• Written by Alvaro de Salvo
    8 February 2016

The hardest part of writing a blog is not writing it – it’s getting your thoughts together first. If you have a clear idea of the story you want to tell, you’re most likely to get your point across with your blog, no matter how your writing skills are.

Akvo currently has over 70 staff spread all around the globe. According to our latest internal survey results, over 90% feel comfortable writing blogs. Yet over 60% expressed a strong desire to go from being good to being great at it. 

This is a quick ‘how to’ reminder to get you posting your blogs on the Akvo website at speed. It is intended to help you clear some small bottlenecks that may appear in those moments where time is a constraint, and there is a need for having more head space to get your stories out. It also compliments posts like What is a blog? and How to write an Akvo blog?

Here is an approach to get your story out in seven steps:

1) Think Rudyard
British writer Rudyard Kipling once said: “I keep six honest serving men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who”. To ‘think Rudyard’ means to start thinking about your blog by asking yourself questions like:

– What story do I want to tell?
– Why do I have the urge to write something? Why does this story matter?
– When did it happen?
– How has it changed things?
– Where did the event take place?
– Who am I talking to? And who is involved?

2) Think about desired outcomes
You are writing a story for a reason. You want to have some sort of influence on your readers. A nice way to structure your blog is by having clarity on:

 What do you want people to know?
– What do you want them to think?
– What do you want them to feel?
– What do you want them to do?  

3) What’s the ONE thing you want to happen?

What is it that you want your blog to achieve? What’s the impression that people should leave with after reading it? What is the main objective of your blog? What’s the main takeaway for readers? 

Above: This photo doesn’t really need a caption because it’s illustrative a point rather than showing an event. But it does need a credit. It was taken by Tnsasse. 9 March 2010.

4) Beat mental resistance
There are several ways to approach the writing of a blog. Some people just like to sit down and write the whole piece at once, correcting the grammar on the go. Others like to write it at different points in time and make corrections only at the end. Some like to draft some initial thoughts first, let it settle for a while, and then go over it again at a later stage. There is no right or wrong way to do it. You just need to find whatever suits you. 

I begin my blogs by creating a simple bullet structure. One bullet per answer to a question, the Rudyard way. Then I proceed to do an initial brain dump, writing everything I want to say under each bullet, as if I was talking to a friend. Later, I shape the piece, like a sculptor shapes a block of stone, until I reach a point where I am satisfied with it. The important part is to start, no matter how small and overcome that inertia. 

5) Keep momentum
‘Momentum’ is a word I like a lot. Great storytelling is all about momentum. Momentum is about shipping your story at the right time, to the right people, in the right place. It’s about resonating with the people you want to connect with. And resonance is all about timing. If you are writing about an event, a trip, a training session, an award, a partnership, etc. there will be a limited window of momentum. Too far in advance, or too long afterwards, and the story won’t have the same effect. This period can vary from hours up to days or even weeks. Once that window of opportunity closes, there is no point in telling the story anymore. You lost momentum.

My suggestion is to always gather your thoughts while “the thing” is happening. Imagine the structure of your story while you’re experiencing it, and maybe even take some notes. Simple bullets. Ideas. You can create your brain dump draft immediately after the activity happens. A day or two after the event itself, max. Sit down with your morning coffee and just start typing. Start in the airport coming back from an experience. Doing so will allow you to still have the details fresh in your mind. 

6) Clarity, personality and resonance 
Once you have a first draft, you can start reviewing your text, looking for your voice in it. Are the sentences and paragraphs clear enough? Do they say what you mean to say? Do some parts need to be re-written to adjust to your tone of voice? Is your personality imbued throughout the text? Will your message resonate with the reader? 

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Above: The hardest part of writing a blog is not the writing part. It’s actually getting your thoughts together first. Do the hard thinking before you pick up your pen. Photo: Paul Burt. Texel, the Netherlands. 22 September 2015.

7) Ask for feedback 
Once you feel comfortable with your first draft, consider sharing it with a couple of colleagues or the comms team. Ask for constructive feedback. Others can act as mirrors to make you see some angles of the story you might not have thought about. You can do this by:

  1. Putting your draft into the Akvo.org website admin and then sharing it with the comms team. As we grow, we want to support everyone in becoming confident, active and positive voices of Akvo. This also involves going directly to the Akvo.org website, and creating your blogs on your own.
  2. Asking the comms team for support with your draft online. If you need support with reviewing your draft, or with adding it to the Akvo.org website, the best thing is to first create your blog as a Google Doc. This will allow your colleagues or us to give feedback online and will make it easier for you to see any comments made. Please include some links to a couple of high resolution pictures you want to use to illustrate your piece. Once you agree on a final piece, the comms team can publish it on the Akvo.org website for you.

If you decide to put your blog directly into Akvo.org there are a couple of technical details to have in mind:

Quantity: each blog should have at least one picture, preferably two or more. One at the top of the blog, and others further illustrating the story, where appropriate. You need to select one image to set as the featured image of the blog, which appears in the blog box on the Akvo.org homepage.
Format: pictures should be 850 pixels wide, .jpg and less that 70Kb. 
Links: your hi-res photos should be uploaded to a photo sharing site like Flickr and then you can add a link to the Flickr photo or album from the photo in the blog. Where possible, all blog images should be clickable and take you somewhere useful.
Copyrights: you should have the copyrights of such pictures, or they should be creative commons. If you are facilitating a training session, attending an event, a meeting, or just working with a team on something – take photos. Find a way to capture a moment of the experience so that you can add depth to your story. If you aren’t able to do this, it’s not the end of the world, but the best way to illustrate your blog really is to use photos and videos taken by you or within your own environment. If that is not an option, you can always use no copy rights restriction pictures from Flickr or Google Images. At times, your story might lend itself more to charts and graphs or screen grabs, so keep those options in mind as well. 
Captions: as a minimum, locations, dates and photo credits should be noted where relevant (a graph or a screengrab might not need a credit, but a photo always does). It’s also nice to describe, for people who weren’t there, just what they are seeing in the image. This article provides great insights about the art of writing captions. 

Format: embedded videos should also be 850 px wide.
Platform: they should first be uploaded to Akvo.tv. The comms team can help you with the login details. Make sure the video is set to public and that you add some contextual info when you upload it (where and when it was shot, who’s in it, who took it, and briefly what it’s about).

Categories: select at least one blog category.
Tags: add some tags if you want to.
Read more tag: don’t forget to add the “Read more” tag.
Authorship: add your sign off at the end of the blog including your full name, position, location and twitter handle.

Ready to spread your story?
Ladies and gentleman: it’s almost the moment we have all been waiting for. First, time for a final checklist:
– Is the grammar triple checked?
– Is the piece truly free from typos?
– Does it have nice pictures and captions?
– Have you set your featured image?
– Have you selected the appropriate blog categories and tags?
– Are all the links working correctly?
– Have you inserted a Read more tag?

Congratulations! Your blog is ready to meet the world.

Spreading the love
What’s the purpose of writing something if no one will read it? Get your freshly pressed blog link, email it to three or four people. Share it on twitter, tagging some folks in your tweets. Ask the comms team to include it in the next partner newsletter or product bulletin. Explicitly ask your colleagues to share it, and in return share their blogs too. Let us all make it reach the people that need to read it.

Alvaro de Salvo is communications executive at Akvo, based in Amsterdam. You can follow him on Twitter @aj_desalvo.

Alvaro de Salvo was Comms executive, Marketing Manager, Head of Marketing and Communications, and a member of the Management team at Akvo. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or Twitter.