Writing a Blog Helps You Write Better

October 27th, 2010 20 Comments

Photo by Bruce Berrien from Flickr used under Creative Commons

I know. Thank you Captain Obvious.

Seriously though, like anything, writing gets easier and better with practice. So, if writing is a part of your job, you might want to start a blog.

Take my job for instance. Development means a lot of writing, collecting requirements (the requirements document), describing what a product should do to meet those requirements (the functional design), describing how a product is to be built (the technical design or architecture), describing how to test the product (test plans), documenting what the product does (documentation) and how to use it (white papers), and promoting the product (collateral).

Surprising amount of writing for a technical profession.

Most of these documents have templates to make them consistent and to guide the author through want should be included. The templates tend to make them longer, and providing detail is easy, with words and screenshots.

So, these documents can easily pass 100 pages. I think a design I did years ago reached 200 plus pages. It was quite complex, but still, talk about tl;dr.

What does this have to do with blogging?

Three things:

1. Blogging hones your brevity skills.

From my own reading experience, I don’t like thick paragraphs; they are depressing. So, I use a lot of whitespace.

Also, my time is valuable, so I want to get to the point.  When I read content from traditional journalists (e.g. the NYT, WSJ, Time, etc.), I wonder why they haven’t evolved. Skip the hook, make your point. I try to follow this in all my writing, with minor indulgences.

2. Practice helps you develop style.

Blogging is conversational, but that’s what makes it readable. This is exactly what is missing from so-called professional writing. It’s antiseptic.

Obviously, you must find a balance. Don’t drop a “dude” into your product documentation, unless you’re prepared to take heat from a heated customer. But, this is why you practice.

3. Practice makes it easier.

Even if you’re dreading the task, it’s easier if you’re accustomed to writing and the process of creating.

Bonus point, people appreciate good writing. What makes it good? It’s clear, short and not boring. If you write well, they might even miss the fact that you’ve no idea what you’re doing. He said, not at all from experience.

Thoughts? Find the comments.


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20 Responses to “Writing a Blog Helps You Write Better”

  1. Chet Justice Says:

    Forwarding to 1019 people…thank you.

  2. oraclenerd (oraclenerd) Says:

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    RT @theappslab Writing a Blog Helps You Write Better [link to post] < --amen!

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  3. theappslab (theappslab) Says:

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    Writing a Blog Helps You Write Better [link to post]

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  4. uvox Says:

    Excellent points. Remember blogging really is part of the user community conversation we want to engage in with users of our products and services too. We’ve moved on past the PDF User’s Guide model. Se: http://blogs.oracle.com/userassistance/2010/07/the_user_assistance_conversation.html

  5. jcollison (Jim Collison) Says:

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    RT @oraclenerd: RT @theappslab Writing a Blog Helps You Write Better [link to post] < --amen!

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  6. ultan (ultmeistergeneral) Says:

    Twitter Comment


    RT @theappslab: Writing a Blog Helps You Write Better [link to post] < -blogging as user conversation. excellent point.

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  7. Joel R. Kallman Says:

    I completely agree. It seems like so many people have lost the ability to communicate clearly and concisely. When I get an email from someone that causes the scroll bar to appear in my mail client, I usually click the Delete icon (unless it’s from someone who has an impact on my compensation).

  8. Jake Says:

    Thanks. Several years ago, DB documentation added comments to their HTML pages to collect errors, etc. Small change, but a big step toward conversation. I wrote it up here somewhere.

  9. Jake Says:

    No, thank *you*.

  10. Jake Says:

    In many ways, email has butchered good written communication. Some people tend toward being to long-winded, while others keep it impossibly short.

    Of course, IM and texting haven’t done any favors either. The great thing about blogging is that it’s low-impact, so you can practice without worrying about consequences.

