How to write technical blog posts – talk by Quincy Larson

How to write technical blog posts – talk by Quincy Larson


Okay cool. Hey everyone. How’s everyone feeling? We got some energy Alright awesome. That, that lunch is digested and you’re ready to learn. Okay, so… I am Quincy, and I’m going to talk about how to write technical blog posts that people will actually read. That, that “actually read” part is important. So umm you may be wondering why is this developer talking about writing? Well, I worked as a journalist for about three years after college and I would say that technical blogging was absolutely critical to people actually realizing that freeCodeCamp existed and to our early community growth. We’re a small nonprofit. We don’t have like a lot of resources for advertising or for public relations, so we turn to trying to write articles worth reading. So I’ve been writing very actively on both Medium and on Quora and I also edit freeCodeCamp’s Medium publication which publishes a whole lot of articles on Development, Design and Data Science. So, my goal is for all of you to walk out of here with both the confidence and the tools that you need to be able to write technical articles that people will sit down and actually invest the time in reading. So there are really three elements to this – First you need substance. Second you need to package that substance for consumption. And Third you need to go out and publicize it. So before we get into that though I want to see why people are blogging I saw a lot of hands go up earlier for people who are blogging I’m just gonna go up right now. Who is blogging because they want to impress future employers? Ok quite a few. All right, who wants to apply recently learned knowledge? One of the best ways to reinforce your own learning is to turn around and teach it to somebody else and to technical blog post is an excellent way to do that. All right, and who just wants to share their insights with other developers and kind of pay it forward? Quite a few of you. …andMaybe nobody will raise their hand because this is a little immodest; but who is interested in becoming a thought leader in a specific domain? All right. Yeah. You want to…so you want to get on the conference circuit… You want to get on podcasts like “CodeNewbie”, and you want to raise awareness of your area of expertise? Great. It does not matter, like regardless of your reason, it does not matter. Really, the goal should be to just get people to read your articles. If you set out to achieve that one single goal, it will help you with all four of those objectives. Let’s start with substance. You need to write something that matters. And… I will tell you that people quickly, they have all these kind of rules of thumb about blogging, like oh, it should be 600 words, and uh you know, just quickly get it out there, and and blog every single day. I don’t buy any of that stuff. I really think that it’s all about substance. When you have something to say that’s when you open your mouth and you say it. And you can really hone in and take that substance and turn it into a whole lot of blog posts. This is a guy named Peter Paul Kosh. He is the author of the popular “Quirks Mode” blog and “Quirks Mode” is really awesome because it’s focused just on the quirks between different browsers and different versions of browsers. So he’s… He totally geeked out on the difference between how JavaScript is processed by Internet Explorer 10 and mobile Safari and Opera. And his blog will show you all the different intricacies of those for when you’re trying to develop cross browser applications. …and those considerations. So what did he do he did his homework? He learned a whole lot about this one subject, and he went really deep on it, then he turned around and figured out ways that he could write about it in novel ways, and that’s what you should do. A lot of people may lament that ah everything’s been written, it’s all been done, every flavor of breakfast cereal has been tried. Reality is there are always new ways, new permutations that you can toggle and switch around to make new original spins on old topics. A lot of blog posts are written either from a hello world – absolute beginner perspective, and then a lot of them are written from – “I’ve been coding for 10 years” There aren’t enough articles that are kind of in the middle, for example, so experience levels one dimension of which you can play around. Then there are a lot of opportunities for taking something that’s been written in a different language and blogging about how to do it in another language. Or introducing humor, right? Humor makes your blog post palatable so use it liberally and you can even write joke posts that are basically parodying something, but teaching at the same time. So here’s the quick case study – I want everybody to meet Amber She’s a Seattle-based marine biologist by training. She got a master’s degree in marine biology, and she worked at Disney surveying the animals and doing science related to the animals that the Disney had in its parks and unfortunately marine biology is a field that a lot of people want to get into, people love animals… It’s very competitive. Around the holiday season she found herself with her contract not renewed. To cheer herself up, she was really pumped, she was like “all right – I’m gonna go see the new Star Wars movie” Did anybody see the new Star Wars movie? “Rogue One” Okay, awesome, so she was really excited because like the first time it looked like a Star Wars movie where the protagonist was female. But when she walked out of the theater she had a weird sense that maybe the protagonist wasn’t the female character. And sure enough she did the math and she counted up all the words and she found that the main character actually didn’t didn’t speak as many lines as some of the other characters. And she also noticed that there were far fewer female characters in that movie than there were male characters. …and she was like well this seemed like it was marketed as a movie, you know to women, to try to get more women into Star Wars. So she looked at all the other blockbuster movies like the top 10 grossing movies of 2016, she built a bunch of data visualizations, she wrote scripts to dive through and count all the dialogue and assign the gender to the different characters and she built this beautiful series of data visualizations and so she had the substance she just needed to sit down and write about it and that’s what she did. I coached her through it and we wrote a Medium publication and her article was huge. It got picked up by Mashable, it got picked up by IGN, a whole lot of International Press And it raised awareness of this issue. So she was able to use her scientific skills from being a marine biologist, kind of poured it over to doing data visualization and data science and as a result a whole lot of employers and prospective freelancing contracts came her way from this article. So there’s just one blog post, right. You only need to write one good blog post if it has good substance. So it’s a lot of hard work. Expect to invest a lot of time and energy. Good blog posts don’t come easily. Not good technical blog post. The second lesson I want you to all walk away from is that packaging is important. The way you take your substance, the way you package it and present it to the reader is very important. This is the most expensive vodka in the world I’m not a vodka connoisseur or anything, but when I saw these bottles I was immediately sucked in and I wanted to learn more