3 Tips for Writing Online Instructional Posts

Happy New Year to one and all! It’s 2017. How will this year be significant for you? Each year serves a marker in some way. For some, 2017 will be their first year of teaching. For others, it may their twenty-fifth year in the field. As for me, 2017 will mark my tenth year teaching online.

When I think about my earliest online experiments as a teacher, I have to smile and forgive myself. There was so much to learn and discover. The funny thing is that even now I know the learning is far from over. Every time I start a new project, I end up learning something new.

Whether you do the majority of your teaching online or in a traditional classroom, you must be making use of online tools in some way. In 2017, the choices of digital tools are numerous, so there’s variation in our practice, but it’s safe to say that teaching with technology is the norm. The challenge beyond selecting good tools and platforms is to make sure we’re establishing and following good practices. Perhaps you share posts within a private Facebook group. Maybe you tweet a study tip for present and past students following you. Some of us have favorite apps we use for quizzes. In short, a little or a lot of our time is spent creating some form of instructional posts.

What tips can you offer for writing quality online instructional posts? I’ll start the list. Please feel free to add to it.

1) Visual appeal is key. It’s not just a matter of giving eye candy, but the right photo can make a post more memorable. A well-constructed infographic can make it easier to internalize the main points.

  • When I post on Facebook, I sometimes turn to Pixaby for a powerful image. Pixaby offers free stock photos that are in the Public Domain and even appropriate for commercial use. The links allow for easy use on social media, so no downloading is necessary.
  • When I tweet my “Daily Pic” on Twitter, I sometimes use Phonto to add a quick arrow to focus attention on a particular object.

2) Formatting is important. Frustration online can surface when I experience any kind of limitation. For example, I wish Facebook made it easier to do basic formatting, like boldfaced letters, but then again, that’s where adding photos/images can help.  I only started my activity on FB last year, but it took a few months before a student taught me that I could hit Shift + Enter to get a line break. I had been copying and pasting from a Word doc to get the line spacing I wanted! In short, learn what your formatting tools are on each platform and make use of them.

In more recent months, I joined a free educational community called Simor. I appreciate having more options for my online posts there. One thing I’ve tried to do is use consistent formatting from post to post. For example, when I share academic vocabulary, I present the information in a certain sequence and use the same formatting to highlight key words, examples, etc. I think this makes it easier for those following me because they learn to recognize all the elements that go into this particular kind of presentation.

3) We should welcome proofreading buddies. On Facebook and Simor, I’ve had fellow teachers spot typos in my recent posts. They kindly alert me, and then I rush to fix them. I return the favor when I can. It’s quite common to miss mistakes in your own writing, but see them immediately in others’ work. I like the ongoing support we give to one another this way. It increases the community atmosphere. I’ve also given my thanks (and kudos) to students who have spotted typos in my texts, comments, or video captions.  

I’m sure there are more best practices we can add to this list. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned from experience.

Photo credit:

DSC00228 (Oct. 22, 2010) by Andrew_Writer. Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

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