Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Blogging to Learn

About 6 or 7 years ago, I bought William Zinnser's little book Writing to Learn. Zinnser's idea is that the process of writing entails a process of learning -- you must collect data, organize that data, and present said data in a clear order. Such interaction with the data cements it in your brain in new and interesting ways. For much of this book he lets us tour his collection of fine writing retrieved from such disparate disciplines as science, philosophy, and math.

This is a fine approach to blogging as well; but modified somewhat The very nature of blogging is relational. Blogging invites commentary from readers, many of them regulars who form a loose cadre of benevolent, though at times sharp-witted, companions. At times the occasional uninvited barbarian intrudes with an advertisement for online gambling or a profanity strewn rant against the blogger, but the blogger has the authority to quickly dismiss these invaders. So, blogging to learn becomes more than a solitary process at the end of which the learner shares the fruits of his/her labor with an unidentified audience. Blogging to learn entails the blogger issuing the invite to his boon companions "come along with me; lets have some fun together"

Blogging to learn requires all the basics of good writing: clarity, freedom from jargon, simplicity, organization, etc. I was told once by Mike Beates, my Intro to Hebrew professor, that every writer should review Strunk and White's Elements of Style at least once a year. While avoiding that overkill, I suggest that any blogger who aspires to be more than an electronic gossip columnist should add the Elements into the reading pile from time to time (along with Zinnser's On Writing Well).

Blogging to learn also requires doing homework. Serious journalists dismiss bloggers as hacks who don't track down sources past wikipedia. They cluck their tongues and whisper 'tut tut' when bloggers pass rumor and innuendo off as verifiable fact. We would do well to remember that blogging is something of an all things to all people -- it's not a genre, it's a medium. But if we consider blogging to learn as a genre, then it requires a little more research -- looking for more information, more connections of ideas, picking and choosing where to link and where not to link to provide edification beyond the scope of a post. Blogging to learn asks the readers to thoughtfully comment in such a way as to add value and information to the discussion.

In my notes, I've jotted down about a half dozen topics that relate to blogging to learn (the value of collecting, the value of a someday/maybe file, the value of the lattice, the value of the network, etc). I'd like to come back to this topic from time to time -- any thoughts?