article / 7 July 2022

Writing Bootcamp: Shaping Your Story

In this series, we'll share tips from our editorial team to help you get started writing great case studies, articles, and blog posts right here on WILDLABS! In our third post, Ellie Warren shares advice on structuring your content.

This week on WILDLABS, we've shared tips for choosing the right type of content for your conservation tech story, as well as advice on organizing and structuring your thoughts with outlines and summarization techniques.

To wrap up our first Writing Bootcamp, we've put together a simple template that can help you keep your piece on track. For our community members who are new to writing and looking for a starting point, this template can provide the basic shape for a case study or article. 

Much like a classic 5-paragraph essay template that you may have used in school, this template is a building block to help you develop your skills. Even if you don't stick to the template (and as you gain confidence in writing and develop your own intuition, you won't need to!), reviewing this structure will help double-check that your story is clear and your points are well-organized. 

And for experienced writers who are struggling with writer's block on a piece, it never hurts to have a template handy - it may be just the thing to get your writing back in motion by taking away the pressure of organizing your piece from scratch!

Please also note that while this template is designed for case studies or articles, you may also find valuable tips in it for more creative content types like blog posts!

A Basic Writer's Template

Intro Paragraph: 

Your introduction should give readers a quick way to skim the main points of your piece. (If you don't know what those are yet, visit this Writing Bootcamp guide.) 

Setting readers up with 2-3 main takeaways they’ll get from this piece - and explaining why it’s relevant to their work and interests - will help you find the right audience, and help you organize your own thoughts while writing.

Context: 1-3 Paragraphs

What information do readers absolutely need to know before proceeding? Are there critical facts about your study species, tech tools, or project that are necessary for them to understand the main points you’ll be discussing?

In both case studies and articles, this is an ideal place to hit on many of the basic journalistic questions that all informative content should include. Be sure you've covered "Who/What/Where/When/Why?" for your readers. The sixth journalistic question of "How?" comes later.

1-3 efficient paragraphs of context should be plenty. Unlike in an academic paper, you don't need to worry about laying out every single detail on your process or data; in fact, including too much technical or minute detail will severely narrow down your audience to only those who already understand your work on such a deep level.

When presenting context to readers, try organizing with one topic per paragraph (for example, one on the challenges of researching your study species, one on the tools you selected and why, and one on the goals of your project). Limiting yourself to one paragraph per idea will keep things concise and help you shave down unnecessary detail. 

If there is more crucial context readers will need to understand your piece, consider linking to outside resources where they can learn more. 

Likewise, if you'd like to share more highly detailed information with readers, you can always link to an academic paper or other resource for interested community members to explore further.

Main Point Paragraphs: 

Your Main Point Paragraphs are the "How?" and "Why?" of your case study or article. 

The context you've just provided to your readers should help them understand the story you're about to tell. And it's important to note that you are telling a story, not just presenting dry facts. While it may be a story full of research and data, these paragraphs should still have a narrative that intrigues your readers and propels them to keep reading. 

If you’re sharing project results, this is where you want to emphasize data and share how it was obtained, but also share why it’s important. Does your story have relevance to readers and their own work? Make sure they understand that! 

If you’re sharing personal experiences or lessons learned, this is where you want to let your own voice come through the most in the narrative, emphasizing what aspects of that story should stay with readers when they’ve finished.

Just like your context paragraphs, breaking your main takeaways into their own paragraphs will also help readers easily digest and understand the right points. 

It doesn't matter how many paragraphs you end up with, as long as your piece is clear and well-organized. Some case studies will be long, telling the process and results of a project from start to finish. Some articles will be equally long, pulling together many threads of research that must be woven together. Other pieces will be short and concise, knocking out the "Who/What/Where/When/Why/How" questions efficiently and with the main purpose of telling one particular aspect of a story. These options are all fine - what matters most is getting your point across. 

But whether your final product is long or short, simplifying your paragraphs to each cover one topic or beat of a story will keep readers from feeling overwhelmed. If you're concerned that your story is too long, go back to these organizational principles and see if any of your main points are getting lost in your summary or outline, which is likely a sign that you still need to edit and simplify.

Conclusion: 1-2 Paragraphs

Many readers find it useful to have the main points of a piece briefly summarized or reiterated for them at the end of a piece, particularly if you’ve gone in-depth on a topic, included technical details, or have covered several topics in the span of one piece. 

A good conclusion is also handy for people who would like to share your piece with others on social media or within other networks, as it provides a solid block of text that highlights exactly why they took the time to read your content in the first place.

Also consider that, for people who skim your article, the conclusion may be the section they read most closely to see if they’ve missed anything important. 

Thought-Provoking Ideas/Call to Action: One Paragraph

If you’d like to spark a conversation with your piece, or ask a question directly to your audience, including a call to action or thought-provoking idea or question at the end of your conclusion paragraph is a good idea. 

This may be as simple as asking something like, “How would you solve xyz problem with these tech tools?” Or it may be more open-ended, like “What challenges have you faced in tracking your study species?”

If you're hoping for readers to directly engage with you, your work, or a broader conservation challenge after reading your piece, a call to action will encourage your audience to do so. It may be as simple as asking readers to contact you to get involved in a project, or including a link to a place where they can learn more. 

But calls to action are also great places to drive home the larger point of your message - if you've written your piece in the hopes of impacting change, your call to action can inspire readers and bring them closer to your cause.

And speaking of calls to action...

Get Started Now!

Whatever story you want to tell to our community, and through whatever format, you can start sharing on WILDLABS now by using our +Post button in the top menu and selecting “Article” or "Case Study." (To share a blog post, select either of those options!) 

We hope you've enjoyed our first Writing Bootcamp! In the future, we'll bring more tips and resources like writing prompts, workshops, and other tips to improve your skills and expand your audience.

In the meantime, if you'd like to get in touch with WILDLABS Editor Ellie Warren, drop into this Discussion thread to have a chat, brainstorm ideas, and get extra writing advice!

Add the first post in this thread.

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