Moron – I mean, more on - writing news posts

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News: Moron – I mean, more on - writing news posts

  1. Moron – I mean, more on - writing news posts (2 messages)

    In "Tips on Writing News Posts, Reviews, Cartoons for TSS," I addressed the format of writing reviews and news posts for TSS. I skipped articles, but that's a separate thread (i.e., for the future.) I'd like to make this the White page to the previous Red, if I can allude to history, by addressing not the physical form, but the intent of writing for TSS. "How to write" is, and always will be, a challenge, especially for technical people like us. We tend to write because we have to, not because we want to. We work well within syntactic constraints – give us a BNF, or something generated from a BNF, and we're happy. There are rules in writing, too, though, and since we're rules-oriented, that helps. I'd like to look at another aspect of writing – the rules – so that everyone benefits. As usual, I'm not the be-all and end-all of human communication, so feel free to weigh in. The first rule in writing is: write. It's not to get your grammer perfectly, or spellling everything right. If you've got something to say, well... saying it is better than not saying it at all. The mechanics of the message can be fixed. After that, it's all down to writing effectively, making sure that what you want to say is actually being said, and understood. Rules apply here, too, and sometimes they're not obvious until you think about them. Rule number two: remember the details of what you're writing, and communicate them to your readers. Probably the number one mistake of technical writing is the assumption of familiarity on the part of the reader. That means that if you're writing about, oh, Hibernate, it's very natural for you to assume your readers know all about Hibernate, except for the parts you're writing about. Even then, writers tend to think that readers understand completely on the first reading, so they give a valid explanation that isn't clear, and then presume that explanation was understood. No matter how much we wish we could read your mind and acquire your knowledge through osmosis, it's not going to happen. So assume your readers are smart and that they can think, but that they're complete strangers to what you're writing about. Throw us a bone, in case we're living under a rock and don't know what Hibernate is. Maybe give us a little explanation, once we understand that Hibernate is an O/R mapper, of why what you have to say is relevant – don't assume we understand immediately. Maybe we've never dealt with caching the way you have; maybe we've never seen or thought of the problem. This is why very little technical writing reaches the audience it should. Rule number three: readers don't want to read this. I said this in the first article on the subject, but it's worth repeating. Readers don't want to read. They want to know. Here's the harsh truth: you get one sentence to capture a reader. One. Not three; not two. If your first sentence is a throwaway sentence - “Have you got a bald spot?” - your news post is thrown away, too. This isn't just your readers, this is your Humble Editor, too. I have to read a lot, and I don't need the burden of having to dig through lots of mush in order to find content. I'm probably more sensitive to this than the other readers are, but at the same time, I'm used to trying to find meat under a pile of grease; most readers typically aren't. If you can't get your message across quickly, that's an extra burden on me to dig out what you meant, to try to see the relevance. The constant "Your Humble Editor" crap isn't actually crap – I don't consider myself to be smarter or better than my readership is. I'm just blessed to be where I am. If I have to dig out your message for you, chances are good that I will get it wrong. You don't want that. So make your sentences count. Tell me something; make it quick; make it understandable. If that first sentence is able to grab a reader, if it's able to communicate why a reader should be interested in reading, you've done a good job. The rest is just backing that first sentence up. TSS is not, despite what some people say, about flamewars or hit counts. We benefit from those things, I suppose, and there's nothing like a flamewar to drive up hit after hit ad nauseum, for people looking for jabs and insults. That said, I hate flamewars and trolling for hits is distasteful. I know TSS gets accused of it fairly often, and historically, flamewars were quite normal – but I would like to point out that I've tried very hard, and as subtly as I could, to discourage flamewars in favor of actual content. Controversy shows up, too, but not for controversy's sake, when I can help it. Rule number four, then, is "Make your contribution count for something." If you're writing for today, use your blog. If you're writing to improve the community, use TSS. Again, TSS is your site. I'm not driving it; I'm also not trying to be a "star" or anything like that. There are plenty of sites out there trying to feed egos. My hope is that my readership is able to see past that, and can appreciate art for expression, not as market campaigns. (Hopefully, it will capture your imaginations.) Thanks for reading, and I'd love to know what you think about these rules.

    Threaded Messages (2)

  2. Re: defining "flame"[ Go to top ]

    Joe, I have yet to read a post that is without merit, so-called pundits that are part of the TSS readership claim 'flame' when challenged, but in reality this is the best forum to vet out all viewpoints, and I personally hate rules of engagement, because they are based on conventional wisdom...for example, I have been called out on promotion of Glassfish at the expense of WebLogic, and questioning vendor politics on spec's, among other things... with respect to what is "flame-bait", i see this as a mute discussion, this is just an excuse for not talking about real issues that impact the marketplace, its just that some people don't like to have anything but the prescribed banter on the board, rather than a discussion that reaches below the surface...I don't accuse you of this, at least I have not in quite some time, I think you do a good job of moderating... but, if there are too many parameters, then TSS will succumb to staleness, and we might as well just point to press releases...let the thoughts flow freely, and the best will ultimately rise to the top; with all that said, I think the 'rules' you have enlisted are reasonable, i am just reaching out to those who hide behind the made-up word: flame.... douglas dooley
  3. Rules vs Reason[ Go to top ]

    I think the tips address well-known problems in general technical writing on the web and perhaps even more so on TSS. There might be one fault though with the posting - the choice of words. As much as techies hate to write and tend to assume that their readers have a certain knowledge, they also, especially when they consider themselves to have something important to say (which perhaps should be a pre-requisite for writing in the first place), they hate to have someone giving them rules on what to say and how to say it. Again, I think Joesph's advice are to-the-point, effective and, actually, quite humble :). I would just like to remove the wording "rules" from it and focus on "tips" or "advice". This might also be the reason for Douglas post (pardon me if I'm wrong), which, as I understand it, addresses the mis-use of the word "flame" in the context of trying to quench a healthy debate. Here, I would like to add two general tips (a.k.a. advice. != rules), both related to "Respect your readers": * When trying to get your message through, try to choose your words and/or tone in order for you not to sound like a preacher or a salesman. Try to be up-front with the abilities AND liabilities of what you are proposing as a solution/product/way of doing things. For one thing, your readers will be as smart, or probably smarter than you, and they will find the liabilities sooner or later and especially if you try to hide them, they will see it as a challenge to prove you wrong. * When responding to a post which you found misleading, unintelligent, or outright offensive, resist the urge to express your instinctual feelings in colorful words. A wise person said to me: "Never write anything in anger". Instead, use questions, mild manners and a humble tone, and I guarantee that you will get your message across a lot quicker, with less effort, and with less amount of people you cannot look in the eye on the next conference. Also, you will most likely be held in much higher regard by your peers, which is probably one of the main reasons you are writing in the first place. Or in simple words, don't "flame". :)