Fame, Fortune, Fun: Why You Should Write for Us

By Harry Averill

You’ve no doubt read one or more of our SDI, TDI or ERDI blog articles. Most of these are not written by those of us at Headquarters. They are, in fact, written by people just like you. If you would like the recognition that comes with being one of our regular contributors, you should consider joining us.

In this article, you will not only discover why you should write for International Training but the step-by-step process to follow when doing so. The idea of doing so may seem challenging but the fact is, it’s surprisingly easy when you follow the steps.

Benefits

What’s in it for me? That’s a legitimate question. The dive professionals who provide content for our blogs generally do so for four reasons:

#1 Recognition among peers: Have you noticed that among the thousands of dive professionals worldwide, there are some whom “everybody knows?” Why is that? These notable individuals may be frequent presenters at dive shows or hold prominent positions within the industry. But far more often than not, the answer is that these people gain recognition through publishing. Their articles, photos, illustrations, and videos appear not only in print but on blogs, websites and in social media.

Being published on the SDI/TDI/ERDI website can put your name in front of tens of thousands of divers and instructors. Do this often enough and you, too, will be someone that “everybody knows.” Your career may benefit accordingly.

#2 Building a track record: Let’s say you want to see your work published in more places than just the International Training website. If so, it helps to have a resume you can point to. When you have articles published on the SDI, TDI or ERDI blogs, you can add them to your resume, making it that much more impressive.

The benefit of doing so isn’t limited just to writing for ITI or other publications. Let’s say that you are seeking a new position within the dive industry. You are competing for that position with one other, equally qualified candidate. The difference is, you are a recognized author whose work has been seen by thousands of divers and dive professionals. Who do you think is more likely to get the job?

#3 Valuable exposure: We promised you fame and “fortune.” As much as we would like this to be a chest of gold doubloons, that would not be realistic.

What International Training does for its contributors is, ultimately, far more valuable.

  • We provide a permanent author page on the SDI/TDI/ERDI website. Here is an example. This not only lists the author’s professional accomplishments, it provides links to the articles he or she has written, to their social media pages and to a website of their choosing.

If you’ve priced online advertising, you know that this sort of exposure can be worth hundreds of dollars.

#4 It’s fun: For many of our contributors, this is the primary motivation. Being published on the International Training website not only helps you gain recognition, it allows you to share what you’re passionate about. That can be extremely enjoyable and satisfying in and of itself.

Get started by picking the right topic

Let’s say you have read this far and are eager to join the ranks of International Training authors. Where do you begin? The answer is that you need something to write about.

Experienced authors will tell you that picking the right topic is half the battle. With the right topic, articles tend to write themselves. More importantly, the right topic will help sell your idea to publishers and help them sell your article to readers.

Picking the right topic may seem daunting. It doesn’t have to be. Follow these steps and you may find it surprisingly easy.  You can also check out this nifty tool, the blog idea generator.

Choose an agency: As you, no doubt know, International Training has separate blogs for SDI, TDI, and ERDI. You will most likely want to write for the agency that most closely matches your expertise. For example, you probably won’t be writing articles for the ERDI blog unless you are actively involved in public safety diving. However, if you are an experienced technical diver or instructor, there are probably no shortage of topics you could write about.

One area you should not overlook is sport diving. This is, after all, where most of us started and where most of us have at least some expertise. Sport diving accounts for most of International Training’s business, yet it’s an area we actually have difficulty getting people to write about. This is a shame, because articles such as Five Ways to Save on Your Next Dive Vacation are likely to attract a hell of a lot more readers than Isobaric Counter Diffusion on a Molecular Level.

See what others write about: Your next step should be to visit the SDI, TDI or ERDI blog to see what others are writing about. Obviously, you don’t want to write about a topic that has already been covered. The best opportunities may lie in areas that aren’t often covered…but should be.

What resonates with your own knowledge and experience? We write best about the things we not only understand but care about. Are you an avid underwater photographer? If so, you are most likely better off writing about aquatic imaging than about poking holes in fish.

Just remember that, passionate or not, you want to approach controversial areas with caution. You may honestly believe that snorkels are best used by duct taping them to the bottom of cylinders or that breath holding on ascent isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. Your odds of selling an article to that effect, however, are slim.

Shortcuts to success: Experienced authors seldom have difficulty coming up with good article ideas. Newcomers tend to find it more challenging. It needn’t be. There are formulas you can follow that help make coming up with good topics surprisingly easy. For example:

List-based articles: These are topics such as:

  • Five things to see when visiting…
  • Six secrets to…
  • The ten best dive sites at…

Articles like this are not only easy to write, their headlines have proven to be very appealing to readers.

