Medium's Quality Guidelines: How real humans review stories for Boost

Updated: January 8, 2024

Medium’s mission is to deepen our collective understanding of the world through human storytelling, knowledge-sharing, and personal expression.

We value thoughtful, nuanced, knowledgeable perspectives — and know readers do, too. That’s why elevating quality is one of our most important jobs.

Our human curation team reviews stories daily to identify the best of the best to Boost across Medium’s network: the homepage, emails, apps, and more. This gives a Boosted story a greater chance of being seen by more readers, helping writers and publications gain more visibility and audience. We review stories submitted by our community of publication editors participating in the Boost Nomination Pilot as well as stories we discover through our own internal curation tools.

Stories on Medium fall into one of three platform distribution categories:

  1. Boosted—high-quality stories that meet our Boost Guidelines (below), which get a higher priority in being matched to readers
  2. General Distribution—stories that are also being matched to readers based on their interests and who/what they follow. This is the default category for stories on Medium.
  3. Network Only—stories that are matched only to readers who are following that specific writer (and/or the publication, if the article is in a publication).

All stories on Medium, regardless of the category above, are available to readers via direct links, search engines, social media, and other forms of off-Medium distribution.

Continue reading for more details about the guidelines for each of these categories.

Boost Guidelines

In deciding which stories to Boost, we look for those that help readers deepen their understanding of themselves, others, their endeavors, or the world.

These stories can come in almost any form: nonfiction, fiction, poetry, personal essay, memoir, humor, photo essay, tutorial, and a myriad of other possibilities too numerous to mention. (When we say “story”, we mean a work of any form created by a writer on Medium.)

A story need not exemplify every one of these elements to be Boosted. We interpret these elements in a broad, nuanced sense — not as a checklist of requirements, but as a target to shoot for. We’re looking for stories that we’re especially proud to put in front of Medium readers. Here’s a more detailed look at what we look for:

Story Content

  • Is the reader’s life enriched by reading the story? Stories selected for Boost might elicit emotions like laughter, tears, excitement, wonder, and more. Or they might help a reader learn something that will help them do their job better, master a new skill, lend words and understanding to feelings, navigate relationships with greater ease, better understand issues of the day, reconsider their own perspectives, or even feel less alone in the world. Whatever the genre, there’s a relationship between readers and writers, and Boost-worthy stories exemplify respect for that relationship; the reader is not left with a sense that their time has been used to read a sales pitch or to indulge a writer’s bid for attention. The story shows genuine regard for the reader (as opposed to being written mainly for the benefit of the writer).
  • Is it original, human-created content? The story is original in that it explores something previously unknown or not frequently examined, or it re-examines something we think we know a lot about to shed new light, voice, or perspective on the topic. The story does not appear to be generated by a large language model or other text-generating technology. (The story does not need to be originally published on Medium—see more here about republishing from your blog or other site.)

Author’s Experience

  • Does the author speak from relevant knowledge and experience? The story demonstrates that the author has credible, first-hand experience with or knowledge about this subject, and they care deeply about communicating it effectively. That may be because they’re a subject matter expert or because of their lived experience. One way or another, there’s a clear and compelling reason why this particular author is writing about this particular topic—their insights (whether revealed in the context of fiction or nonfiction) reflect relevant experience.

Craftsmanship

  • Is the story well-crafted? The story is well-written, free of errors, appropriately sourced, and narratively strong. The content, editorial choices, and central point of the post are clear and compelling. The length of the story is appropriate and serves the purpose and context of the story itself (well-crafted stories can be short or long). The writer has worked to craft an interesting, non-clickbait title and the story delivers on what that title promises. Ideally, images, if any, add value to the story, include ALT text to make them more accessible, and are appropriately credited. Formatting used correctly is one of many indicators of a writer taking care to craft their work (see formatting tips here).
  • Does the story have impact? We’re looking for the kind of stories that you’re still thinking about days later. Are you compelled to share this with your network? Did this story get you thinking? Move you? Make you feel good about the value of your Medium subscription? Are you glad you read it? This type of impact is another facet of craftsmanship and applies whether the topic is universally appealing or totally niche, for stories of any genre or that defy genre.

