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In this post, I think about what makes a good blog post, and also what writing such a post does for the author, too. 

It’s a bank holiday Monday today in England, and so of course it’s raining*. I spent a bit of time earlier this morning perusing the news, marking blog posts that looked interesting additions to content for my learning continuum, and also looking at some draft blog posts here in the SAP Community.

I’ve become involved in helping out with some moderation for blog posts (not “blogs”!) and have thereby have the chance to see what folks are writing in the early stages, and also what other, more experienced moderators are saying about those early stage drafts. It got me thinking about what makes a good blog post, and I thought I’d share those thoughts here.

*but that’s OK, I do like the rain.

 

Opinion

Of course, these are just my opinions, yours may differ. But I think that’s a generally useful ingredient for most posts – opinion, based on personal experience.

There are many styles of post, but the ones I enjoy reading the most are those that educate & entertain me, and also give me a bit of an insight into the thinking, and therefore the person, behind the words. That’s not to say that your opinion must be something I or other readers agree with – the world is not black and white. If you write something that’s not accurate, or where you appear to have got hold the wrong end of the stick, then someone’s going to comment and put their side of the story, perhaps straightening things out, and so adding to the richness of the conversation.

Nonetheless, opinions are nothing without substance – an opinion’s worth is directly proportional to the thought process and experience directly behind it. So it follows that if you’re going to offer your opinion, don’t forget to include your reasons for that opinion.

 

Education

In today’s online world where everyone has a voice and can write about things, it’s sometimes difficult to write about something that’s not been written about before, even within the boundaries of the SAP Community. But that doesn’t matter so much, as long as your post includes – implicitly or explicitly – content, or at least insight, that hasn’t been shared before. If I read something about a subject in one post, my mind is looking out for another post on that same subject, but with perhaps a small proportion of different insight or context.

The way I learn is in layers – I build up some core knowledge, often reading a post about a new subject, where often I don’t fully understand the entire post’s content. Then I read more posts on the same subject and, now comfortable with the backbone of what’s being written about, can concentrate on the “delta” with each new post, helping me build a more complete picture and fill in some of the gaps from the first post. Then I read even more posts on the same subject and that’s when a degree of richness starts to form, as I study a particular aspect of a subject a number of times, from different people, with different voices, experience and opinion, and that is very valuable to me.

 

I like to intersperse narrative with pictures, to break things up and give the reader’s mind something to anchor around. I didn’t have anything appropriate for the somewhat conceptual subject matter of this post, so here’s a nice picture of a telegraph pole with the moon in the background.

 

Clarity

If you’re going to write about something, it’s good if you can make it worthwhile. Worth whose while? Well, first and foremost, make it worth your own while. If you don’t, then you may be less inclined to focus on content and quality, and that’s good for nobody. You may struggle to get the post published in a moderated context, you’re less likely to hit that post button with a feeling of achievement, and you’ll attract fewer comments and engagement generally. There are more benefits to making a post worth your own while, and I’ll come to those in a minute.

Naturally, you also want to aim to make the post worth your readers’ while. Beyond giving them the benefit of your experience, the layering of your opinion and the appeal of educational prose, be sure to write clearly for them.

Using good sentence structure, expressing a logical progression of thought, yes, all well and good. But for technical subjects, remember that not every reader will have the requisite amount of context to gain much from what you write. That doesn’t disqualify them from reading your post – far from it. Help them by setting the scene. I find thinking about the right combination of hed, dek and lede very useful (I was first introduced to the concepts of heds, deks and ledes by Jon Udell). Not only does it help the reader “land” comfortably into your post, with the right antennae tuned, but it also helps you work out what you’re going to say and stay on track while you work out how you’re going to say it.

 

Learn something yourself

Another benefit of making a post worth your own while is that you learn something yourself. There’s an idea that teaching something is often a really good way of making sure you know the subject well yourself. Properly committing information to paper, so to speak, is an act that requires precision of thought, conviction of opinions and a firm grasp of the details.

I find that writing about a subject, regardless of how narrow or wide, forces me to ensure that I know what I’m talking about. The benefits are twofold – by writing about something you don’t quite fully understand, you put yourself in the right frame of mind and in the right context for forming a complete picture, as you research the information for your post. A full understanding subsequently helps you write in a clear and concise way, too.

