I have a bit of a strange relationship with tech blogs. On one hand, I want to see more of them and I’m constantly telling every developer I meet that they should give a shot at writing one.
On the other hand, and much as I hate to say this, most published writing that is about tech is of pretty dismal quality. I don’t mean that the contents are necessarily bad, rather the writing in and of itself – its style, its elegance, its focus, its precision.
The reasons for this are various and I’m not going to explore them now. I’m not here to point fingers at anyone.
Instead, what I would like to do with this series is to offer a guide on how to write a blog – or any other kind of short personal article – that is compelling, elegant and a pleasure to read. Because there is very much to be said, I will be publishing one article a week for the next six weeks, in which I will cover everything from structure and style to opening and closing your blog.
This is not a guide on how to market, sell, or distribute your content, which is a wholly separate topic. If that’s what you’re looking for, there are plenty of resources already out there – here is Backlinko’s definitive guide to SEO, for example.
I offer the content of these articles as friendly advice, and not as a rulebook. I am not a university professor in English or any other discipline, only a professional content creator who has written articles in a wide variety of fields and consistently attracted readers in the thousands or tens of thousands.
If you don’t like my advice and choose to ignore it, more power to you – I certainly do not claim to be the ultimate authority on writing, and I wish you the best of luck with your approach!
If you do choose to welcome my advice, then you will find it structured as follows:
Article #1 – Fundamentals & Essential Practices
Article #2 – Structuring Your Blog & Presentation
Article #3 – Style
Article #4 – Common Pitfalls
Article #5 – Opening Your Blog
Article #6 – Closing Your Blog And Explaining Difficult Concepts
Right now, of course, you are reading Article #1. So let’s get started with…
THE FUNDAMENTALS – GRAMMAR, SPELLING, SENTENCE STRUCTURE.
Nowadays, many and possibly even most of those who write tech blogs in English are not themselves mothertongue English speakers. Of those who are, many may not have had the opportunity to study how to properly write in English since high school.
There is nothing wrong with falling in either of these categories, nor should that make you feel intimidated about trying to do some writing. However, it does mean you have to put some extra effort to ensure before anything else that you can write in good English. Not ‘passable’, not ‘serviceable’, not ‘ok’ – good English.
This means that errors in spelling, grammar, syntax and punctuation are not acceptable. If you are consistently making these mistakes, they must be ironed out.
Fortunately, modern tools to handle this issue are abundant, starting from Microsoft Word’s autocorrect feature to software like Grammarly and Hemingway Editor, which will automatically check and optimize your grammar, spelling and sentence construction.
Full disclosure – I am actually not a huge fan of that type of software myself. In fact, for writers who already feel confident about their language skills, I would advise against using crutches like Grammarly, as they have the unwelcome side effect of dulling your personal voice.
For anyone who isn’t already advanced, however, there is no question that these tools are a must. They will let you publish articles that are stylistically acceptable even if your English levels still have a way to go.
If you really are committed to improving, you can also give a read to some basic writing guides, like the excellent ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ by Lynne Truss. They can be incredibly helpful, and not just for the beginner – even the best of us don’t have perfect mastery of the language!
1. REVISION – HOW MUCH?
If you write, you should be familiar with the concept of drafting. Your first version of an article will always be a draft, and you should see the completion of the draft as a stage of the writing process, not as the end of it.
You should never – and I mean never – publish an article you wrote without having re-read it at least a few times. Re-reading allows you to pick up on problems with the text that your mind did not register during the more intense creative phase, and to correct them.
Exactly how many times should you re-read your text? This is often subjective, but here is one revision routine I feel I can recommend:
- Day 1: This is the day in which you have finished your first draft. (Not necessarily the same day in which you started it, of course). We will start our count here.
- Day 2: First, revise the draft while it is still fresh in your mind, i.e. no more than a day after it was finished.
- Day 3-5: One more bout of revision to clean up anything you missed the first time. This should be a quick and easy one.
- Day 10-12: After a one-week break, revise the text again. If you are happy with it, time to publish. Otherwise, back to step b.), and repeat the process as many times as necessary until you’re happy with what you have written.
You should absolutely be open to the idea that your article may change heavily from the first to the second and possibly from the second to the third draft. And there should always be a break of at least one week before the final revision, as your brain will actually fail to register imperfections in your own writing if you don’t take some distance from them. I have sat on some of my more complex article for months at a time, pushing them as far as possible to the back of my mind so that I could return to them with fresh eyes. The process always pays off.
Unless your article is time-sensitive for whatever reason, I would always recommend waiting rather than publishing something you are not 100% confident about. You’ll find whatever it is that is nagging at you, I promise – you just need to give yourself time.
2. READING OUTSIDE OF TECH
Reading the work of others is an indispensable practice to get better at any kind of writing. It will expand your vocabulary, refine your sense of phrase, and give you a ton of new ideas.
When it comes to tech, however, there is a problem. As I mentioned at the outset, the writing standards are unfortunately not very high. There are some excellent technical articles out there, but it’s quite rare for them to be exemplary in terms of writing style.
I would therefore strongly recommend regularly reading material about non-tech topics. For the purposes of getting better at writing blogs and articles, reading journalism is probably preferable to reading fiction. The latter is much more creative and sophisticated in its use of language, but often too much so, leading blog writers to write wordy and convoluted material.
By contrast a subscription to a reputable news publication like The Times, The Economist or The Guardian will give you a more realistic sense of what sort of language is adequate for an article, as well as how to structure one. Avoid tabloid journalism please – the style there is as trashy as the content.
Naturally, you should also be reading tech-related articles to get a sense of what sort of content is popular, to learn from others, and to find new ideas. Just be warned that most of this material will not do much to improve your writing style.
All right! This covers Fundamentals & Essential Practices. If this seemed a bit basic to you, well – that’s what the fundamentals are supposed to be!
Join us next week as we cover the topic of structure.