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.
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.
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.
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.
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.