge may be closer to maximum limit. The length of Dr. Reis’s entry feels right because even though it is close to maximum length, there is depth and breadth in the content and the writing is concise and has a good pace.
Second, the author provides a personal take on a professional, ELT issue. He does include scholarly references and discussions, but he doesn’t let that make his blog entry sound like a typical journal article, or worse, a textbook chapter. Blogs, including blog-zines like this, are not the best places to publish heavily academic articles, because most readers are interested in learning and discussing issues that they can quickly read about, respond to, and network professionally. The author uses simple, straightforward language, without theorizing or presenting abstractions in academic jargon. The language fits the convention of blogging as well.
Third, because his essay is close to maximum length, his use of section is very helpful for more accessible and quick reading. He starts by giving us his personal anecdote, then he goes on to introduce the problem, a fallacy. Then he moves on to reminders (where he uses a numbered list), before concluding with calls to action, or rather practical ways to tackle the challenge. Because he uses citations, there is a references section which (as it is the standard) only includes the sources that he actually cited. If you’d like to suggest anything other than what you cite for readers, you should add a separate section called “Suggested (Further) Readings.”
Fourth, as we indicated in the guidelines, this piece is original–both in the sense of not being published elsewhere and in the sense of a fresh new idea (hopefully, for most of our readers). More importantly, though, the author takes a stance on the subject that is his own, on top of providing insights from his personal experience of the issue in his profession.
Fifth, the online sources used in this article are hyperlinked. Please notice that these sources are not listed in the References section. Please also notice that the writer uses relatively few print sources. We highly encourage writers to cite online sources where authentic materials (especially if readers can quickly access and skim them) are available. Please try to limit the number of print sources, because especially in Nepal it is not easy to access databases or find some books locally. In any case, blogs and blog-zines are not the best places to use heavily scholarly and especially print sources; we assume that readers who may be reading the blog for research/study purposes will be only a small minority.
Sixth, the essay is written in an interesting style. One of the features is thesis-driven writing, which we can see clearly if we focus on the first/introduction paragraph. The writer starts the essay by first identifying the issue (anxiety… reflecting on the sources of our professional insecurities). Then he tells us that he is going to use his personal experience as an example in order to share with us some reminders (somewhat theoretical issues), strategies (for addressing the issue), and resources for challenging the native speaker myth implying that we, meaning nonnative speaking teachers of English, are by default professionally inferior. This kind of “preview” of the rest of the essay in the introduction section can be very, very helpful to readers. We know what the writer is going to do and also how.
Another major element of style (which we also see in the introduction) is conciseness. The writer does not take the time to get to the issue. He presents it very quickly and briefly. In fact, he uses footnotes in order to avoid slowing down the pace of reading and losing focus on the issue. When you write for this blog, and indeed any blog, please skip elaborate backgrounds; in fact, introductions should not only be short but also to the point. It is extremely easy to lose your reader during the first 30-40 seconds or so. Today’s readers are far less likely to be reading your writing sitting under a tree during a weekend than to be reading it on a laptop computer, before they must respond to another email, and/or while Facebook messages are popping from another tab that’s open on their browser. So, please, jump start with your main idea, preview your key issues, and make your perspective clear right away.
One more major element of style in the example we’re using here is the use of subsections. The essay is long because there are many sections, but as we said above, the sections are as brief as possible. For example, look at the personal anecdote section and you’ll see that the author tells a whole story in a few sentences. This is because the anecdote is a means to a larger end, to highlight a problem and suggest solutions. So, the other sections are proportionately longer. Among other elements of style, notice the use of clear connections/transitions, explicit reinforcement of main ideas when concluding sections, use of lists, speaking directly to the reader (see the end), and as already mentioned, the use of hyperlinks, footnotes, etc.
Seventh, the subject matter of the essay is relevant and current. The issue of teachers’ linguistic identity, its attendant politics, and how NNESTs should address the challenges is a hot one. It is relevant to most of our readers in Nepal. The author is from the state of Pennsylvania in the US, but it seems that when he was asked to contribute this blog entry for Choutari, he thought about the audience of the blog and what may be worth their time. The topic is also not too broad (the professional legitimacy of NNESTs) and the author further focuses on an argument/suggestion, which is that these teachers should fight the good fight.
Eighth, as we’ve discussed under different themes above, the blog entry is interesting to read. Interest is a function of not just style and voice but also relevance, focus, pace, reader engagement, materials used (examples, anecdotes, links to external sources, questions, and useful resources), and so on. Needless to say, these are not the only ways to make your writing interesting; but please keep the audience of the blog in mind and use some strategies that you believe will make your writing interesting to the readers. You can show your draft to a colleague, and you can also send a draft version to the editors via nelta choutari at gmail dot com and ask for feedback. Instead of simply demanding high quality by using the terrible traditional tool of rejection, we encourage members of the community (especially those who are less experienced with writing for venues like this) to use the process of publication as an opportunity for honing their writing skills as well. So, please read other writers’ entries as well as reading the guidelines and illustration here, but please do not hesitate to seek support.
Finally, the essay is professional in content and presentation. The author uses a relatively informal style, talking more or less directly to the reader The essay is well edited. By that we don’t mean that you should write in a native or native-like English (now that would be a khattam suggestion while we are using a sample blog entry which is about the myth of nonnative speakers’ professional inferiority!). But it is important to edit your writing for clarity and professional standard. It is okay to use somewhat spicy language when that suits the context and message, but generally we encourage you to write in a friendly but professional language and tone. By the way, the same applies for comments.
Did we miss anything? Please add in the comments section.
NOTE: Please submit your draft at least three weeks in advance of the next month’s publication (first of the month) at nelta choutari gmail dot com. FYI: The article we used for illustration was submitted five weeks in advance.