How to write and publish TEFL articles
Summary: The process by which you can go about writing and publishing articles on teaching English as a foreign language.
Another article on this site list gives many easy topics with which to start writing TEFL articles. This one concentrates on the process by which you can go about doing so. “Article” here mainly means something somewhere between a simple list of games and a proper research-based academic paper.
The possible stages of the process are:
- Choose where you want to publish your article and find out what it will need to be like to fit in and be accepted
- Choose a title or topic to write about
- Brainstorm ideas
- Get some help
- Submit or publish yourself
If you for some reason don’t feel ready to write an article yet, there are also things you can do to get ready for that point, for example:
- Read a lot
- Write your own blog, or even start with tweets then working your way up to blog posts and then articles, as many people have done
- Write teaching tips, and then lists of them
- Give workshops, one of which might lead to an article
- Write reviews
- Write texts for students
- Do a qualification for which you have to write essays on TEFL-related topics
Choosing where to publish
Choosing where you want to publish could obviously be the last stage above rather than the first one, by which I mean deciding on where is most suitable by the content and style of the article and who you want to read it. This approach is obviously the best way of using something you have already written such as workshop notes or a brainstormed list of ideas for your class to make it into a publishable article – a good tip for those who find it difficult to get started.
If you do decide to aim for a particular publication as you write (knowing you can always change your mind later, of course), reading that publication as much as possible could also help you come up with a topic. You could even, as was the case for me, start by writing and sending an article directly in response to something you read in the publication.
Deciding on a topic/ title
As mentioned above, there is a big list of possible article topics on this site that you can use for inspiration. Other general tips on coming up with article titles/ topics include:
- Take an existing title and change a few words (you can change the title further later if where you have ripped it off from will be too obvious)
- Make it related to your recent classes
- Make it connected to a particular area of interest
- Make it connected to something you were weak at but are working on or have improved on
- Observe someone’s class (in person or by watching a video) and base your article on something you notice – making sure you fully hide the source of your ideas if that could be taken badly!
It is also possible to let the topic and title emerge from the writing process, for example starting by writing “100 Random Great TEFL Games” and narrowing that down whenever a useful pattern seems to be emerging, e.g. games that are all connected to asking and answering questions (which is pretty much how I came up with my first book proposal).
Brainstorming and planning
I could easily write a whole article on how to brainstorm, but for most people a Mind Map works best, and you can easily move from the categories on the Mind Map to the plan for the article by making the most useful major categories the paragraphs of the article. Nowadays I more commonly brainstorm straight into a Word document and cut and paste those ideas straight into categories that then become paragraphs, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this when you are first starting to write TEFL articles.
Writing and editing
It’s quite difficult to give advice about actually sitting down and writing. A general rule for both brainstorming and writing is to try and come up with your own ideas first and then turn to other sources to check and expand on what you came up with. The most obvious source of additional ideas nowadays is probably Google, not forgetting Google Books for some of the many classic ideas that are nearly forgotten. Online ELT magazines and journals such as ELT Journal are also searchable online for subscribers, or there are always the indexes at the back of teacher resource books.
Things to bear in mind during the writing and editing stages include:
- Is it accessible to all the people who will read it, including people who don’t share your age, teaching background, previous reading on the topic, nationality, English language level, etc?
- Does it grab people’s attention from the first line? Does it tell people who might not think they are interested in the topic why they might want to read on (but without making people who really don’t need to read do so)?
- Have you mentioned the sources of your ideas (including vague statements of such like “from one of the Communication Games books” when you aren’t sure)?
- Does each paragraph have a clear topic? Are those topics clearly linked to the topic and title of the article?
- Are the grammar, punctuation etc not only correct but suitably conservative for the publication and readers?
- Is the level of chattiness and personalisation right?
General editing tips include:
- Leave something untouched for at least a week and then come back to it.
- Edit for each other.
- Get work pre-publication reviewing or peer reviewing to improve your editing skills.
- Stick strictly to a word limit. If none is given, ask for one, copy other articles in the same place, or just set yourself an arbitrary one (700 words is a good one online, or 1500 words is a good absolute maximum for most things).
- Make a note of any editing changes included in your published pieces so that you don’t make the same mistake again.
Help you can get includes:
- Give a workshop on the topic
- Post an early version, an outline or a key idea of an article on your blog for feedback
- Swap editing help with another teacher
- Send it to a Twitter contact (after asking if you may)
Places to publish include, in approximate order of how easy it is to do so:
- Your own blog
- Article sharing sites
- Someone else’s blog
- TEFL websites
- ELT magazines (including those of teaching associations and TEFL websites with a magazine format such as Humanising Language Teaching)
- ELT journals (including those of teaching associations)
- Applied Linguistics journals
- The TEFL section of a national newspaper
I have also seen people start a forum thread with an article of theirs, although it seems like a bit of a waste given the amount of effort that goes into writing an article (unlike the effort that usually goes into what is generally written there). This does at least guarantee a fairly large readership, including people who might not generally read such a thing, but you have to be prepared for some very direct instant feedback!
If it’s an article about TEFL for a non-TEFL audience, e.g. one telling people what they should do if they want to get into English teaching, there are also other possibilities such as travel sites and local newspapers.