Librarian, LKS ASE
Good communication uses multiple channels. Many of the channels we use, however, require our users to come to us. This includes place-based communications in our libraries, visiting websites or signing up for our social media. Being your own journalist is an addition to your communication toolkit, writing content for professional magazines, journals and websites. This puts information about your service where your users are likely to read it. It isn’t for everyone but if you enjoy writing and can find a story to tell, it could be for you. So here are my top ten tips for being your own journalist to get you started on your writing journey.
One. Have a good story
Not every story is a blockbuster. One of the arts of writing is to make something from small beginnings. A good story might be the appointment of a member to staff to a new role, a new product or project launch/ending or an award or achievement. The beginnings are not as important as the end or the call to action:
• Contact the library if you want to know more…
• This is how we plan to develop X in the future…
• If you want to know more…
The bit in the middle is the narrative that takes you from We did a good thing, to your call to action.
Don’t let your style to get in the way of the story you want to tell. Use short sentences and plain language. Avoid humour, long words, acronyms and jargon. Favour simplicity over complexity. The key is to focus on benefits to the reader not features, explanations or description. Anything that is a barrier to communicating with your reader is a problem. If your piece is reviewed by an editor they will quickly pick up anything that suggests style over substance. If not, be your own critic. A good guide is if you feel yourself being drawn into to a particularly clever sentence or you are overly proud of your prose hit the delete key. Ask yourself: how can I write this more clearly?
Your audiences are typically other healthcare professionals. The tone required is an intelligent conversation between colleagues. Imagine the sort of conversation you might have answering an enquiry. You should maintain this throughout your piece. Don’t over explain points. Your audience is certainly able to join the dots for themselves. Keep it serious and straight forward. Sarcasm, jokes and irony will always land badly with someone. Leave an option for anyone who wants to come back to you and discuss further.
Four. Let other people help you tell your story
Getting other people to tell your story requires you to get quotes from those involved to illustrate the points you want to get across. Your piece will always read better and be more interesting if you can use the words of someone who is affected by the topic you are writing about. How do you get busy people to respond to your requests for comment? What if they respond with something you can’t use? The trick is to write the quotes yourself, using a little imagination to put yourself in their position. Then ask them if they agree with the text and give them the opportunity to make changes. Most people will agree.
Five. Get used to pitching your ideas
It’s not always necessary to do this. Most internal newsletters and communication would welcome 200-300 words of your news to include. Some may email round asking for contributions. An open door if you want to push! For anything that has an external audience you will need to contact the editor to prepare the ground with a brief two or three sentence summary/proposal. This should be a virtuous circle. The more you put yourself and your ideas forward the more you will be seen as a reliable person to deliver content. The two caveats are: 1) that you need to be prepared to deliver and 2) you may have to do this in very short order as deadlines can be very tight, so be ready.
Six. Be one step ahead – have your next writing project ready
One thing can lead to another. If you can deliver a short news piece you may be able to deliver more, maybe another news item, a longer article or a regular column. You need to be prepared for an offer of more opportunities to show your journalistic skills and be able to say yes if you want to. Write down three (or more) ideas to keep in reserve and regularly revisit your list as circumstances change. You might also have a writing project underway that you can work up in anticipation of an opportunity to publish.
Seven. Cultivate your networks
There are going to be some people within your organisation it’s good to know, your Corporate Communications and Public Relations team and if it’s not the same, the team that heads up the intranet and internet. They will be in charge of internal comms. and be the gatekeepers to what gets published in internal magazines and newsletters. You will need to research the trade and professional publications that are likely to reach your target audience, especially find out who the editors are as the kind of pieces you will write will usually go through on editorial approval. nother useful category are journals and newsletters of professional organisations. If you are writing a research article or similar then of course different rules apply. If you ever get the chance to meet editors and publishers at a conference or an event don’t waste that opportunity.
Eight. Collaborate with colleagues if you can…
Writing can be a lonely business. Writing with someone else is more fun and of course you will have a critical friend to offer an honest critique or a confidence boost to finish and submit a piece of work. Just occasionally you can find a regular writing partnership that will last longer than one project. Writing with a colleague can help you to undertake more ambitious projects, possibly a long form piece, a book chapter or even a book proposal.
Nine. Stay within your area of expertise
Good advice is not to be tempted to step too far out of your confidence zone. Librarians know a lot. If you take a look at the new Professional Knowledge and Skills Base (PKSB) you may be reminded you know more than you thought you did. There is a lifetime of professional expertise and experience to share for the benefit of your users/readers. The short version is if you write about a subject you know very little about you will probably get away with it, but once in a while you won’t and it can be a very uncomfortable experience!
Ten. Be your own PR as well as your own journalist
No point in doing all this work if you don’t exploit it. If you do get something in print remember to promote it through your social media. Use it in your Annual Report and link to it on your website. Use off prints at exhibitions and promotional events. Make sure managers are aware of it. If you have a personal website, blog or ResearchGate profile include add it to your publications. Why not include writing as an objective in your appraisal and mention publications in your Quality Improvement Outcomes Framework submission. In other words, really go to town.