On good articles and bad articles

Time:2021-7-28

Introduction:Why do we write? For many technical students, writing is much more difficult than writing code. It is not a good experience to spend hours with the computer and find that they can’t write anything decent.

On good articles and bad articles

Author Xu Xiaobin
Source|Alibaba cloud official account

Writing motivation

Why do we write? For many technical students, writing is much more difficult than writing code. It is not a good experience to spend hours with the computer and find that they can’t write anything decent. Even for some experienced people, it will take more than 6 hours to write an article of 4000 words of acceptable quality, which is not the time consumption of material accumulation at ordinary times.

Why do you do such a laborious thing? I think this matter has great value. This value is divided into two levels, which I call surface value and deep value for the time being.

The surface value is extremely utilitarian. For example, if some students want to be promoted, and an indicator of promotion is personal influence, writing articles can improve personal influence; For example, if a team leader wants to recruit, how can others know you and your team? Writing an article is also a good way; Others are articles written for superiors or stakeholders in a similar way to project reporting. In fact, the core focus of surface value is not the article itself, but the people behind the article. The author’s expectations for readers often do not lie in the readers’ recognition of the article content, nor do they expect readers to participate in the discussion of the content, but just expect readers to quickly recognize the author.

Only pay attention to the surface value to write articles, very putting the cart before the horse. It’s like writing a popular science article on PM 2.5. If you write it for the motivation of promoting your air purifier, its stench will soon leak out between the lines.

As opposed to the surface value, I think any article should start from the deep value. This so-called deep value is the content and viewpoint of the article. The article needs to be as objective as possible and approach the attitude of academic truth. I write an article because I have my own thinking on a problem, understand the thinking of many people in detail, find some conflicts of views, and will not cater to other people’s views for political correctness; Try my best to summarize the ideas that I think are valuable and spread them to others in a clear and interesting way; I can feel the enthusiasm of writing, which comes from the fun of thinking and the collision of views. In this process of writing, my thinking has grown. Through a lot of logical thinking, my thinking has been improved; Secondly, the articles written are of high value to readers because valuable knowledge has been disseminated.

Another motivation for writing is to spread valuable technology. For example, Josh long, a preacher of pivatal company, wrote a lot of technical introduction articles and a lot of wonderful speeches. I once asked him why he could do so well that he was rated as one of the 20 most influential people in the global Java field for many years. His answer is as follows:

I think that people don’t trust technology, they trust people. So, while it is possible that the spring team could just publish good documentation and leave it for the world to find, it’s far more compelling when u feel u can ask questions of someone. And u can see that they’re having fun.I love Spring because it has made millions of lives easier. It makes me happy to think about its application, to see people happy with its possibilities.

An article is written because the author loves a technology, recognizes the value of technology from the heart and believes in the potential of technology; Or because the author wants to sell something. The difference between the two motivations can be quickly found by a slightly careful reader. Of course, the above motives are often mixed together, but if the main motivation of writing is on the surface, then basically such articles are of little value.

effect

Josh is an influential person in the Java field all over the world. He has influenced millions of Java programmers all over the world through speeches, books and blogs, and helped promote excellent technologies such as spring all over the world. I wrote a book about maven, which has sold tens of thousands of copies. Coupled with the number of pirated PDF, it has affected more than 100000 Java programmers in China and helped promote Maven technology in China. I have joined Alibaba for more than 8 years, published more than 60 articles in the internal technology community ATA, and the cumulative number of reading is about more than 50000. I believe these articles have also brought some minor positive changes to Alibaba’s technology. From these perspectives, although writing high-quality articles consumes a lot of energy, because it is very easy to share and spread, it can quickly affect many people, and this influence can last.

Of course, the times are changing. In the past, due to the limitations of network technology, the communication of words was more convenient, and the production and communication cost of video was relatively high. Therefore, the actual influence of speeches will be much weaker than articles and books. Today’s network and video technology has been very mature, making high-quality video may be easier to spread.

Article or video, influence should be used to do the right thing. Today, many traffic entrances that control influence have formed a new power. They can control what sounds are easy to be heard, what pictures are easy to be seen, what words are easy to be read, and what attitudes are easy to be felt. The formation of power has evolved into power rent-seeking, and then this thing is often irrelevant to the so-called “right thing”.