Here’s an example from a few years ago: Custom Sorting and Grouping – researching the content for that post really cemented my understanding of the nuances of the subject I was writing about (relating to complex data binding features in UI5). I sort of had a general idea of the detail before I started writing that post, but by the time I’d finished, I’d really deepened and broadened my understanding.

 

Final thoughts

There are plenty more aspects to a good blog post, but if I covered them all, this would be a much longer affair. There are more basic angles such as writing coherently, taking care over terms and explanations, finding the right balance between screenshots and prose, and of course finding the right length.

Avoid posts that are too short – it comes back to making it worthwhile for the reader – but equally avoid posts that are too long. That’s subjective of course, but as a rule of thumb – if something is too long to read over a coffee or lunch break, then your readers might be less inclined to engage. Consider splitting a long piece into a series of shorter pieces, that are more manageable. I did this, for example, with my Discovering SCP Workflow posts, and even then the individual posts are still on the long side.

There are other aspects that should go without saying, so I’ll end this piece with one bit of advice – find your voice, work on it, and enjoy the process. I’ve been blogging since 2000 and I’m still doing all those things.

For more info on blogging on the SAP Community, it’s worth having a read through the Rules Of Engagement.

 

This post was brought to you by a holiday Monday breakfast of black pudding and avocado, and the usual excellent Pact Coffee Planalto.

 

Read more posts in this series here: Monday morning thoughts.

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10 Comments

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  1. Mike Doyle

    Hi DJ, I definitely agree that writing about something is a great way to learn it.  A large part of that is ‘digesting’ the existing sources and then arranging the concepts anew.  You need to understand the topic in order to do that.

    I’m glad you brought up the importance of setting the scene.  The blogs I get the most from are those that step back and explain why we want to do something, rather than just running through a checklist of steps.  I want to really understand what I’m doing.  I would estimate that only 5 or 10% of the blogs I see here help with that deep understanding.

    Even though my brother is a journalist I hadn’t come across the heds and deks before.  I shall try to bear them in mind when I write my next post.

    Keep up the good work!

     

     

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    1. DJ Adams
      Post author

      Thank Mike, great comments. I like the way you describe the digestion of existing sources, and their rearrangement – a very good way to put it.

      I do think that a lot of content (blog posts, documentations, tutorials, etc) is lacking some “why” – as well as having the details explained to me, I also want to know why I’m doing a certain thing, or choosing a certain option. It helps me cement the understanding much better than if I was trying to learn about it merely by following the same steps as the author, parrot-fashion.

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  2. Bärbel Winkler

    Thanks for these Monday Morning thoughts, DJ!

    What I found I really need is a “hook” for a blog post to start from and then weave the text around. If I don’t have that, I struggle from the get-go and don’t even know what to put as the title, let alone how to get started. Some blog posts luckily almost write themselves as I just “feel” the urge to get my thoughts out of my head and to put them on (virtual) paper. Or as David Allen from “Getting things done” states it: “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them!”

    In some cases I start writing a blog post as a means to document what and why I did. That way, I won’t have to remember all the nitty gritty details but have a central place to read up on stuff sometime later. Putting it online also makes it available to others should they ever need it – which beats having it just sitting idly somewhere on my computer’s C- or whatever drive.

    Cheers

    Baerbel

     

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    1. DJ Adams
      Post author

      Thanks Bärbel – those are great points – the ways to get started are many and varied, but finding a “hook”, as you put it, is key. And yes, I know folks (and I’m one of them too) who like to document something they’ve discovered, to share but also to rework in their minds, and the bonus by-product is that the end result is something to which they can refer at a later date.

      Sometimes I also wonder how I’m going to get started. Like this post – I just sat down and started writing. One of my (many) favourite quotes from Douglas Adams’s Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, is this:

      “The Guide says there is an art to flying”, said Ford, “or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”

      In a similar way, I think there’s a knack to sitting yourself down in front of the keyboard, and starting to write, forgetting completely that you actually didn’t have much of an idea of what you wanted to say.

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  3. Chris Paine

    One could say, but DJ why are you writing about blogging – you know how to do it so well…

     There’s an idea that teaching something is often a really good way of making sure you know the subject well yourself.

    I suggest this isn’t just an idea – this has progressed well into the continuum of thought, idea, theory, example and onto proven fact. It’s through showing others that we learn best ourselves – it’s something that I found I included in the “key takeaway” slides for all my recent presentations.

