"The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it"
Aneurin Bevan

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


In my day job I write technical articles and books. Well, no longer paper books, the royalty on each is small and internet pirating is rife which means that I do not get paid for the 6 months of solid writing, or the 18 months of research that goes into a 500 page book. You get a lot for your $50 (not least the picture of me in the book, or sometimes on the cover), but I get very little from it and so I have to sell a lot of books to make writing it worthwhile. These days I write for hire rather than for royalties, and consequently the client - who will be giving away my work via their website - usually likes to ensure that I am on message rather than (as I like to do) make up my own opinions about software. I have even ghost written for some people. That hurts a bit, not that my name isn't on the work, but that someone else claims they wrote it. At least I get paid to do it.

Whether it is a book, or an online article the process is the same. First I have meetings (usually online: the client is often in the US, but I have worked with people in India too) to scope the article and after the meeting I will be sent the software. I then play with it for a while before writing an outline based on the discussions with the client and what I have learned from playing with the software. The client then reviews the outline and I make the changes and then inform the client how long the writing will take. Usually I will provide milestones - dates when each chapter is delivered.

Once everything is agreed, I start writing and as I approach each milestone I pass the article(s) to the client. At this point the article will be technically reviewed, usually by the client, but often it is done by both the client and a third party. The point is to check my code to make sure there are no obvious errors and to read through and see if my descriptions are correct. Once the technical review is completed, the article is passed to me and I make the changes. Usually they are minor (you get a quality service from me!).

Then I pass the article to a copy editor. Since I mostly write for US clients the chief purpose of the copy editor is to convert my English into American. Sometimes the copy editor introduces obscure grammar rules and I am happy to make the changes as long as they do not change the meaning of the text. I have had more passionate arguments with copy editors than I have had with technical editors, and these usually involve me complaining about some antiquated grammar rule that the copy editor thinks must to be followed or else the book must be spiked.

Once the article has been copy edited, it can go to production (printed on paper, or posted online).

You can see that there is a lot of interaction here. The client knows roughly what they want: as vague as "a book about this" or a detailed description describing the audience, the software and the scope. During the writing process I am constantly in touch with the client, asking questions, and sometimes pointing out bugs. Technical and copy editing makes sure that what I write is readable and correct. As a consequence I am willing to defend my technical writing to the hilt: it is not just me that is being criticised, it is the entire team who has contributed and all of us have gone to great lengths to produce a quality product.

So what about blogging?

I do not have a client, in fact, there may be no one at all reading this. And other than me doing some web searches, there is usually no checking of my blogs to ensure they are correct. So what you read is usually just a brain dump.

However, blogging is more than that. You know so because you are a seasoned blog reader and you know that you can comment below the line (that is, at the bottom where it says "Comments"). So although I try to make sure that what I write on this blog is correct, I rely on people who read the blog to correct me below the line. Sometimes (if I am very incorrect, and I have the time) I will even alter the blog to reflect the comments.

So to me, blogging must have comments. If there is no ability to comment then this is essentially the same as an article of being published without a technical review.Comments are an integral part of blogging and without the ability to make comments this is not a blog, it is merely a random article on the web. This is why there is a comment section on my blogs. If there are no comments on a blog post then I assume that no one has anything extra to add (which is a good thing).


  1. Totally agree with what you say, and as I write a blog I have a fellow feeling. I have to be very careful - I write www.after-cancer.com and as a patient, know that doctors and nurses are looking for the tiniest thing to highlight; as medics they don't like patients to voice an opinion: was told by a nurse, "you are ONLY a patient".
    So keep up the good work - and if you receive adverse comments it probably won't be from readers, but fellow professionals who are jealous!

  2. I agree too. The thing about blogging is that you can do it very quickly and even though you may try and get everything right there will be mistakes. Comments are a safeguard.

    Unfortunately some comments are abusive. I console myself with the thought that the people responsible, often anonymous, resort to invective because they have no arguments to support their case which probably means I am right.

    For comments to be at all useful you do have to leave up comments that you disagree with. I generally leave even the offensive ones up and this often provokes others to defend my point of view.

    I have commented on the website of one particular blogging GP and former prospective parliamentary candidate. I have always been polite but I have not been afraid of pointing out when she has got things wrong. Such comments get deleted. In a way I am flattered that my points would appear to be unanswerable but I have stopped gracing her with my input.