What prevents a story from being Boosted?

Any of the qualities listed below under “Network Only,” or that violate Medium’s Rules, can prevent a story from being Boosted. But some additional factors can prevent a story from being Boosted even if we find it to otherwise be of high quality. 

These factors can lead to a story being disqualified for Boost:

  • Non-fiction sexuality, or stories with sexually explicit text or images. (Erotica—sexually explicit fiction, poetry, or art—falls into the “Network Only” category below and so is already ineligible to be Boosted.)
  • Stories with shocking, sensational, NSFW, or profane titles/subtitles/cover images. Stories we Boost must be appropriate when seen in the context of reader feeds, emails, and other lists.
  • Stories depicting explicit violence in a gratuitous way. (Non-gratuitous depictions of violence might, for example, involve historical facts that are being presented in a careful and thoughtful manner—these can be Boosted.)

These factors are considered in context with the rest of the story. We recognize that sex, violence, and other forms of sensitive material are a reality of life, a form of self-expression, and an important element of many stories. We welcome those stories. However, the writer’s ability to handle these elements in a way that also respects Medium’s readers is part of the pattern we look for in the well-crafted, enriching, and impactful stories we choose to Boost. 

Getting Boosted is not required to reach a wide audience. Stories that are not Boosted garner thousands of views every day on the platform through general distribution (see below) on Medium. Stories which are not eligible for Boost may also appear in Staff Picks or our newsletters, and of course will be distributed to the writer and publication’s followers.

Examples of Boosted Stories

Expand this section to see just a few examples of Boosted stories representing various topics and genres:

