On Writing Blogs

Why are so many blogs about IT so difficult to read? Over at SQLServerCentral.com, we do a special subscription-only newsletter called Database Weekly. Every other week, it is my turn to look through all the blogs, news and events that might be of relevance to people working with databases. We provide the title, with the link, and a short abstract of what you can expect to read. It is a popular service with close to a million subscribers.

You might think that this is a happy and fascinating task. Sometimes, yes. If a blog comes to the point quickly, and says something both interesting and original, then it has our immediate attention. If it backs up what it says with supporting material, then it is more-or-less home and dry, featured in DBW’s list. If it also takes trouble over the formatting and presentation, maybe with an illustration or two and any code well-formatted, then we are agog with joy and it is marked as a must-visit destination in our blog roll.

More often, however, a task that should be fun becomes a routine chore, and the effort of trawling so many badly-written blogs is enough to make any conscientious Health & Safety officer whistle through their teeth at the risk to the editor’s spiritual and psychological well-being.

And yet, frustratingly, most blogs could be improved very easily. There is, I believe, a simple formula for a successful blog. First, choose a single topic that is reasonably fresh and interesting. Second, get to the point quickly; explain in the first paragraph exactly what the blog is about, and then stay on topic.

In writing the first paragraph, you must picture yourself as a pilot, hearing the smooth roar of the engines as your plane gracefully takes air. Too often, however, the accompanying sound is that of the engine stuttering before the plane veers off the runway into a field, and a wheel falls off. The author meanders around the topic without getting to the point, and takes frequent off-radar diversions to talk about themselves, or the weather, or which friends have recently tagged them. This might work if you’re J.D Salinger, or James Joyce, but it doesn’t help a technical blog. Sometimes, the writing is so convoluted that we are entirely defeated in our quest to shoehorn its meaning into a simple summary sentence.

Finally, write simply, in plain English, and in a conversational way such that you can read it out loud, and sound natural.

That’s it! If you could also avoid any references to The Matrix then this is a bonus but is purely personal preference.