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Cracking the Code of Vocal Top Stories

The Secret to Being Selected as a Top Story on Vocal

By Laquesha BaileyPublished 3 years ago 6 min read
Top Story - January 2021
Photo by Tỷ Huỳnh on Pexels

I’ve been on Vocal for about a month. Actually today on the 28th January as I'm writing this is the one month anniversary of the publication of my first post on Vocal. In that time, four of my stories have been featured as staff picks (with the redesign, this is now called Top Stories) which is just mindblowing and amazing to me.

True to the title of this post, I’m going to breakdown the secret to getting a story selected as a top story. Fair warning, I'm not an all-knowing savant. I'm still kind of new at this and there's a huge chance that I have absolutely no idea what the heck I'm talking about.

The secret is...there's sort of not one. A member of the Vocal Media Creator’s Hub on Facebook broached this question yesterday and I responded with something to the effect of “it’s mostly luck." I have since given the topic some more thought and while I do think getting selected is largely arbitrary, there are some major adjustments you can make to the overall structure and content of your story to improve your chances in the Top Stories raffle so I thought I’d share them today.

1. Stunning Imagery

Don’t select the first image that pops up on Unsplash as your cover image. It’s the first search result because it’s the most popular which also means, it’s the most used. I often scroll for ages before I find an image that fits the theme of my story. Sometimes I turn to other royalty-free image websites for a broader selection or I use a photo that I've taken myself. Pick something that’s loud and attention-grabbing. Choose a photo that would make you stop scrolling and click out of curiosity if you were a reader. Let's look at the stories currently sitting pretty on the Top Stories page.

One has really bold, pink lettering. The other is a beautiful graphic of a diverse group of women. I've clicked on and read both of these stories today simply because I loved the imagery. Top Stories are going to be posted prominently on Vocal's landing page, of course they want them to be aesthetically pleasing. Be intentional about the images you choose.

2. Catchy or Interesting Title

This one is tricky because I often struggle with titles and the balance between long and short titles. Should I make it as descriptive as possible or keep it short and to the point? Honestly, I’m not sure. Looking at the first two of my stories that were chosen “Cozy is a State of Mind” and “So You Didn't Win A Vocal Challenge?”, the titles are evocative and I opted to keep them short and sweet. However for “Code-Switching:On Having Two Linguistic Personalities” and “Tackling Zoom Anxiety - Public Speaking in. a Virtual Environment”, my titles were longer and more descriptive, including a semi-colon and dash for elaboration.

I suppose it depends on the story specifically. Ultimately, you want a title that drums up interest but is also fairly indicative of the content of your story. One of my favourite titles ever on Vocal is “VOCAL: Vulnerability in the Virtual Void

It was featured a few weeks ago and I clicked on it instantly. There’s obviously alliteration with the repetition of the V sound and it just rolls off the tongue. Choose to make your story title interesting. Maybe it's punny or controversial or minimalist or sarcastic. Depending on your aim, that may mean a significantly longer or shorter title. Think seriously about the title of your story. It matters.

3. Write like You are a Reader

If you were reading your own story right now, what would you hope you’d get out of it? Think about the potential benefit for readers. Generally writing serves two main purposes: to educate and to entertain. What is the end goal of your writing that you hope to convey to readers?

Is your story something they’ve never heard of before or an interesting take on a popular topic? Is it nuanced advice that could directly serve them? Is it an inspirational, tear-jerking or euphoria-inducing anecdote, poem or fictional story? Is it a well-informed review of some new tech or an exciting new TV/Movie Show release?

Vocal moderators receive thousands of articles each day (I’m assuming) and after spending hours and hours sifting through content, you’d want to be the content that stands out and compels people to scroll further and read more. Write creatively and always think of fresh, outside of the box, fun (and funny) ways to present your message.

4. Write with passion

My selections for Top Story have been pretty random. I often find that the stories that take the most work to construct but lack any kind of emotional commitment from me never get picked while the ones that I pour my heart into, even if I’ve written them in a short amount of time, seem to get picked. I wrote both “Tackling Zoom Anxiety” and “Code-Switching” during a recurring Tuesday lecture I have at uni while feeling overwhelmed by immense feelings of anxiety and later, an unyielding feeling of insecurity about the way I speak.

They were topics that I genuinely cared quite deeply about. I also drafted “So You Didn't Win a Vocal Challenge?” after a story that I loved, ironically “Cozy is a State of Mind” that was also staff-picked, didn’t place in a challenge and I was feeling particularly dejected. Your passion and interest carry throughout your writing and readers can tell. Choose to write about the things you’re interested in.

5. Read to write

Read the Top Stories and observe the elements that these stories possess that you could implement in your own writing. Effective writing is a skill that constantly needs to be honed and refined. My primary school English teacher would always say, “To become a better writer, you need to read voraciously and widely." Don’t think that this doesn’t apply to writing on Vocal.

6. Don’t worry too much about it

I know that’s rich coming from someone who just admitted to having not one but four featured stories in the last 30 days but hear me out. While I think it’s incredible to get selected as a Top Story and it definitely feels great to be recognized, it’s important not to tie the worth of your story to whether or not it gets picked. I have done this. I’ve hoped that one story or another would get picked, they didn’t get picked and then I’d feel crappy about myself and my writing. Remember that there are other effective ways to promote your story for a larger viewership. Try Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, Quora and even Pinterest. Keep expectations low so that when your story is inevitably picked, it's a surprise and a pretty freaking amazing one at that!


Like I said in the intro of this post, there's no exact science or formula to getting chosen as a Top Story. It's pretty random and I will return to my comment in the Facebook group that it's mostly luck. However, from the perspective of someone who reads a lot on Vocal, these are the elements of stories that make me want to click on them. Hopefully this helps at least one human person. Continue writing and hope for the best!

If you like this post, please be sure to like this post!

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About the Creator

Laquesha Bailey

22 years old literally, about 87 at heart. I write about self care, university life, money, music, books and whatever else that piques my interest.


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