Writing a Technical Blog: Why to do it and what to write about

on January 13, 2011

Recently I read Paul Randal’s ( blog | twitter ) post, “So you want to blog about SQL Server?” and it got me to thinking.

Why do I blog about SQL Server, anyway? Why do I recommend it?

Write out of selfishness. I do!

Yep. This blog is me doing something for me. And it works: it helps me a lot.

Writing blog posts isn’t easy. Most posts some require lots of thinking, putting together scripts, scratching my head when they don’t work right, trying again. There’s the time it takes to upload images, to get them aligned properly into posts, to get everything just right. It’s work. And it’s work I do all on my own time. Regularly.

But writing regularly about SQL Server has become a very valuable part of my learning process.

Writing a nerdy blog makes you smarter

Blogging about a topic helps you:

  • Slow down a little bit;
  • Think a little differently about something as you figure out how to explain it;
  • Consider issues conceptually rather than in a more narrow or applied perspective;
  • Research things more clearly, and document your research with links;
  • Be more likely to remember things later;
  • Have a good place to search when you can’t remember things later.

At the best of times, your blog brings you in touch with other people and you learn from their comments and feedback. That part of blogging is AWESOME.

But even without that part, writing your way through life as you learn things and solve problems is great for you.

Write for yourself, but pick someone else as your *audience*

Motivation and audience are different things entirely.

Your own learning process is a great justification in itself for writing a blog and picking your topics. This is your motivation.

However, it’s helpful to identify the audience for your writing. Write your blog with a specific reader in mind. This may be someone you know, or it may be someone imaginary. If you’re writing a technical blog, this is probably going to be someone pretty nerdy.

When you’re writing your post, just make sure you’re telling them something you find interesting.

Here’s what to write about

This part was very difficult for me. I hear from new bloggers that it’s hard for them. It’s not hard for me anymore. Here’s what to write about:

  1. Write about what you want to learn: Think of something you’re curious about, look into it, write a blog post.
  2. Write about what you learned last week: Take something  you didn’t know before, big or small, and write it down. Write scripts to reproduce the problem, or a scenario to describe it in a new way. Think of other ways to do it. Write about the searching  you did to help solve the problem, and what helped and why.
  3. Write about what you wished you knew a year ago.
  4. Write about problems you haven’t found a good solution to yet.
  5. Write about what you care about. That’s why I wrote this post.

Can you write about something if you’re not an expert on it? YES!

Just write about where you’re coming from, document your work so far, link to your references, and write down your questions. People may help answer your questions, or you may answer them yourself in further posts. You’ll learn a lot just by writing a careful, thoughtful blog  post about what you’re doing.

Don’t try to sound smart

Writing a technical blog helps make you less isolated. It gives the community a chance to get to know you in ways they wouldn’t otherwise. Even if people don’t subscribe and read every post, if you blog regularly and tweet a bit about it, people will find you and get a sense of who you are. (Note: Paul’s post has some great practical tips on which #hastags are appropriate to tweet about SQL Server posts on twitter. For other communities, try out hashtags and ask for feedback.)

Have you ever noticed that if you spend too much time worrying about being funny, you’re not funny? And that if you worry about sounding smart, you don’t sound smart?

The same thing is true for blogging. Don’t try to sound smart. Just be yourself. (The part of yourself that it’s OK for everyone to see in public, and at work.)

Blogging doesn’t make you cool. It’s for old people.

And you’re officially NOT too old to use Twitter.

I got started out with a lot of the practical tips in Brent Ozar’s ( blogtwitter ) series on the topic. A good starting point is: “How to Start a Blog

Penelope Trunk ( blog | twitter ) has lots of great posts on blogging. A good starting point is: “How to write a blog post people love”