Bios and Blogs and Listicles, Oh My!
Engaging Writing for the Web
Q. What’s longer than an elevator pitch but shorter than an admissions essay?
A. Your online bio
From start-ups to multi-national companies, in education and nonprofits, part of telling an operation’s story is sharing something about staff. So, whether you’re a summer intern at the library being featured on Instagram or stepping into a new role at an investment bank, expect one of your first assignments to be: write your bio for the website.
What makes an effective bio? Positive in nature, online biographies tend to feature information about what the person brings to the work and the role that they have, information about the person’s background, including work experience and education, and nuggets that reveal something about their personality. What makes a stand-out bio?
A stand-out biography is tailored to your reader, giving the reader a sense of what interacting with you means for them. You can practice by checking in with your bios on social media. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram each provide users with the opportunity to present longer- and shorter-form biographical statements. Polish these frequently for practice and to make certain your online presence is professional and up to date.
When writing your bio, keep in mind:
- This may be some of the hardest writing you’ll do. Writing in glowing but genuine terms about yourself is challenging. Example: Visit Maureen’s bio for a lovely Shakespearean framework.
- Your fifth-grade English teacher was right: Where possible, show, don’t tell. Example: Sarah also wrangles data for the CLS and is happiest when immersed in a spreadsheet.
- Follow company policy but note that most bios are presented in third person.
- Stay human but use evidence—degree(s) and prior experience—to establish why you’re qualified to do what you do. Example: A native Iowan, Mark hails from Ankeny, a city just north of Des Moines. He joined the Grinnell College community in April 2011. Before coming to Grinnell, he served as Associate Director of Graduate Business Career Services in the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, and as Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Career Center at Luther College. A first-generation college graduate, Mark holds degrees from the University of Northern Iowa (BA), Miami University in Ohio (MS), and Iowa State University (PhD).
- Be cautious of using too many buzz words. Example: As the Business & Finance Career Community Director, Michael could swim in buzz words, but instead he writes in clear, clean English.
- Differentiate yourself without stepping outside of your organization’s mission and values. Example: Perhaps inevitably, one of Donna’s favorite quotes is J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Not all those who wander are lost.” She wants students to know that their career decisions are not fatal … they aren’t even always final … and that each of their experiences will inform and enrich their own life journey.
- Bio requirements, lengths, and tone vary from website to website. Read lots of examples and make sure yours fits the audience you’re writing for.
- Consider word choice! An unusual word like “nuggets” in the second paragraph of this article should catch your readers’ attention and illustrate your creativity.
Q. Who can write a guest blog for career.grinnell.edu?
A. You can!
The CLS welcomes guest-blog submissions from students and alums, employers, faculty, staff, family, and community members. If you have something career-related to share, we’d like to learn about it!
We invite guest blogs to be brief and pithy—think of a post as something you could read before you finish your breakfast. The blog should be sharply focused and engaging and based on your experience, observations, or insights. Keep in mind that at the CLS our mission is to support students as they develop life pathways of meaning and purpose. We invite your blog post to be a part of that conversation.
Naturally, we reserve the right to edit your submission for constraints of space, style, and message. If we have questions, we’ll be sure to reach out, so please include everything we ask for, including your contact information and a one-line bio (see above!).
Writing a blog post? Please consider these guidelines:
- Treat the opening paragraph as news to capture your reader. The journalistic standbys—who, what, when, where, why, and how—will set your post up for your readers.
- If you can’t come up with a creative headline, feel free to use a descriptive one.
- Bullet points are good.
- Clear, precise, straightforward prose makes for clean communication.
- Readers like stories, images, and details. Feel free to encompass narrative, sensory descriptions, and intriguing details to engage your readers.
- If you use jargon from your industry, please offer an explanation or a definition.
- Use your personal perspective—you have wisdom to share—but keep in mind this is not an op-ed for a newspaper, but a post for a college career office website.
Q. What’s even quicker to write and submit than a blog?
A. A listicle!
Have some quick advice to share? Consider a listicle—an article along the lines of “7 Ways to Improve Your Interviewing Success” or “3 Questions Every Recruiter Will Ask.”
To write a listicle, start with your opening sentence—the who/what/where/when/why/how information—and then write a list of what you know about the subject.
- Listicles items are brief and clear!
- Listicle entries are parallel in structure.
- Listicles offer action items or information that can be put into play by a reader right away.
- Listicles are quick to read and offer something new or surprising on the subject.
- Good listicles aren’t clickbait. They’ve got something useful to share.
- This is an example of a short-form listicle.