September 8, 2016

From Gerald R. Lucas

About Page Struggles

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I've been assigning about pages in my Writing for Digital Media classes for a few semesters now, and I notice that students consistently make similar mistakes in creating them. I thought I’d write about those to see if I can get future students to avoid them.

First, let me state, that on the surface, the “Your About Page” assignment seems easy. As one student pointed out this semester, it only took her “ten minutes” to finish. However, it is as a major project in a four-week lesson. Surely, there is some disconnect. If you are only spending ten minutes on this assignment, you cannot do it justice. Remember, the less you write, the more perfect it has to be.

Yes, do your initial page in ten minutes, but then revise it at least ten times. Anytime you write something, the first draft is just that: the first draft. Every aspect of your about page should be perfect by the time you are ready to turn it in. In fact, take advantage of your classmates and have them critique your page. The digital world makes this easy.

OK, a few specifics:

Your Bio

Many bios are much too casual and read like Facebook or Tinder bios. Remember, the point of these about pages is to begin building your professional personae, not get dates or make friends. What does beginning "Hey, ya'll!" say about you as a professional? (At least the comma for direct address is correct.)

OK, I know that with some professionals, a greeting like this is fine. In many circles, a certain informality is expected and even admired. If this is the case, the rest of your about page will reflect it; just be aware of what each element on your page says about you. Be deliberate in all of your choices.

Stop with the Selfies

Many photos are low-res or obviously selfies. Again, what does this say about you as a professional? Would you wear ripped jeans to a job interview? Many of you seemed to ignore this point in the instructions:

Fill in the black: My About Page defines me as a ________________ professional.

If you need a portrait, you could always ask me, your professor. I happen to know something about portrait photography and have even helped other students in the past.

You Are Not a Student

At least for this assignment. Since you are building a professional persona, you really should avoid any mention of yourself as a student, yet this is the first thing many choose to highlight. Why? This is not forward-looking. Instead of writing:

I am a student at Middle Georgia State University, pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in New Media and Communications.

Try

My passions include videography and digital storytelling; I have made over twenty-five short films about life in central Georgia.

Avoid, too, mentioning your current, interim job, like being a cashier at Target. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this, but it does little to sell yourself as a media professional, especially if you have no intention of pursuing a career at Target.

Be Specific; Be Concrete

Many use abstract aspirations rather than concrete details. For example, what does the following really say:

I am in pursuit of a life-long education in order to ensure that I can contribute my full potential to my surrounding community, and online community. I dedicate myself to my work and strive for excellence.

You must be concrete and not sound like you are (1) applying for a job and (2) don't really have anything interesting to say about yourself.

I understand that you have had little professional experience in the workforce, but you could discuss your skills, projects you have accomplished—especially if you can link to them, and motivations. All of these specific details are much more interesting than something abstract and pie-in-the-sky.

Avoid mentioning anything that doesn't pertain to you, the __________ professional. This goes for your social media links, keywords, and anything else that your put on this page.

That said, of course you can supply some details about other interests and hobbies, but they should appear at the end of your bio. Remember the inverted pyramid.

Revise, Dammit

As I mentioned above, some revision is always necessary. Eliminate all typos, awkward writing, and grammatical mistakes. This is a major course project. Why isn't the writing perfect, especially for those of you who wrote under fifty words in your bios? There's really no excuse for any writing errors on this assignment.

Remember, the more succinct something is, the more pristine it has to be. A couple of errors on longer projects is OK (there are likely a couple on this page), but the shorter something is, the more noticeable the errors are.

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Finally, take advantage of the soft due date. Students rarely submit drafts, even though I encourage them to do so. I try my best to give feedback to all who submit drafts early. I know we are all busy, and often it's not possible to get finished early, but this is an opportunity to get feedback-not only from me, but from your peers. It's very disheartening for me to get perfunctory work on a major assignment, and I know it's often shocking to those who only spent ten minutes to see their final grades.

Don't be shocked. Review the above carefully and submit your best work every time.