May 10, 2006
I often struggle when writing new blog entries. What should I write about? What's the first sentence? What should the title be? When do I end, and what do I end with?
Copyblogger's Copywriting 101 has some excellent writing advice masquerading as marketing advice:
Copywriting skills are an essential element to the new conversational style of marketing. Whether you're looking to sell something or to build traffic by earning links from others, you'll need to tell compelling stories that grab attention and connect with people.
But there's an immediate problem: what the hell is "copy"? Even the word is boring: copy. Who wants to read that?
Good writing is good writing. But good copywriting is marketing.
The second you start thinking in terms of copywriting instead of writing, you've already lost. Forget marketing. Drop the copy. Stick with plain old writing, the kind we've been practicing for the last few thousand years.
Still, copyblogger's writing advice applies to anything you want people to actually read. What are you selling? The topic you're writing about. Net profit? Zero. But you have to sell your topic to communicate effectively in the din of noise that is the internet:
The difference between a tolerable programmer and a great programmer is not how many programming languages they know, and it's not whether they prefer Python or Java. It's whether they can communicate their ideas. By persuading other people, they get leverage. By writing clear comments and technical specs, they let other programmers understand their code, which means other programmers can use and work with their code instead of rewriting it. Absent this, their code is worthless. By writing clear technical documentation for end users, they allow people to figure out what their code is supposed to do, which is the only way those users can see the value in their code. There's a lot of wonderful, useful code buried on sourceforge somewhere that nobody uses because it was created by programmers who don't write very well (or don't write at all), and so nobody knows what they've done and their brilliant code languishes.
I won't hire a programmer unless they can write, and write well, in English. If you can write, wherever you get hired, you'll soon find that you're getting asked to write the specifications and that means you're already leveraging your influence and getting noticed by management.
I posted the same Spolsky quote in a different context on another blog, and Shawn Oster made an interesting comment:
Of course, all of this assumes that you are actually after, as Mr. Spolsky puts it, "power and influence" as a programmer. Me? I just want to do what I love which is to architect and write code.
Power and influence aren't what we're after. They're a side effect, a necessary evil, a form of currency that makes it easier for us to get things done. It's not machiavellian-- although it can seem that way. Power and influence give you the freedom to architect and write code as you see fit.
Power and influence achieved solely on the basis of solid communication skills is a virtue, not a vice. It's the ultimate form of citizen leadership.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
What should I write about?
I usually just wait till Jeff writes something and then I totally bite off of him. But I make sure to add a small twist so I can say, "Yeah, I wrote that sh*t."
Wanting to code and architect is great, but without good communication and writing skills you will almost always be relegated to one role and not the other. If you can't explain it, I wouldn't let you build it... as least not on my dime.
I have had one experience with an architect who couldn't communicate and his code/system could fill a whole years worth of thedailywtf.com (including weekends and holidays).
Copy is the name of any professional writing turned in to be set in type, such as for newspapers, magazines, books, and yes, ads, made to get the most important ideas across as quickly as possible.
So if you're communicating to professional writers, the use of "copy" will make your point clearer, since there are several forms of "good writing". ^.~ (Only copy is appropriate for technical writing though.)
Oops, it didn't like my pseudo-html. Pretend it has [pendantic-mode] around the first line.
If Jeff tells me to jump, I ask "how high". :)
Communication skill neither means golden intent nor skill in the topic discussed.
Right, but if you're not communicating, your chance of success is zero.
As I used to say when I was single: you can't get a date until you leave the house. At the very least, you have to put yourself out there.
Totally agree with everything you say. I must admit that vocally, I tend to ramble and stumble. But give me a Word processor for a lttle while and I can comfortably articulate what I need to say. Being able to do this gives me a *lot* more credibility than if I just spoke to people face to face or on the 'phone.
In our industry, good communication is vital.
So, if I write well, they'll ask me to write more documentation? Nooooo! I don't write too good.
"Power and influence achieved solely on the basis of solid communication skills is a virtue, not a vice. It's the ultimate form of citizen leadership. "
Hitler was a brilliant propagandist but I'm not so sure that "virtuous" really fits his accomplishments.
Scam artists and con men must have excellent communication skills to succeed in the execution of their plans and to fool their intended victims.
The ability to communicate is a skill, not a character trait.
Of course, propoganda and fear is a highly effective method of communication as well, and in some corproations, is ithe/i ticket to success and promotion. These are usally highly dysfunctional organizations or departments, where a good, honest writer is one step from a pink slip.
It works in blogs too, as long as you don't mind being part of the ecosystem of persistent flamewars the political blogs revel in.
I'm going to have to agree with Dave: communication can be used to either build constructive relationships and understanding. It can also be used to further one's personal agenda at the expense of others, who lack similar communication skills. It can even be used to push an agenda that will be a failures simply because the agenda is worthless itself.
I'm sure most people have experienced someone eloquently expounded on a topic while being nearly completely wrong about the issue. Perhaps it is a co-worker who has found a new technique. Believing it to be a powerful cure for what ails the organization, they evangelize it. It is little surprise when it comes crashing down around them… many saw the flaws but failed to give voice clearly to those concerns in the face of such communication prowess. Heck, I have *been* that guy. Communication skill neither means golden intent nor skill in the topic discussed.
Ah, we invoked Godwin's law .. and so soon!
I didn't invoke the law, you did. However, I believe in this case that Godwin's law does not apply.
I evoked the image of Hitler, in response to your claim that "Power and influence achieved solely on the basis of solid communication skills is a virtue, not a vice. It's the ultimate form of citizen leadership.", as representing the definitive antithesis of your claim.
No analogy was drawn between Hitler and any other person or group of people. He simply serves to demonstrate how your conclusion regarding communication skill is patently false.
I thought Godwin's Law didn't count if there wasn't a flame involved?
the Spolsky quote is bare truth.
you don't have to be the official team-leader, you will become the uncrowned team-leader if you are the one in the team to express yourself best.
I'm located in the hobby-programmer-scene, and I often see people bot being able to progress their ideas or not getting apropriate answers because they lack ability to express themselves.
(if you consider lacks in my posting, just take in count that english is NOT my native language.)
the point in Godwin's Law is not that one might not be able to take Hitler as a correct example, but that the mentioning of this historic person will prevent others from clear thinking and continueing correct argumentation.
When I write, I do to communicate. Well, that's the purpose of language, to transfer the information to another person. If one is passionate enough with the topic he is writing about, he does not bother on the copy. He writes and writes.
You seem to graze the subject of genuineness in distinguishing good writing from mere marketing. The reader's perception of your genuineness is the key to gaining allies and followers. Yet, so much human effort is wasted on brute-forcing others into submission instead of leading by example and proposing ideas based on their merits.