Share your ideas: how to write for the Higher Education Network
We have a large and active community of members on the Guardian Higher Education Network, many of whom write blogs and comment pieces for us. We value these contributions enormously – you are the real experts on the higher education sector and our coverage is enhanced by your insider experience of how things work on the ground.
How to come up with an idea
When you’re thinking about what to offer, remember that what readers want is something unusual, something they’ve not read before. You’re looking for an unusual topic, or a fresh approach to an old theme.
We are interested in submissions about all aspects of life in the sector from the point of view of everyone working there – academics, policymakers, planners, librarians, estate managers, early career researchers, administrators, those providing student services… the list could go on for a very long time.
And which topics are good? We are interested in everything from the political to the personal, the financial to the frivolous. How is policy changing and how does this affect your work? How do you feel about your place in the university – and what could be done to improve conditions? Tell us about funding, publishing, planning, expanding, recruiting, managing, branding, going global, widening access, researching, evaluating success, gender inequality, mental health, teaching, sustainability and the social scene.
The best topics tend to be tight and focused, with lots of colour and example. So don’t pitch “the state of higher education today”, and do pitch “our vice-chancellor makes us all do salsa on a Friday night”.
How to pitch
So how do you get to be published on the Guardian? You begin by pitching us an idea. These ideas can range from the deeply personal to something more like a traditional news comment piece.
Think about whether you want to write anonymously – you certainly can, in our Anonymous Academics section. It allows for a welcome frankness. But having a bylined piece on the Guardian site has clear benefits too, and will be a boost to your online profile.
Have a clear argument
You need to have a strong point to make, something readers are going to be eager to discuss in the comments section. Outline your argument in your pitch.
Explain how you will make your case
If you are going to cite previous articles on the subject, or base it on new research, we need to know. If you get the go-ahead to write the piece, you will need to make sure that anything you assert as fact is backed up by links.
Introducing other voices into your piece can work well, because it adds variety and nuance. You can bring in a range of opinions on a topic, and back up your own views by having someone else say it. So if you are going to include quotes, tell us who will be in your piece.
How to write your piece
If we like your idea – and if no one else has pitched the same thing – then we’ll discuss it with you, make further suggestions as to how you can develop it, and ask you to go ahead and put your piece together.
Your piece needs to be 600 to 800 words long.
Adopt a conversational, chatty style. Avoid cliches, jargon, academic language and acronyms.
Put some serious work into your intro – is it intriguing, engaging and different?
Always use specific examples, perhaps based on personal experience. Don’t generalise or waffle on about challenges and passion.
Use short common nouns as much as you can: “boots” and “apples” are much more evocative than “footwear” and “produce”. And long strings of multi-syllabled abstract nouns – “advocacy of a multicultural specificity in urbanisations” – are soporific.
Where possible, find recent research or media coverage about your topic, and link to it in your piece.
Check your facts. There’s no point in having a guess at, say, the number of students who drop out in first year. You need to have an up-to-date statistic and a link to show where you found it.
You can’t break the law. You can’t make unsubstantiated libellous claims against people. You can’t change a quote to make it say what you want it to say.
Read what you’ve written aloud when you’re finished. Is that how you talk?
The reader should emerge clear about what you’re saying, what other people have said on the subject, and what they are being asked to comment on.
If you want to check what our style is on the spelling of a particular word, or how we punctuate quotations, the Guardian Style Guide is available online.
What happens next
Once we’ve decided your piece is suitable for publication, we will edit it.
At this point, we may come back to you to ask for clarifications, links or picture ideas. We will also ask you for a short one-sentence bio to put alongside your byline.
Then it will be launched online, be published on the relevant section fronts (Education, Higher Education Network, maybe even the main front of the site, if those editors select it) and be promoted through our social media.
Don’t be taken aback if the final version of your piece is different from what you submitted. Everything that is written for the Guardian is edited, sometimes quite heavily, to make the writing punchier, to cut repetition, and to accord with the Guardian Style Guide and the tone of the site.