I think the best example of doing the right thing through influence is these two articles by Zhang Pengyu (flower name: Gu PU). The first is“Reflections on API design best practices”, the second is“Beware of complexity dilemma: Reflections on software complexity”。 The content of this article is the in-depth analysis and Thinking on software design loved by engineers, but I think in this example, what is more important than the content is that these two articles convey a very important message, that is, “at Alibaba, even at the researcher level, some people are looking at technology carefully, Those managers at lower levels who have long been separated from the front line and say that technology is just details. Go to hell. “( Of course, this information is only my personal opinion and cannot represent Gu PU)

Writing method

Our basic education seems to have a lot of problems in the cultivation of writing. In my impression, those excellent composition selections common in the market often pay attention to form and routine, and often lack logic and views. Summing up with an idiom is “moaning without illness”. Everything should be highly lyrical and see the big from the small, and the final result is a disaster. Everyone’s overall foundation has been weak, and students engaged in technical work often have a weakness in Chinese when reading, so the result can be imagined. The logic of what is written is not strict, and the form is messy. There are many problems with basic segmentation, punctuation and words. Fortunately, the ability of writing can not be trained only in school, but also in work, and there are obvious rules to follow.

1. Reading volume

Zheng Ziying (flower name: Nanmen) emphasized the importance of “reading more” in his article. He recorded more than 50 books per year with Douban, which is equivalent to at least one book per week, which is a very amazing figure. I reviewed my Douban records. I read about half of them, that is, 25 copies a year. Needless to say, what I want to emphasize here is that constantly reading high-quality books can improve my literary appreciation. If you read too many books, pick up a book and turn over the directory, and find a few paragraphs to read. You probably have a score for the quality of this book. In fact, when writing by yourself, you spend most of your time referring to the structure and methods of existing examples. If you learn from a large number of excellent cases, it will not be much worse.

Before writing Maven actual combat, I read a lot of computer books by O’Reilly, pragmatic bookshelf and Manning. Most of the books published by these companies have very high quality assurance. When introducing technology, they have a clear structure from simple to deep, supplemented by moderate cases of large and small, and not boring theoretical analysis. It can be said that I wrote my own book with reference to the writing structure and writing methods of those excellent books, and finally my book got a good overall evaluation.

In addition to the benefits of writing methods, reading is more important to benefit from content. For another example, I’m“How to do technical TL well”In this article, I mentioned that I have read many books on management during my years as a TL, including win, driving force, secrets behind the door, Nonviolent Communication, etc. these books have greatly helped me supplement my thinking context. Writing is thinking, and thinking does not appear out of thin air. Thinking needs raw materials. The common raw materials are our actual work experience. However, a person’s experience is very limited after all. It is obviously wise to read other people’s experience and thinking and provide more raw materials for their own thinking with a humble attitude.

“How to do technical TL well”I received an interesting comment, which reads as follows:

Personally, I think the books related to management are chicken soup and don’t have to read them. If you need to rely on the book “teach you how to do management” to do management, it shows that this person is not suitable for management.

The implication of this sentence is that some knowledge, such as management knowledge, cannot be inherited and can only be understood by their own nature. For this comment, I can only say that the ignorant are fearless. We must not hold this mentality when writing articles. Even if our ideas are unique and original, we must not build our own barriers and watch the sky.

2. Material

I have been doing work related to cloud native in the past year. During this period, I have been thinking about what is the cloud native architecture. At present, there are many explanations for this word in the industry, but all these explanations can not satisfy me. They all pay too much attention to the perspective of Technology and cloud manufacturers and lack the perspective of application architecture. For this situation, I want to write something about the concept of cloud native architecture based on the past year and future related work, and make some supplementary explanations to help you better use technology. The article has not been written yet, but the motivation has been formed.

With this motivation, combined with some of my own personal interests, I have been accumulating materials in the past year, which are very interesting. For example, I have directly and deeply participated in the projects of internationalized Zhongtai and koala. Their architecture is based on cloud native technology and many Alibaba cloud products, which have been greatly upgraded; I also learned in detail how rookies build platforms on the cloud to serve their partner companies; Learn how nailing and IOT, which sell services on the public cloud, are structured on the cloud. I communicate with relevant students through IM, telephone or face-to-face. They all know everything very friendly. Then I sort out relevant materials and analyze the same model. The human brain likes the stimulation of pattern recognition very much, and I enjoy it in the process of doing these things. In addition to the actual cases, the views of senior industry personnel are also the source of materials I usually collect. For example, Lin Hao (flower name: Bi Xuan) recently wrote an article entitled“Further visualization of cloud primordial”Their articles usually don’t follow others. Careful reading will find some original ideas.

In addition to the above materials that are highly related to the target theme, I also found that interdisciplinary reading often brings unexpected gains to myself. Take cloud native as an example. Although I work in this field, I have been reading some economics books intermittently in the past two years, including mankun’s principles of Economics (I guess many people have bought this set of books, but few non professionals have really finished reading them seriously). When learning the thinking mode of economics, I want to explain the original cloud from the perspective of economics. The original self built technical infrastructure is gradually evolving in the cloud era. How should the choice be analyzed from the perspective of economics for business? What is the cost and utility of self construction? What is the cost and utility of purchasing? After the complex business technology architecture is divided into layers, it may be possible to analyze layer by layer and make an optimal choice from the perspective of economics at each layer.