Benefit-based articles: If you are an instructor, you remember that during your IDC we stressed the need to attach an importance or value to your subject matter. The easiest way to do this is to ask:

  • How does this make diving easier, safer or more enjoyable?
  • How can this save divers time, money or frustration?

The same formula can apply to blog posts. For example:

  • The key to making buoyancy control effortless
  • Gas matching made insanely easy
  • Six ways to save on your next dive vacation

As with list-based articles, benefit-based articles are more appealing to audiences and result in higher readership.

Avoid rejection

The media generally depict the “struggling writer” stereotype by showing a beleaguered author, pounding away on a keyboard in a dusty garret, while surrounded by stacks of rejected manuscripts. In the real world, no serious author would waste his or her time sending completed — but unsolicited — articles to anyone. The chances of rejection are simply too great.

If you send a publisher an unsolicited article, it’s possible you may be told it’s perfect as is, without changes. It’s more likely, however, that you will hear:

  • “This article doesn’t meet our requirements.”
  • “We just published another article on the same topic.”
  • “We don’t have time to read unsolicited manuscripts.”

So, what is it professional authors do to save time and avoid rejection? They don’t submit articles, they propose them. In the time it takes to write a 2,000-word feature that is more likely to be rejected than accepted, a professional author can generate a half dozen or more article proposals. This greatly increases the odds that one or more of them will be accepted.

Even if a proposal is not precisely what a publisher needs, there is a good chance he or she will say, “If you can make these changes, we will give you the go ahead.” That’s what you want to hear.

What’s in a proposal?

An effective article proposal (known in the trade as a query letter) will contain the following:

  • Article headline: Just as the right headline will help sell your article to readers, it will also help sell your proposal to publishers. Use it.
  • Introductory paragraph: Similarly, begin your query letter with the same paragraph as you will your article. If you have written this correctly, it will tell your prospective publisher most of what he or she needs to know,
  • Article outline: In so far as the article you are proposing will be more than just a headline and a lead paragraph, provide an outline for the balance of the article.
  • Anticipated length: A typical blog post will be between 800 to 1,500 words. Seldom will it be more than 2,000 words. You won’t really know precisely how long your article will be until you write it. But, if you can give your prospective publisher at a least rough idea of the article’s length, it will help.
  • Supporting images: Generally speaking, the more photos, diagrams or illustrations you can supply, the more appealing your article will be to publishers. All too often, would-be authors expect the publisher to come up with supporting imagery. Publishers are challenged by this and may reject your article if you do not provide supporting media.
  • Delivery time: If a publisher accepts your query, he or she will not want to wait six months for you to get back from Antarctica to deliver it. Give a realistic time frame for delivery.

Here is an example of an effective query letter — one that is based on an article that appears on the TDI blog.

Your proposal’s been accepted. Now what?

Let’s say you submit a query and, in turn, have it accepted. What steps should you follow now?

Review the style guide: Most companies and organizations have an editorial style guide the specifies how contributors should handle things such as:

  • Capitalization and punctuation: For ITI, course names and the titles of publications should appear exactly as they do on our website and in standards. This includes not including periods behind each letter in an acronym (i.e., SDI vs S.D.I.).
  • Numbers: In general, you spell out numbers one through ten and use Arabic numerals for numbers 13 and above. Whether to spell out eleven and twelve is at the discretion of the publisher. We spell them out because we frequently talk about waiting “twelve or more hours between dives” in the same sentence or paragraph we talk about shorter surface intervals.
  • Units of measure: As ours is an international organization, we always provide distance, depth and pressure values in both metric and imperial, formatted as the Associated Press recommends, i.e. XX m/XX ft.
  • Serial commas: A serial comma is one that may or may not appear before the words and or or when listing items. This topic is still widely debated, but the trend appears to be away from their use, and this is what we follow.

Expand on your outline: This where you flesh out the outline you included in your query. It is likely the most time-consuming step — although a good outline will make the process much easier. It is also not where your work ends.

Check spelling and grammar: Most contributors use Microsoft Word to compose articles. One benefit of doing so is that Word autocorrects minor problems and flags misspellings as you write. It can also flag certain grammatical problems.

They say you can never successfully proofread your own content. That’s true more often than not. However, if your operating system is capable of reading text back to you, or you have a plugin that does so, you can often hear typos that are hard to see.

Improve readability: Your article can contain the most valuable information imaginable but, if it is hard to read, most people won’t get past the first few paragraphs. There is a widespread misperception that certain articles and texts must be difficult to read or use stilted language in order to appear “scholarly.” That’s bull. Even if writing for geniuses, keep in mind their time is valuable. They don’t want to waste it wading through your pedantic prose to get to the point. Clear, concise, easy-to-read text works best for everyone.