Examples of Boosted Stories
  • Both Sides Now (personal essay) - Strong narrative thread about the writer’s experience that is both relatable and illuminating. It shows good editing, eliminating “play-by-play” of what happened to the writer by omitting details that don’t support that narrative. The writer is vulnerable, showing honesty, humility, and humor in relaying her part in that experience.
  • My Laundry-to-Landscape Greywater System Will Take a 25,000 Gallon Bite Out of the Drought (nonfiction, how-to) - Well-crafted with all original content based directly on the writer’s experience getting their own system installed. Good original photos, properly captioned and used in a way that is helpful (not just as decoration). Links and discussion of the relevance of the how-to give the reader helpful context they might not otherwise have. Anticipates and answers common questions readers might ask about this topic.
  • "How It Goes:” On Slacking and San Francisco (memoir) - draws the reader in with images and experiences with entertaining and enlightening details. The theme of returning to a place, with both the place and the narrator having been changed, is universally relatable—but the details are uniquely that of the writer’s experience. Well-crafted; hones in on a unique place at a unique time, through a lens of the writing life—without tipping over into sentimentality.
  • All You Need to Know to Build Your First LLM App (programming) - highly detailed, well-organized original how-to article; extremely useful to readers. Details how to do individual tasks but also points the reader towards other options and areas to explore.
  • The Audacity of Nope (nonfiction, self-help) - This story takes a fairly common piece of self-help advice (the power of saying “no”) but gives it a fresh take through the lens of the writer’s experience and what she directly noticed in the experience of other Black women. It contextualizes this advice for Black women, but any reader could benefit by reading it with an improved understanding of what Black women face. Is this article “niche” or of general interest? It’s both at the same time, and that’s one way it sparkles. It’s also highly readable, exactly the right length for what it does—well-crafted.
  • The Frontiersman’s Diary (fiction) - This fiction piece draws the reader in; it’s well-crafted in that the narrative launches the reader directly into the story and continues to reveal elements that make the reader want to continue reading. It retains some mystery, a characteristic that can make the reader recall the story days later.
  • Coding, Fast and Slow: Developers and the Psychology of Overconfidence (programming) - Strongly based on the writer’s experience; highly readable narrative uses example stories, humility, and humor to illustrate the issue at hand. Fosters better understanding between programmers and non-technical people (interesting even to non-programmers). High potential for impact on a person in how they think about estimates going forward.
  • Design notes on the 2023 Wikipedia redesign (User Experience / Design) — detailed deep-dive by a person who actually worked on the redesign; full of interesting insights and insider background. Well-organized with helpful illustrations, headings, and other document structure. Extremely constructive and original material.
  • Catching the Train in November (Poetry)—The poem captures the feeling of being in a city as darkness falls in early winter. The imagery is fresh but immediately relatable. The poem is imbued with a quality of expressing something ineffable, quite effectively even with plain words.
  • How to Walk 100,000 Steps in One Day (how-to/memoir) — a how-to steeped in the writer’s experience, offering helpful, compassionate tips for writers who might want to attempt the same goal. Great example of an “empathic tutorial” that anticipates a reader’s difficulties and offers tested solution. An entertaining, well-crafted narrative.
  • Code Review Velocity — The Need for Speed (Programming) - strongly organized content and links to source material create an overall sense of being well-crafted and genuinely helpful to the reader. Writer clearly has first-hand experience. Potential to have a strong impact on its intended audience by helping them improve their skills.
  • Into Darkness: AI and the Death of the Artist (Technology) — There are so many hot-takes and listicles on AI lately; an article has to be well-crafted to hold the reader’s attention, and this one does that. It’s possible that the reader might not learn any new facts from this piece, but it’s highly likely they haven’t heard those facts related to each other in quite this way. The author’s experience informs the piece, but it never becomes a rant.
  • I Won the 1968 Boston Marathon. And Ran Many More. After the Bombs, Everything Changed (Memoir) - It’s hard to think of a writer more qualified to write about how this event is different after a terrorist attack—personal reflections about a race become a beautiful, relatable tribute to gratitude in action.
  • We’re Not All The Same: Why Lunar New Year Matters (Nonfiction) - This story, also based on personal experience, is a good example of “show, don’t tell”. This topic could have been handled as a listicle or opinion piece on what to do. What this writer did instead makes a beautiful impact on the reader.
  • An Inheritance of Pride (Nonfiction/Memoir) - There’s a point to the family history in this article—it takes the reader on a journey and makes them glad they went. One thing (not the only thing) that can make a memoir well-crafted is a sense of the writer and reader arriving at some shared insight together. This article does that beautifully.
  • Sounds in Silence (Poetry)—the structure of this poem supports it as a sort of meditation-within-a-meditation; the imagery gives the reader a clear picture of the experience and expresses a sense of peace; there’s a satisfaction in it being “just right.”
  • Three Magical Phrases to Comfort a Dying Person (Memoir) - an especially well-crafted and personal memoir that leaves the reader deeply affected. The writer lets the real drama of the story unfold without resorting to overly dramatic prose, drawing the reader into the experience and making a lasting impact.
  • Negative Proof (fiction) - a highly readable short story that takes on an issue of our time in a unique way. Well-written; draws the reader in and takes them on a journey that ends with a satisfying twist.
  • Relax In Our Fragile Airbnb (satire) - well-crafted satire uses believable exaggeration to make a point about overly-fussy AirBnB rentals.
  • Measuring the Gender Gap in Animated Films Using Computer Vision (programming)—based on highly original research and data collected by the writer; has a unique combination of how to do a similar study with the results of the study. Good use of images. Multiple possible take-aways for readers create impact.
  • Everything Everywhere All At Once: Severe ADHD and Tax Law Collide (nonfiction) — In this article, the narrative thread is a bit messy—it makes some jumps. But in this case, given the subject matter, it’s extremely effective. The writer shares deeply in a unique and entertaining way that helps a reader understand what people with ADHD experience. Highly unique; and well-crafted in the sense that it makes the impact intended by the writer (rather than in the sense it follows some set of rules for writing).
  • Diary of a Brand: Blank Street Coffee (marketing case study) - very well-crafted and original; the author did data collection and analysis; all images are credited, captioned, and contribute to the story directly. The title, subtitle, and cover image invite the reader in, and the content of the story really delivers on what they promise. The writer’s experience infuses the article (she shares a model she uses in her work and illustrates how to apply it).
  • When I’m Gone (fiction) - highly original and imaginative story; entertaining and insightful. Proper use of blockquotes (had this story not been formatted properly, it would have been far less effective). Engaging writing style.

