A Guide to Medium Curation

What it is, why it matters, and how to increase your odds.

Photo by Ståle Grut on Unsplash

I love the word curation. It makes me think of museums, of course. But also, it makes me think of the art of pulling together disparate things and figuring out how they fit together.

Curation is the biggest buzz word in the community of Medium writers right now. Several times a day, questions about curation pop up in Facebook groups I belong to for Medium writers.

What is it? Why does it happen? How does it happen? What if it doesn’t happen? Is there some kind of magic bean involved?

I thought I’d see if I could curate a post that answers some of those questions. (Cute, right?)

Let’s start with a definition.

Curation is when Medium’s elevators — the people tasked with checking out posts and ‘elevating’ them by curating them into the platform’s many topics — choose a post to share more widely with readers.

When a post is curated, it shows up on the page for the topic or topics that it has been curated in. It can also be distributed to Medium members who follow those topics.

For instance, this post of mine was recently curated into the writing topic.

I can see that it’s been curated because the word ‘writing’ appears above it on my stats page.

And when I click on ‘details’ I can see it there, too. If it was curated into more than one topic, all of the topics would show up on the detailed stats page.

And, when I click on that little boxed word ‘writing’ I’m taken to the topics page, where I can see my post listed.

You don’t have to do anything to submit your post for curation. Elevators automatically look at posts and decide whether or not to curate them.

Some posts are passed without being looked at, due to time constraints on Medium’s part. I’m not sure what causes this or how posts are sorted into this category.

I do know that if my posts were regularly getting that note, I would work toward figuring out how to stop that from happening by increasing the quality of my posts over time and perhaps reaching out to Medium and asking for feedback.

The way a post is actually shared is called distribution.

When a post link shows up at the bottom of the post you’re reading or you get an email or text notification about a new post — that’s Medium distributing your post to readers.

Medium will share this particular post by distributing it to some readers who follow the ‘writing’ topic, as well as people who follow me and people who follow the publication I posted this article in.

If people read and respond to it, they’ll distribute it more.

Medium offers guidelines for curation.

Medium cares most about the quality of the post. Is your writing clear? Is it grammatically correct and free of errors? Is it an interesting read?

They also like to see posts with clear headlines, subheads, and photographs that are properly cited.

At least as important as all of that technical stuff is this: Medium strives to be ad-free. They charge their members a monthly subscription, and those readers expect an ad-free reading experience.

If you have affiliate links or less-than-subtle calls to action (say, to join your email list), or you are selling something in your post, it is unlikely to be curated even though you’re not breaking any rules.

Medium allows sign up forms, for instance, in posts that are part of the Medium Partnership Program (behind the paywall.) They are just less likely to curate those posts.

Medium also allows affiliate links in posts behind the paywall, as long as you use a disclosure letting readers know that you’ve used those links. But, again, they are unlikely to curate those posts.

And Medium is also unlikely to curate any post that looks like it’s part of a series that it not their own. If you write a weekly series, for instance, those posts aren’t against any rule, but Medium will probably not curate them into their topics.

Medium rarely curates posts that are about writing on Medium, by the way. I do not expect this post to be curated.

Medium does a good job of letting you know whether you’ve been curated.

On the detailed stats page for each of your posts, you’ll see a message like this if a post has been curated:

If your post was not curated, you’ll see a message like this:

Medium does not curate every post. Sometimes well-written posts that meet all the criteria are passed over. However if you’re finding that most of your posts aren’t being curated, here are a few ideas.

First — not being curated is not the end of the world.

Your post is still made available to your followers. It’s still comes up in searches or if someone flips through posts in a tag you’ve used.

You’ll likely get less traffic if your post isn’t curated — but your post hasn’t been shipped off to Siberia.

And you own the work. You can revisit it later, when you’ve learned more about writing, and make it better, then try again by deleting the original and reposting.

Take a hard look at the quality of your writing.

Your posts should be clearly written and as free from grammatical and spelling errors as possible.

Large chunks of narrative are hard to read online (and in print, actually), so make sure you’re breaking your posts up with lots of white space.

Use subheads in your text, to help with the white space and add to the reading experience. Bullet points help with this as well.

Make sure that you’re digging deep enough in our work. If you’re writing something that has been said lots of times, by lots of writers, and not adding anything new to the conversation, that could be why your posts are not curated.

Medium suggests asking for peer feedback on your writing and that’s a good idea. It might be tough to hear, but if you’re not being curated it could be because your writing isn’t up to par.

That doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or that you should quit. It means that you should read a lot and implement what you learn into your work. Medium is a unique platform that lets you publish while you’re learning. Take advantage of that.

Use proper formatting.

Medium has let us know that they like a clear headline written with title case (most of the words capitalized, no end punctuation.) They also like a subhead that gives more information and is written in sentence case (just like it sounds, like a sentence that starts with a capital and ends with punctuation.)

They like an interesting photograph at the top of your post that’s properly cited. They even have a built in way to do that.

If your posts are not being curated and you’re not following these basic formatting guidelines, that could be why.

Make sure you’re not advertising.

This one impacted me quite a lot. I sometimes use affiliate links in my posts and building my email list is very important to me. Having multiple income streams is always high on my priority list.

I had to decide which posts I wanted to optimize for Medium curation. For those posts, I don’t include any email sign-up forms or affiliate links. For a while I had a link in the bio I put at the bottom of each of my posts that I finally realized was keeping me from being curated more often. When I took that link out, my curation rate increased.

Write stand-alone posts.

Medium is unlikely to curate a post that feels like it is part of a series.

I happen to be the kind of writer who really enjoys writing in series. Sometimes I just write my series and realize that Medium isn’t going to help me promote those posts as much as some of my other work.

Other times, I try to keep the fact that I’m writing a series more subtle. If I want my posts to be curated, I don’t name the series, for instance. I try to make the post feel like someone could read it by itself and not feel lost.

I might post those under a tag in my own publications, to make them stand out as a series. Or call it a series in my own promotion efforts (for instance, when I post my links to Facebook or my email list.) But the actual post needs to read as complete all by itself, and not look like it’s part of a series if I want it to be curated.

Don’t rely on curation as your own form of promotion.

You do not have control over whether or not Medium curates your posts, beyond making sure that you meet their guidelines.

Meeting those guidelines is not a guarantee.

One of the best things you can do is focus on the things you can control. Promote your own posts via your social media channels. Start to build an email list, so that you can distribute your posts to readers on your own. Make a Medium publication for your posts so that you can use Medium’s ‘letters’ feature to reach out to followers.

Also remember that not every post is a great fit for Medium. For instance, I’ve found that reviews, recipes, and tactile how-to articles don’t gain my traction here. I’ve also written some posts here that didn’t get much Medium-specific traffic, but ranked on Google (which brings readers, but usually not much Medium income.) I’ve started moving some of those posts to Hubpages, where SEO and Google ranking matters more, to see how they do there.


Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.