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Thoughts on Blogging

I was recently asked some questions via email about blogging. Rather than respond via email, I’ve decided to do a Gelman and post my response here.

The Biggest Challenge

The first question was, What’s been your biggest blogging challenge (finding the time, picking good topics, the technology, etc.)?

There is an obvious answer here and there is a somewhat deeper one. Of course it’s a challenge to find the time. I could do other things. I could read. I could sleep. I could go for a run.

I think the biggest challenge has been to find the right direction for this blog. After almost six years, I’m still not sure where this thing is going. I keep changing direction. Sometimes, somebody tells me they do or don’t like something. But I don’t have a clearly defined audience like a fashion blog or a technology blog or similar.

It’s not that there aren’t enough good topics, there are more than I could ever write about. Rather, the question is what do I think I can contribute to? I don’t care about just posting links to interesting stuff, others do that already and I can’t bring myself to just summarize what somebody else has done for a link posting.

The challenge is to not let that paralyze you. I keep a list of topics in my todo program, in a folder. When I don’t know what to write, I look through those and pick one. You need to keep writing, and you need to try things to see if they work. A simple posting today, a little visualization project next week, then a book review, etc.

To summarize it in a word, perhaps the biggest challenge is consistency. Consistency in topics, style, and frequency.

Advice on Starting A Blog

The second question was, What piece of advice would you give (or have already given) to an evaluator or researcher interested in starting a blog?

I have three pieces of advice.

  1. Don’t worry about the technology. Don’t tinker. Just write.
  2. Pick an audience to write for, but don’t get too focused on that. Your audience might change. People you wouldn’t have expected to read your blog will read it. Be prepared to go outside the box and change direction accordingly. But to write reasonably well, you need to have an idea of who you’re writing for.
  3. Hang in there. Nobody will read your blog at first. Nobody. After a year, you might have a few readers. Don’t give up. A blog doesn’t just explode onto the Internet (unless you’re incredibly lucky). It’s going to take time. If you give up after a few months with just a few readers, you will never get more.

That’s it. Hopefully this has been useful. Now go forth and blog!

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Robert Kosara

Robert Kosara is Senior Research Scientist at Tableau Software, and formerly Associate Professor of Computer Science. His research focus is the communication of data using visualization. In addition to blogging, Robert also runs and tweets.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Blogging”

  1. Could I add a couple pieces of advice?

    Tell people… post your updates to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
    Make sure that you add it to your comments on other blogs, like I shamelessly did here…

  2. Robert,

    Although I’ve followed your blog for a long time, this (weirdly enough) is the first post I’ve commented on. The to do lists and too much to write about, keep writing, all hit home.

    The comment, “I’m still not sure where this thing is going” made me smile. I’ve been blogging for only two years, and I’m still not sure where this thing is going. Its reassuring to think there is no end in sight. One less thing to worry about…

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