From my experience, the two most critical components for learning are: the focus and desire to learn; and the ability to seek out, handle, and then learn from constructive criticism obtained from people that are more experienced. It is primarily the people that I have seen employ both of those components in unison that I have seen learn and excel in their fields.
From the day last summer when I started writing this blog until today, I believe I have proven to myself that I have the focus to continue writing and the desire to keep on writing. It was when I reached out to some friends and colleagues in the writing field for constructive criticism that they all asked the same question: “What is the audience for your articles?”
Thinking About That Question¶
Wow. It was a pretty obvious question, but at the same time, it was one that I just assumed I knew the answer to. As I started to write this article, I just assumed that the words would just flow out of my fingers…
Until they didn’t.
Instead, I sat at the keyboard for a long while, with a flood of thoughts going through my head. I was pretty sure I was not doing the blog for attention, but what was it really that drove me to take the day or two out of my week to write these blog posts? To get my thoughts out of my head, I started writing different parts of different paragraphs that were prototypes for this article. In the end, each one seemed like it was scratching at the service, not really answering the question.
To be clear, none of those paragraphs made it to this final version of the article. In any form. Not even remotely. I knew I had to come up with an answer, but I was hitting a wall. And try as I might, I was not making any progress. It was frustrating… very frustrating.
It was while doing something totally unrelated that I remembered a conversation with a colleague about elevator pitches. The general idea behind elevator pitches is that in the 30-45 seconds that you have with someone in an elevator, you can pitch them an idea that is comprised of the 2-3 sentences that are the distillation of the most important points to get across about your idea. If you want to successfully get the other person’s attention, you need to “hook” them before those elevator doors open and their attention is no longer focused on you, but what is outside of the elevator doors.
To me, this concept seems to contain some basic truths. There are a fair number of talented people that can briefly capture your attention by coming up with flowery words about their ideas, but those ideas usually end up just being smoke and mirrors. In response, when people start seeing those kinds of words and sentences coming their way, their experience trains them to disregard a lot of what you are saying. Based on personal experience, this decision is made within the first 3-5 sentences that you speak to the other person. Therefore, if you honestly have something meaningful to say, you should be able to describe it in a short and powerful burst that is simple and straightforward, containing the most important parts of what you want to say.
So, how could I apply that concept to the question of audience and how I would answer it?
What Is My Goal?¶
It took my quite the while. But ultimately, for me and my blog, it boils down to this:
I want my blog to inspire people and help them learn, like people have inspired and helped me in the past.
It may seem simple and altruistic, but that is the heart of what I want to accomplish. Not a lot of flowery words. Not a lot of meaningless sentences. Just a simple statement of what I want to accomplish with my blog.
It was a good start on what I wanted to accomplish, but I still needed more.
How do I accomplish that goal?¶
Having a good statement of my goal, I needed to figure out how my blog was going to accomplish that goal, thereby further defining the audience.
Based on my stated goal, I started thinking about the blogs that I usually read. Writing some of those blogs down, I found there were two categories that emerged: ones that I use as a point-in-time resource and ones that I read and learn from. From my point of view, a lot of the blogs and sources out there present the information necessary to solve an immediate problem, but not a lot them offer insight as to how the authors arrived at that solution or what the alternatives are.
To be clear, that isn’t always a problem. I use sites like Stack Overflow all of the time to get help with a particular situation. However, in terms of being a site that I learn from, Stack Overflow will rarely be one of them. In contrast, the blogs and sites that I keep on going back to are ones that offer that additional insight and help me learn through that insight. They provide something to me above and beyond the normal solutions to problems that are documented on other sites.
But what exactly was it about those blogs that helped me learn? What were their hooks? And more importantly, what was the way in which I was going to do this for people reading my blog?
Thinking about that information for a long while, and then distilling it down to its essence, I expanded on my stated goal from above to include be a more complete answer.
What Is the Audience For My Blog?¶
I want my blog to inspire people and help them learn, like people have inspired and helped me in the past. For technical articles, I feel that I can best do that by focusing more on the
how of the decisions leading up to the solutions rather than the
what of the solutions themselves. For other articles, I feel that I can best do that by being an honest and believable storyteller, helping people to understand issues and situations as I see them.
It was an interesting process for me to try and summarize a whole lot of thoughts about why I write my blog and reduce them down to 3 sentences. The above lines took a number of days to arrive at, with lots of writing, even more editing of those words, and even more distillation of those edited words until I got down to the plain and simple sentences that I arrived at.
I hope those two sentences help explain what I see as the audience for my blog.
So what do you think? Did I miss something? Is any part unclear? Leave your comments below.