about it, right.. It’s packaging. Well what’s the packaging on a blog post? You got your headline. You’ve got your lead image. You have the formatting of the text in the subheads and the pull quotes. And then you’ve got the platform that you publish it in. All of those things are considerations that you should keep in mind when it comes to packaging your technical blog post. I want to talk about headlines specifically because I want to point out that that is all that about 95 percent of people are going to read. They are scrolling through their, their Twitter feed while they’re sitting on the toilet or while they’re holding the handle on a bus and they’re like do I want to read this do I want to read this, they read your headline and it’s up to your headline to entice them to read the rest of your article. So… Has anybody heard the old adage? by Abe Lincoln about chopping down trees So, If I had eight hours to write a technical blog post I’d spend the first six sharpening the headline. It’s true the headline really is – Empires have been built on the backs of headlines. Has anybody heard of BuzzFeed? You know and there’s a science to it There’s a lot you can you can read up on? and you can A/B test your headlines, you can show them to your friends, and just try to figure out if people will click on them, it’s really that important and then the images. Humans are highly visual creatures; like our our visual cortex is one of the biggest parts of our brain So you’ve gotta cater to that. You’ve gotta show people images. 86% of the top blog posts have images in them and on average they’ll have at least one image every 350 words Some of you may be like “well, I can’t afford a license really good images” , well, there’s great news there are so many generous photographers out there who take their images and turn them to “Creative Commons” or even “Creative Commons Zero”. Which doesn’t even require attribution. You can just splash their photo up on there. And this website “Pexels” You can search around and find images that are public domain or Creative Commons licensed on a number of platforms. So in terms of formatting you need to be sure that you don’t get the Picardian “wall of text”, right. People will bounce if they see English comp 101 eight sentence paragraphs. Remember Reddit is only an alt tab away. So be sure that you show them nice short paragraphs, nice short sentences. …It’s not a matter of sounding, …like, like, dumbing it down. A lot people look at it that way. You can express the exact same concepts in much simpler words. And you can use short paragraphs and you can use white space, you can use subheads, you can use pull quotes, all those things to break that up. The platform you publish it on makes a big difference. These are some of the most popular ways that people publish their technical blog posts. So I’m a big fan of “Medium” It’s ad free It’s it’s user supported, and it allows for easy export of your content, and it has a built-in audience. That’s quite big. They get like 86 million visits a month. And then you can also post on blog, on your own private blog, you can just use a Github pages blog, and Create, get your own domain and set it up that way, too. There are trade-offs associated with all these. If you happen to have a whole lot of friends on LinkedIn, or if you happen to have a whole lot of friends on Facebook, that might be a good place to publish too. Notice a lot of celebrities have been blogging on directly on Facebook. So here’s another case study – this is Ohans He is a web developer in Lagos, Nigeria, and he created this amazing guide to Flexbox. The only problem was, he just created markdown files and folders and pushed it to Github, and left…he left it at that. Well, you can go one step further and actually write an article – a proper article and that’s what I convinced him to do. So if you look at this, he has a nice headline that accurately describes – It’s not a clickbait headline – what the article is, and then he’s got some images… He breaks up the text with tweets and he’s got subheadings, he’s got short paragraphs, short sentences. It’s easy to read. It’s a breezy read even though It’s about ten thousand words. Right, like you’re gonna be reading for about an hour, and you’re literally going to learn all about Flexbox. And it may seem like, well who has time to sit down and read an hour-long article about flexbox? People read 500 word blog posts, right. Well actually this is one of the most popular technical articles ever published. Its been viewed more than a hundred thousand times. And as a result he got inquiries from book publishers. He even had some course platforms reach out to him who wanted him to create some workshops on Flexbox. So yeah, and he had substance. He knew flexbox very well. He packaged it properly and he profited Lesson number three publicize. You may have heard the expression in software development – “The last 10% of the work takes 90 percent of the time.” Well, let me tell you publicizing your work is the last 10% and it’s gonna take 90% of your time. There is no “build it and they’ll come”. You need to go out and tell people that this exists, and you need to actively advocate for people to read your own article. One place you can put it is Hacker News. I like to call it “the Hacker News lottery” because honestly there’s like…I could publish like the best article I’ve ever written on Hacker News and nobody would notice, or some random article that I published might show up at the top one day. Because somebody submitted it. It’s like totally random, and I can tell you I see totally random things on Hacker News You see totally random things at the top of Reddit sometimes. But if you keep submitting every every time you submit That’s a lottery ticket right, and you you need to pay to win, or you need to play to win…so. You can also target specific Facebook groups. There are a lot of really big Facebook groups some of them local to your city. Maybe your alumni group on Facebook from your university or from your high school. Share it with your friends that way. Groups are a great way to spread it. You can also use, LinkedIn. People do use LinkedIn groups, it does send like email digests. People might see it. umm, and then I would also say use other people’s audiences. So if you publish on a Medium publication You’re immediately kind of hijacking the audience of that publication for a moment to get their attention . If you publish it in Forbes or TechCrunch or some of these other major publications that actually submit kind of op-ed reader posts, and and you can actually become a writer for Forbes or a writer for TechCrunch, and publish right on there, and that way you’re borrowing their credibility as well as their audience. So just to summarize: Three things to remember Create technical blog posts that are substantial. Package them for consumption; and publicize them like crazy. If you do that you’ll write blog posts that people will actually sit down and read. Thank you very much!

12 thoughts on “How to write technical blog posts – talk by Quincy Larson

  1. Thanks Quincy! I always look forward to your emails each week on new content, its always very informative and inspirational.

  2. Thanks for sharing all these valuable information. The presentation is just 16 minutes but is full of proven tips for tech bloggers.

  3. I am trying to build a similar channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCV8iOgwSgcR6uGPwuPlTuCA check it out, am I good enough?

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