  11. uvox Says:

    Right I remember that. I’m currently writing up an article for usableapps.oracle.com on the subject too (link to this post natch). Can you recommend any bloggers out there who write up Oracle stuff voluntarility that would be of use to users instead of ye olde manuals? (don’t care of platform – apps, web center, foo). On the Adobe front I like this guy: http://blogs.adobe.com/indesigndocs/

  12. Jake Says:

    Our old pal David Haimes (http://davidhaimes.wordpress.com/) writes up useful how-to type information. The Talented Apps crew (http://talentedapps.wordpress.com/) will undoubtedly ramp up that content as Fusion rolls.

    Non-employees to read for how-to content, Chet (http://oraclenerd.com), Floyd (http://orclville.blogspot.com), Eddie Awad (http://awads.net/wp/)

    I know I’m forgetting people. Check out Eddie’s news aggregator, http://orana.info for a much more complete list, including both employees and other interested parties.

    Best way to find people, ask in a post :)

  13. uvox Says:

    thanks, i’ll mention some of these… if i can get it past the “it’s too long” police…

  14. joel garry Says:

    If blogging is low impact, you’re doing it wrong (put picture of lolcat here). Of course, if you make too much impact, you may really need to worry (put picture of Kathy Sierra here). At the extreme, you may need to commit webicide (put black square here, with link to eight things you didn’t know about controversy).

    Yes, practice makes perfect, but… only if the practice is improving in the correct direction. Self-editing is notoriously difficult, without external feedback you can reinforce bad habits. The feedback you get from blogging can be very misleading, others may be making the same mistakes and reinforcing the wrong. Even here, I may be misinterpreting what you mean by low-impact.

    I know my problem is I tend to be too terse – even back in college, I was offered a job (unsolicited) writing abstracts for a technical journal, it was obvious to my English professor I had a gift there. When I discovered usenet and stopped caring so much about technical perfection, writing became much easier. But then there are people who expect every usenet posting to be friggin’ Wordsworth. And a blog or tech paper? I still demand perfection from myself, and at least some competence from others.

    @uvox:

    Check out Tom Kyte, Jonathan Lewis, and Cary Millsap (on point about writing: http://carymillsap.blogspot.com/2010/09/brown-noise-in-written-language-part-2.html ) and the people they blogroll. Unfortunately, hjr webicided (mostly) – he wrote the most excellent docs, but the conversations had issues. http://www.urbandictionary.com/products.php?term=webicide&defid=4257130

    But dare we say anything about bad bloggers?

  15. ivanwalsh (Ivan Walsh) Says:

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    Writing a Blog Helps You Write Better [link to post] http://friendfeed.com/e/c3de89e7-cd2c-42e3-885d-8b668bfaf908

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  16. Jake Says:

    Interesting. I think you’ve correctly interpreted low-impact. I should have said low risk. A corollary I omitted was you should blog and read blogs. Consuming volumes of information will train you to self-edit in your blogging and writing.

    Nothing wrong with terse, but again, experience with it online has taught you through practice how to do it without seeming short and causing butt-hurt.

  17. Jake Says:

    Start a blogroll and keep it updated, or post and then update it as you find new ones. I assume you were joking about the “too long” police, i.e. me :) If not, I want details about these police.

  18. joel garry Says:

    Actually, it hasn’t! People exposed to me for the first time often feel spanked. Doing this for decades, I still haven’t learned. Sometimes it is entertaining, I’ll offend someone, they’ll give a who-the-hell-are-you response, then (I guess someone offline tells them or they google or they feel embarrassed about their own response or something) they suddenly are more accepting of me. As I get older, I get both more ornery and more accepting of others. Then I see something like twitter which brings out the worst ambiguities in my postings… Of course I’m a fan of ambiguity and bad puns, there’s a bad irresistible combo here. IM-speak and text-speak upset me too, I just try to avoid those situations entirely, though that may change now that I have unlimited txt cuz’ve kidz.

  19. Jake Says:

    Hmm, in retrospect by looking at your comments, I should have known better ;)

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