Archive — Writing
An interview with Khoi Vinh on the benefits of blogging.
Blogging has always been pivotal to my career. When I was offered my first ‘proper’ job as a web editor at the University of St Andrews, I only really had my blog to speak for. Yet it was enough to get my name out there, and to enable me to develop web skills.
Since then, I’ve had less and less spare time. Now it’s a huge challenge to find the space for myself to blog.
I’d done well last year by publishing something every day. But recently I fell off the wagon. So this line from Khoi Vinh’s interview stood out to me:
I think you’ve just got to do it consistently, repeatedly, and you’ve got to be undeterred by the time it requires and the inconvenience in your life that it generates.
I’ll try to be more tolerant of that inconvenience. It will probably pay off in some way I can’t imagine just now, like it did 10 years ago.
How technology affects the way we write — but not necessarily in the ways we expect. I was particularly struck by the idea that one of the biggest changes has been how the “distinction between revision and composition began to erode entirely” with the advent of computers.
Why makers write
This is a bit of a sales pitch, but it is a good piece on the importance of writing regularly.
Deep understanding is necessary for makers. Understanding develops the perspective and conviction needed for bringing products to market. This is why blog-first startups are viable. Writing forces a maker to deeply understand the value they intend to bring into the world.
Sara Soueidan on why you should just write, regardless of what the voice in your head may be telling you.
Start a blog and publish your writings there. Don’t think about whether or not people will like or read your articles — just give them a home and put them out there.
Most popular blogs I know started out as a series of articles that were written for the authors themselves, as a way to document their process and progress for their future selves to reference when they needed to.
Like Sara, I have found it difficult at times over the years to publish stuff to my blog, out of fear that it wouldn’t be good enough.
Over this past year I have committed to publishing something every day. It is not always high-quality. But doing so has been good for me, and has achieved most of what I had hoped for.
Using contractions could be making your writing inaccessible
We found that some of these users did not understand sentences that had negative contractions in them (negative contractions are words like ‘can’t’, ‘won’t’, ‘don’t’). They interpreted the sentence without inferring the ‘not’.
I have been in two minds about using contractions for a while. On the one hand, avoiding contractions does seem to reduce ambiguity. But at the same time it can make your writing seem stilted and overly-formal.
As always with writing style, there will be no true answer, and the right way forward will depend on the circumstances. But if in doubt, it is worth considering avoiding contractions.
I really like this idea of crowdsourcing, and making available to the community, a set of readability guidelines based on evidence.
I see many content designers spending time talking – arguing – about points of style when often accessibility and usability show what we should do.
What if there was one place where we, as a community, shared knowledge and created a style guide that was accessible, usable and – if we wanted – evidenced?
We could then spend time on the things that matter more to our organisations.
More frequent posting
More on the idea of writing more regularly.
In the Marshmallow Challenge there are two groups of individuals that tend to produce the best results. (Un)surprisingly, structural engineers do well (as you would hope!) but the other highest scoring groups are actually 2nd graders. Yeah, 2nd graders. Not project management teams, or programmers, or MBAs. The reason they were so good is because they didn’t bother wasting time deciding who was going to do what – they just started playing around and building, figuring out what did and didn’t work as they went along. These kids significantly outperformed most adults, other than those who had formal training on how to build things.
Good writing and analytics don’t mix
If you want to be a good writer then you can’t worry about the numbers. The stats, the dashboards, the faves, likes, hearts and yes, even the claps, they all lead to madness and, worst of all in my opinion, bad writing.
Recently I have been thinking a bit about what stats trackers I should be running on my blog, particularly in light of GDPR. I currently run three, and I wonder if I should cut this back.
Robin Rendle’s blog post has got me wondering further if it’s just a bad idea to worry about — or even be aware of — how many people are reading.
It’s always tempting to look at the stats. But I also know that the most-viewed posts are not the highest quality ones. So perhaps it’s better to focus on improving something other than the numbers.
See also: Escaping Twitter’s self-consciousness machine, on what happens when you remove all metrics from the Twitter interface.
An ode to writing with a human voice
More on the apparent decline of blogs from the Government Digital Service (GDS).
This article makes the excellent counterpoint to a recent GDS post apparently attempting to address the debate around the quality of their recent blogging efforts.
The measures of success cited include levels of ‘engagement’, aligning posts with campaigns, and instances of very senior officials publishing posts. This, to me, fundamentally misunderstands the value of blogging compared with more ‘formal’ communications. Aligning blogs more closely with PR activity doesn’t strengthen blogs— it nullifies their distinct value.
Of course, it is not just GDS who have suffered.
In the early days, blogging and social media was so vital precisely because it wasn’t traditional communications. When the communications people caught wind of the popularity of social media, they took control (which, for some reason, comms people are obsessed with). The comms crowd and the marketing mob turned social media into yet another stifled channel, designed to control the message, thereby destroying actual valuable communication.
The tools matter and the tools don’t matter
It is easy to sneer at a question about what brand of pen to use, or whether you should use a pencil or a typewriter.
But in this piece, Austin Kleon argues that different tools can help you “get you to a certain way of working in which you can get your conscious, mechanical mind out of the way” to enable creativity.
…handwriting is great for coming up with ideas, for note-taking and big picture thinking…
Typing, on the other hand, is great for producing writing for other people… There’s a thing called “transcription fluency,” which boils down to: “when your fingers can’t move as fast as your thoughts, your ideas suffer.”
A few notes on daily blogging
A striking article, partly because I find it slightly eerie that the author chose to start blogging daily on 1 October, the same day I started blogging again.
I haven’t quite managed to blog on a daily basis. Although I do publish something at least once a day, I tend to write multiple posts at a time and schedule them for future publication.
(As an example, I’m writing this on Wednesday 28 February, in the expectation that I will publish it on Tuesday 6 March.)
As a result, I’m not sure I have benefited yet from resuming my regular blogging. Perhaps I will endeavour to carve out some time each day to write something.
Word count for web pages
Kickstarted: iA Writer for Windows
I am a fan of iA Writer, a writing application designed to help you focus. The only problem is that it is not available for Windows.
I have the Android version installed on my phone. But I don’t know about you — I don’t tend do my writing on my phone. Meanwhile, those fancy Mac users have had a desktop application for a while.
On my Windows machines I have had to make do with using Sublime Text with some Markdown packages installed. Which kind of does the trick, but is not as slick
Finally, a Windows version of iA Writer is coming, and you can back it on Kickstarter. I am looking forward to it and the promised web version.
Getting titles wrong: what you can learn from our mistake
Getting the title of your content right is vital. When you get it right, users can find it and use it. When you get it wrong, it can really cause problems.
The single reason why people can’t write, according to a Harvard psychologist
For [Steven] Pinker, the root cause of so much bad writing is what he calls “the Curse of Knowledge”, which he defines as “a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose.”