Understanding What Makes a Good Article

Being part of the Sitecore Mentor Program, I'm often asked, “What makes for a good article, that will get me noticed during application time?”. There's more than one answer to this question, so I'm sharing my own thoughts on contributing to our community.

The Sitecore community has a strong contributor base, and I believe it's more than just “product influencers”, as some like to call all types of IT writers. The knowledge that's shared are bug fixes, custom modules, thought leadership, etc. There's articles with more depth than just, “Here's the top 10 things you need to know from this year's event!”. So how do you get a good idea, or know it's going to be of use to our audience? Here's a good ol' brain dump from some experience in writing.

Find a Hole

Like I said, no one wants to see another “What's new in version X”, or another top-ten article. These posts flood the channels each time a new release or event is upon us, and though I think they have some value if properly written, it comes off as easy. Hey, I'm guilty of writing these from time to time, but make it valuable and avoid cookie cutter content.

What is really valuable, is finding that hole of information in our world and filling it. All too often I can't find a succinct set of instructions for a challenge we're facing, or I realize while working a project that we're seeing a unique task and think, “A lot of people could really use this”. That's your goal if you want to be a good contributor.

Write About What You Experienced

Some of my content comes from real problems, where even when working with support, no one knows what's going on. There are times when you find the answer and present it to support, and they may ask you submit a feature request ticket so it can be included in future releases. You've really struck it rich when that happens, because it's likely something no one has come across. Sharing your issue and resolution online makes for a high-value article since it's virgin territory for all.

Make it Clear and Ease to Read

You know why Dummies books are so popular? Because they're written clearly, with no assumptions on what the reader knows. Explain the process in a complete way, so the reader doesn't have to take a pause on your page and reference elsewhere how to accomplish part of the steps.

If You Write It, the Content Will Come

There's times when you write for a new article and think it might be a little light in content, since it's not unusual that the core of your story may be short and to the point, but there's often opportunities to bring in additional material to support it.

For example, your story may be a multi-step process, and some of those steps are complex, needing some guidance of their own (as mentioned in the last section). Be verbose and recognize when you can add instructions for people who may not know some complex operations so it can help them, and you.

Some More Tips Specific to the Application Process

You have some guidance on writing content, so here's some notes on managing your posts.

  • Make sure you're not accidentally copying an idea (I've done this).
    I wrote a complete article, posted it, then realized what I thought was unique was in fact something I already read. Of course, I took it offline, but it can happen easier than you think.
  • Don't back-date articles.
    There's a lot of cases where bloggers will date forward or back their postings to count towards the current MVP year. This is easier for the review team to find than you might think.
  • Time your content.
    If you've got 10 ideas, maybe write them and space it out a bit. Most CMS systems will let you author content and have it publish on a later date, so you don't have peaks and valleys in content creation.
  • Check Quadrants.
    In my lessons learned article I covered subject matter categories. Don't forget to be diverse and write for all areas.