Because Microsoft Word flags misspellings as you write, many people don’t bother to run Word’s Spelling and Grammar check when finished. That’s a mistake. Doing so not only catches misspelled words you may have missed, it can suggest corrections to common grammatical errors. It also gives you a readability score like this one:

readability stats

The key values here are the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score and the percentage of Passive Sentences.

  • The average American reads at an eighth-grade level. This is what we shoot for with our SDI student materials. Our goal for TDI materials is ninth grade. This is not because we think TDI readers are smarter, but rather because the necessity of using longer words and sentences to describe technical diving concepts makes it harder to achieve a lower score. If your Flesch-Kincaid reading level scores higher than tenth grade, you may want to consider revising if it does not dilute your content.
  • When speaking, most of us will say something like, “Everyone had a great time on yesterday’s dive.” Yet, when writing, some people insist on saying things such as, “On yesterday’s dive, a good time was had by everyone.” Almost no one talks like that; you shouldn’t write like that either. Doing so is what is called using passive voice. It makes text harder to read. Ideally, Word will give you a Passive Sentences score of 0%. Any more than ten percent indicates a problem.

Additional tools you can use to improve article readability are programs such as Grammarly and more in-depth readability assessments such as the Automatic Readability Assessment web page.

Improving readability is surprisingly easy. Steps include:

  • Use shorter sentences: Break up run-on sentences into two or more smaller ones.
  • Use shorter words: The more words you use that have three or more syllables, the higher your grade-reading score will be.
  • Avoid passive voice: This is a longer topic than we can address here. Fortunately, you can learn how to do this simply by Googling Avoiding Passive Voice.

There are additional steps you can take to improve readability that are more visual than verbal. These include:

  • Break up run-on paragraphs: Few things discourage readers from delving into an article more than seeing large blocks of endless sentences. Ideally, a paragraph should be no more than three to four sentences. This creates visual space between paragraphs and improves readability.
  • Make extensive use of bullet lists: Early web-usability expert Dr. Jakob Nielsen’s research showed this not only improves comprehension and retention, it makes text on a computer screen easier to read. It’s something you’ve seen throughout this article.

Improving readability will not only make your work more appealing to both us and our readers, it’s a skill that can have a positive impact on all aspects of your professional life.

By the way, we do practice what we preach. This article has a Flesch-Kinkaid grade reading level of 8.4 and 0% passive sentences.

“Speak” visually: While we may communicate verbally, we think visually. Our thoughts are much more like a series of images than words. The more photos and illustrations you can include with your content, the easier it will be for readers to understand. It will also make you more valuable to us as a contributor.

Add your bio: This is typically three to four sentences that highlight your expertise as it relates to your article. Be sure to include a link to your company, organization or social media pages.

Deliver on time: ITI has a schedule for social media posts we put together well in advance. When an article doesn’t show up when promised, it causes problems. Be the kind of contributor we can depend on and you will get more of your article proposals accepted.

What happens next? (What we do at HQ)

Let’s say you’ve run through all the steps in this article. You proposed an article, we accepted your query and you wrote the article to our specifications. Having done so, you emailed it to us in either Microsoft Word or plain-text format. What happens next? Here is the process we follow once your article arrives at Headquarters.

We ensure consistency with standards and policies: Let’s face it, it would look really bad were we to publish an article that contradicted our training standards, recommendations or general diving standards of practice.

We double check spelling and grammar: Yes, we know you were supposed to this but, just to make sure… 

We ensure consistency with the ITI Editorial Style Guide: This is the same process we follow when putting together training materials.

We check readability: As mentioned earlier, we like to see SDI articles read at an eighth-grade level and TDI and ERDI articles at no more than a ninth-grade level. However, if your article reads at a slightly higher level, we won’t get too excited.

We re-work, if necessary: If we can fix any minor spelling, grammar or stylistic errors without making significant changes, we will. However, if we find significant problems, we will do one of two things:

  • Return the article to you with suggested revisions.
  • Make the changes ourselves but return the article for your approval.

We won’t make substantial changes without first consulting you. No one likes it when others put words in their mouths.

Publish: As a final step, we will post your article to the SDI, TDI or ERDI blog and promote it on social media.

What you will want to do

Look for your article: We will let you know when your article is slated to appear. You can then start looking for links to it on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Share on social media: When you see your article being promoted on social media, don’t be afraid to hit that Share button. Doing so benefits everybody.

What are you waiting for?

Now that you know the steps to follow, what is stopping you? Start putting your article proposals together so that you, too, can be one of the people that “everyone in diving knows.”

To submit an article please fill out the form below or submit it direct to marketing@tdisdi.com

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