Getting Boosted is not required to reach a wide audience. Stories that are not Boosted garner thousands of views every day on the platform through general distribution on Medium.

General Distribution

General Distribution is the default for articles published on Medium.

Stories are eligible for general distribution across the Medium network—website, apps, email, topic pages, newsletters—so long as they do not violate our distribution standards or site rules.

These stories are also distributed to readers following topics relevant to the story, following the writer, or following the publication in which the story appears.

Network Only

Stories that are reviewed and found to contain any of the characteristics below are restricted to the writer’s followers and the publication’s followers, if the article is in a publication.

They are not distributed to readers based on the topics they follow.

We call this “Network Only” distribution—these stories will go out to the writer’s and publication’s network only. Readers can also find them via links shared on other platforms, search engines, social media, and more.

These types of stories are not disallowed on Medium (as they don’t violate Medium’s rules)—they simply don’t get distributed to readers beyond the writer/publication network.

These elements can cause a story to be set to Network Only:

  • Clickbait text or images. We like the Wikipedia definition of clickbait as “...designed to attract attention and to entice users to follow that link and read, view, or listen to the linked piece of online content, being typically deceptive, sensationalized, or otherwise misleading.”
  • Un-constructive negativity, like outrage porn, sensationalism, violence
  • Ad-hominem attacks or rebuttals (call-out posts); inflammatory attacks on individuals or businesses
  • Reputation-laundering
  • Stories that offer the reader little and have a primary point of gathering signups/traffic, selling something, or soliciting donations, including sponsored content and content marketing.
  • Medium is not a place for fully AI-generated stories, and 100% AI-generated stories will not be eligible for distribution beyond the writer’s personal network.

    We currently allow the responsible use of AI-assistive technology on Medium. To promote transparency, and help set reader expectations, we require that any story incorporating AI assistance be clearly labeled as such. AI-assisted text without a disclosure at the beginning of the story (within the first two paragraphs), or other AI-generated content not labeled as such (for example, AI-generated images should include captioning identifying them as such, along with proper sourcing) will similarly be restricted to distribution on the writer’s personal network. Read more about our approach to AI here.
  • Crypto airdrops
  • Erotica and other sexually explicit content
  • Stories depicting detailed graphic violence
  • Use of copyrighted images  without permission— writers and publications should use original images or images they have the right to use, and should cite their sources.
  • Link farms
  • Stories with unverified claims that could be dangerous, illegal, or cause harm, including health, public health or mental health claims; claims that lack sufficient evidence or manipulate otherwise widely accepted information
  • Stories about Medium—see below for more details on this.

Of course, stories that violate Medium Rules are also not eligible for distribution to Medium’s network. If you are surprised to see something missing in the guidelines above, it’s probably because that’s a rules violation that will get a post and/or writer completely removed.

Special Situations and Exceptions

Meta-Medium Stories

Posts about the partner program, making money on Medium, or Boost itself are set to Network Only. This is how we prevent readers from being overrun by these stories; readers have repeatedly told us they don’t want this content appearing in their feed or digests when they don’t follow the writer or publication.

Other stories (not about the partner program or making money) about how to use Medium as a reader/writer/member are occasionally (but seldom) eligible for distribution and for Boost.

We’re happy for you to write about your experience using Medium—good or bad—and those stories will be distributed to your network (people who follow you, and people who follow the publication the story appears in, if any) as well as to anyone who gets the link.

We suggest that you tag these stories "meta-medium"—in the future, we hope to provide a better way to distribute these to readers who are interested in the topic.

Stories in languages other than English

We can only review stories written in English at this time, so unfortunately stories in other languages will not be Boosted yet—it’s something we hope to do in the future.

Want to learn more?

The statements, views, and opinions contained in curated stories are those of the authors and are not endorsed by, nor do they necessarily reflect the opinions of, Medium or its employees.

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