My Introduction to the Audience
I spent five years editing blog posts for the George Lucas Educational Foundation's Edutopia site. However, my role in establishing and maintaining Edutopia's voice actually began in October 2009 when, as an independent contractor, I worked with then-Community Manager Betty Ray to craft the Community Guidelines, FAQ page, and an auto responder welcoming newly-registered members. My notes from that project describe how we wanted to "speak to the moral center" in our likely readers, if possible incorporating both "high-flown and wacky" language. These parameters evoked site content reflecting an audience that was sincere, highly literate, and willing to digest procedural information with a smile.
My Editorial Practice
I returned to GLEF in September 2011 as an editor rather than a writer, beginning a series of yearlong contracts that eventually led to full-time employment and the publication of over 2000 blog posts on the site. The bloggers whose work I edited wrote in a variety of distinctive voices. I recognized that my task wasn't to make everyone sound the same, but rather to make sure that they all sounded good. Here's how I would clarify that highly subjective term and the range of tasks it requires:
• Competently structured sentences, allowing for an informal tone of voice without sounding lazy or unskilled
• A logical flow of ideas sometimes achieved by breaking up run-on sentences and dense paragraphs, or by minor re-sequencing of information
• Avoiding redundant word or phrase use and unintended rhyming or alliteration
• Embedded links anchored on the most relevant, informative, unique, SEO-friendly phrases
• Significant in-text lists and sequences converted to list format (especially for three or more items)
• Editorial initiative to add connecting or concluding phrases or sentences that matched the blogger's clear intent
• In-text links to other Edutopia blogs, enriching the ideas being presented while also leading back to branded content
My editorial approach seems best summed up by this paraphrase from my conversation with one of Edutopia's regular bloggers about his use of vernacular: "I'm more concerned with clear, engaging communication than with doctrinaire grammatical usage. When I read something, I hear it with my mind's ear. And if there are words or phrases that cause me to stumble and break the flow because they sound syntactically confusing or tonally 'off,' that's what I will massage."
Voice of the Site
I offer the preceding as the platform of my specific skills and general instinct on which to build an understanding of what Edutopia's voice is and how I maintained it. Following is my sense of the organization's tone and how that tone has conveyed what Edutopia stands for:
• Reflecting a commonality of bloggers
First and foremost, I was there to serve the bloggers. Although they represented a wide array of pedagogies and came from many different backgrounds, they approached Edutopia with the intent of sharing their wisdom and practices. They came in good will, they wanted to be heard by their fellow educators, and we owed it to them to present their words in the best possible way.
• A big tent
In keeping with George Lucas' mission of exploring what works in education and how to make those strategies scalable to any school or classroom, Edutopia's voice has been positive, supportive, and inclusive. We shared strategies and outcomes, offering all educators the data, resources, and practical tips to help them understand and implement new ways to enhance student learning. We wanted our tone and language to make them all feel welcome.
• Accessible language
While teaching is a highly specialized profession and many educators have devoted years to studying its modalities at all levels, too much high-level terminology and too formal a presentation structure can make for a dense, off-putting read. Part of our appeal was that readers could find ideas laid out in clear, accessible language, and that they could learn more through links and downloads if they chose to go deeper.
• Gently explaining the familiar
In addition to parsing academic terminology from the collegiate and postgraduate world in their general reading about education research and trends, our audience was likely familiar with the everyday jargon or buzzwords of the education world. We couldn't and didn't ignore these terms, since our readers probably encountered them daily. However, even as we assumed a general familiarity, we served everyone by clarifying these terms, whether spelling out acronyms when they first appeared in a post, offering a clause or sentence of explanation, or providing links to definitions and examples.
• Establishing context within the blog posts
Many of our bloggers had deep specialties in certain areas or wanted to share the excitement of their discovery or practice. While we counted on them to convey that knowledge and exuberance, we also wanted to make the context clear for our readers. We sought to establish a basic level of comparison so that our audience could understand why this thing they were reading about was a better alternative to something else.
• Framing the blog posts with context
Furthering this sense of context, we framed our blog content with succinct, informative, compelling introductions tying it into Edutopia's mission and the core practices that we supported. The visual language of our site, including hero images, in-line graphics, page design, and video, created a setting that welcomed readers and illustrated the possibilities that we envisioned for them as educators.
The Bloggers Speak
"As the legendary blog editor for Edutopia, Alan Lipton invariably enhances my articles without making my voice and ideas his. Moreover, Alan’s admirable qualities are many: thoughtfulness, clarity, generosity, and the work ethic of Captain America. My favorite, however, is his genius for intuiting what authors are reaching for and pulling them up to those heights." - Todd Finley , PhD, Professor of English Education at East Carolina University
"Alan is a fantastic editor who has always brought out the best in my work. Comparing my work before and after Alan gives advice is like comparing pastels to the vibrant bright colors of the rainbow. Alan's editing is an amplifier of the message. He is an honest, forthright partner in fine-tuning your communication. I will work with him any time I am fortunate enough to get the chance." - Vicki Davis, @coolcatteacher blog and Edutopia author
"It has been my honor to be nurtured and supported by Alan Lipton over the last several years. My experience working with Alan has been seamless. He is incredibly thoughtful and thorough. Alan works hard to understand the essence of a writer's intention and how to best communicate this to a wider audience. Alan uses his exceptional skills to elevate the voices of others. He is someone who contributes greatly to any team or collaboration." - Joshua Block, Humanities teacher at Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia
"I began working with Alan four years ago as a guest blogger for Edutopia. It was during this initial time that I learned of his deep passion for creating tangible and innovative articles within progressive education. My creative thoughts and ideas would still be swirling aimlessly inside my head or scattered upon a Word document if Alan had not mentored me in ways to produce concise, informative, and engaging articles. His gentle guidance, clear suggestions, and innovative ways in motivating me to dig deeper and expand upon the big ideas has culminated in pioneering blogs in the arena of social and emotional development, trauma and the brain, and educational neuroscience. Alan’s passion, intuitive critique, and editing have set fire to thousands upon thousands of educators’ hearts, minds, and classrooms. My successful and growing work with educators across the world is intimately connected to Alan’s masterful mentoring and expertise with the written word." - Dr. Lori Desautels, Assistant Professor, College of Education, Butler University, Indianapolis IN