    I would say something else about writing posts for sharing. – Find your own voice. Don’t try to replicate the styles of others – you can if it helps you build your own style. But it’s about you growing yourself – you can afford to be a little self centered here. Yes, I’m sure sharing a step by step guide to building a flux-capacitor will be loved by many, but if you don’t care about it, it isn’t going to enthuse you.

    Posting on forums like SAP is a chance to grow your own personal brand – and whilst that does have some very important business connotations that go along with it – as per the linked post by Megan Conley, if it’s just your outward representation of your business persona, its not really your personal brand at all, because there’s nothing personal about it…

    I love that DJ’s Monday morning posts end with a shout out to the local coffee shop – that’s part of a personal voice and style that makes the rest of the read so much more enjoyable.

    Keep ’em coming cos we keep reading them 🙂

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    1. DJ Adams
      Post author

      Hey Chris, thanks very much for the thoughts. I think I agree with you in that learning by teaching is actually more than just an idea – as you say, “through showing others […] we learn best ourselves”.

      And I can’t emphasise enough your sentiments on finding one’s *own* voice. Totally spot on. I think it’s definitely worth thinking about how others project themselves, but (as you intimate) not for us to copy them, but to find how they do it, so we can do it ourselves too. And you make a good point about enthusiasm – a post is much more interesting to read, and I would go so far as to say much richer, if there’s passion in there mixed in with technical content.

      I do enjoy my mornings, and my coffee – I get my roast beans from Pact Coffee, but of course my favourite (physical) coffee shop is North Tea Power, on Tib Street, in Manchester. I like to point out that I’m one of their oldest customers, in both senses of the word 🙂

       

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  4. Nabheet Madan

    Thanks DJ Adams for the great post! Here are my two cents,in the last few months of writing blogs i have learnt a lot and let me try to share it here, don’t know whether it will make some sense or not.

    • I was away from the community for quite some time and i could feel the void in me, that void clearly highlighted I am not keeping pace with where SAP is going, neither i am learning new things nor sharing with the community.Secondly whenever i was learning something new I wanted to share it with other community members. The thoughts in my mind were either to get the new community members try similar things or to receive feedback on what could have been better way to do the same thing
    • So these two things and support from the community got me on-boarded. Once you are on the train as righty mentioned by Bärbel Winkler all you need is a hook to keep coming back and luckily their is always too much to learn and share.

    For me this overall Keeda(a hindi word for an ant) of learning something, sharing it and getting the feedback has actually kept the flame alive so far.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Nabheet

     

     

     

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    1. DJ Adams
      Post author

      Thanks Nabheet. Those feelings you had are not uncommon, I’m also familiar with them. It sometimes is hard to keep up all the time, there are other life and work priorities, and one feels as if one is becoming “stale” sometimes. But that’s all part of the technology tapestry where you weave yourself in and out forming a learning thread.

      It’s great to see how you came to be back, hope you stay around for a while! 🙂

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  5. Christopher Solomon

    Ditto ditto and ditto. Great points, DJ!

    Might I also add, aside from the points you made very well, I also consider blogging (at least in my case) as a “conversation starter”…..not just “here’s what I think…..enjoy!”. I have found often times that the blog is just the start…..the conversations that come in the comments are just as valuable…..and more often the not, those comments also often identify some other aspect(s) that has not been covered or not well, which then becomes very good kickstarters for other blogs. More than once, I have posted up a blog on some topic, only to have it grow and turn into an additional 4-5 other blogs on follow-on topics or detailed drill-down.

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    1. DJ Adams
      Post author

      Absolutely, Christopher. I don’t actually run comments on my personal (non-SAP Community) blog at http://pipetree.com/qmacro/blog – I used too, but got too much spam (the system I used at the time didn’t cope that well with it) and I found it was easier to turn commenting off.

      But I find the commenting system here for the blog posts on the SAP Community works really well, and there are indeed serendipitous moments where new insight or angles are shared, sometimes deliberately, sometimes unexpectedly (and happily).

      I remember when The Cluetrain Manifesto came out and popularised the phrase “Markets are conversations”. I like to think that there’s a wider version of that which is online communities are conversations. The beauty of all tools like blogging platforms (and their commenting system), Twitter, Slack, and so on, is that it enables conversations to take place asynchronously – at the participants’ own pace. That allows a greater degree of participation, which adds a richness that wouldn’t otherwise be there.

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