Blog posts or essays?

Between my work, traveling back to home and frequent power cuts, my blogging hasn’t been very regular recently. I haven’t been suffering from any sort of writer’s block, in fact I have a list of about 7-8 topics that I’d like to write about. However there has been one thing that has kept bothering me for quite some time: the size of my postings. I’ve been trying to use this blog as a way to tell the world about the things that I learn and discover as I pursue my career as a computer science student. However many of the things that I deal with daily and which I think about are quite complex and takes long discussion to get everything together. At the same time I would like to be able to post new things everyday or at least every alternate day. Often these two things don’t really go together add being an avid reader myself, I understand that it can be very trying to read something long on a topic like computer science. Hence the question: do I write small compact blog posts on a regular basis, or do I write longer essay-style posts where I can talk at length about the topic?

I’ve been looking at some of my favorite technology oriented bloggers to possible solutions to my dilemma. My favorite bloggers is Steve Yegge, who without fail writes long, sometimes rambling, but always interesting essays on an approximately bimonthly basis. While I find his essays thoroughly entertaining, they are a bit too big for something that I would want to write. More importantly, I certainly want to post more regularly than twice a month. Paul Graham’s essays are somewhat shorter, but are also published at a similar frequencies. Again, brilliant, but not quite what I’m aiming for.

Perhaps the closest to what I’m acheiving would be Jeff Atwood’s Coding Horror. Atwood posts regularly (almost everyday) and his posts are of a good length, long enough to make you feel a sense of actually reading something worthwhile, while being short enough that you don’t need to set apart an entire hour to go through them. Though occasionally he does err on the side of excess, they are nowhere as long as Yegge’s posts.

Of course, length isn’t a separate consideration in itself. It’s closely tied to the content of what I write. Recently I’ve been writing more from a software engineering standpoint, though I would like to write posts of a slightly more theoretical nature (especially since I’m getting increasingly interested in compilers and programming languages). While I’m willing to accept that such topics might require slightly lengthier posts, I really don’t want to turn my posts into mini-theses.

Long blog posts also mean longer time investments on my part, something that is a very important consideration because of the heavy course load I plan on taking. Perhaps the best way for me to decide the issue is to think about how much time I would be willing to invest on a daily basis. On average a blog post right now takes me about 40 minutes to one hour to write. I think that it is a good amount of time for me to spend write now. Considering my typing speed, that translates to about 1000 thousands, even considering looking up pertinent links and confirming information. 1000 words might be pushing it a bit, (that’s about one average sized college paper), but much less would probably be too small for me to clearly say everything. 800 to 1000 words seems like a decent size from what I’ve been reading. I think a good idea would be to to have a number of sections which are more or less self-contained in terms of content.

I’m going to trying to work on trying to control my size and structure. However at the same time, my primary concern will be content, so even if I need to write longer or shorter posts to give a coherent, well paced account of everything I need to say, so be it. I’m sure my readers read other tech blogs, so any comments as to what you prefer would be good very much appreciated.

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Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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