3. Mind map

I first learned about mind mapping because I read the book “practical thinking and learning”. The core purpose of mind mapping introduced in the book is to write all the contents related to a topic, whether important or secondary, in one diagram. Those expanding and extending lines are not to form a clear structure, But to show the brain where thinking can be further expanded. Therefore, the way of drawing mind map should be as open and free as possible. The goal is to show all the contents related to the theme. The purpose of mind map is not to establish a clear logical structure. Therefore, when I see that many mind maps are actually a directory, I think they are basically wrong.

Writing articles (giving speeches is similar) is a process of opening first and then convergence. In the early stage, we continuously accumulate materials, use mind map to expand thinking and establish the relationship between materials, which is the stage of opening. In this stage, we can appropriately let the logical thinking back to the background, open our eyes, don’t make too much evaluation (establishing a structure and dividing primary and secondary is actually an evaluation), and listen to and observe the real world and other people’s ideas with an empty cup mentality. Before giving a speech or writing an article, I always find a quiet place to prepare coffee, open mindnode, or directly find and take out A4 white paper and pen, and give myself half an hour to an hour to guide the thinking related to the theme to draw a picture. A quiet and undisturbed environment, no time pressure and energetic brain can be put together to move yourself away from the focus of the affairs at hand, so that the consciousness that usually doesn’t get attention in the brain emerges and falls on the paper.

4. Structure

It is not natural to pile up a large number of materials to make an article. The work must have a clear result. In architecture, we are familiar with the column structure of ancient Greek architecture and Gothic architecture with sharp arches, rib arches, flying buttresses and other elements as the core; In the program, the common patterns such as MVC, layering and microkernel are also clear structures. The structure of the article can help the author express his views clearly and guide the readers to read in a clear path. With mind mapping, I usually extract the most appropriate structure from those complex materials, and then organize the materials based on this structure.

There are some common structures for writing technical articles. The following are several paradigms:

  • Problem solving structure。 This paradigm usually focuses on solving a specific problem. The common logic is: background introduction – > raising the problem – > discussing the idea of solving the problem – > solving the problem – > value summary. This structure is probably the most familiar to engineers because everyone is good at solving specific problems.
  • Knowledge introduction structure。 This paradigm is usually used to introduce new technologies. The common logic is: industry background – > technology proposal – > simple demo – > core conecpts – > concept depth and demo (1-N times) – > prospect analysis. Many technology introduction articles you usually see usually use this structure. The advantage of this structure is that you can introduce new technologies and concepts from simple to deep.
  • Viewpoint output structure。 This paradigm is more challenging than the previous two. The common logic is: overall view – > sub view 1 – > sub view 1 elaboration – > sub view 2 elaboration… – > summary. The article with this structure is written with great strength, but it is very challenging to write, because the elaboration of views requires rich materials and strict logical derivation, and it is suspected of nonsense if it is careless.

Of course, when we write, we don’t have to stick to these paradigms, but we can also think about our own paradigms, but no matter what paradigm, there is always a logically related structure behind it. There is a book called “pyramid principle”. I heard many people praise it (especially in the Performance Season). I read the introduction and evaluation, which is about how to make the other party understand you in an efficient way. I haven’t read this book, but it should be about the structure and logic of the writing. Interested students can buy it and have a look.

5. Views

Not all articles have opinions. For example, if you write an article summarizing how to solve a performance problem, you don’t necessarily need to have opinions; Introducing a technology, such as rust, does not have to express an opinion. However, articles that can express their views are usually more attractive. For example, when solving performance problems, they emphasize the importance of understanding queuing theory. This is a view that is easy to impress; When introducing rust, it is asserted that it will dominate in performance sensitive scenarios in the future, and it is easier to make this technology attractive. Of course, the viewpoint needs to be demonstrated, and its firmness is directly proportional to the investment of your demonstration. Logical derivation, data support and case analysis are very good demonstration means.

We also see that some articles are full of views, but they are basically quoted, one is jobs, one is Zhang Xiaolong, one is Ma Yun, etc; Of course, it is more common to quote company executives, who, when, what, etc., and then use these contents to support their own materials. I think it’s harmless to quote occasionally. If you always quote, you can only show that you don’t have a point of view, or your point of view is weak, and you need strong support.

More courage, can reflect their rich materials, thinking depth, but those who dare to say the words of the emperor’s new clothes. Technical articles should have the spirit of science. Science is developed based on the constant say no in the past. Technical articles should also dare to express the view of say no. don’t be afraid to offend others. We should understand that the correct technology / Architecture / scheme should stand up to doubt, because if the technology is wrong, even if no one dares to question the current environment for a long time, Reality will exponentially increase the cost of mistakes. Therefore, compared with the correct nonsense, the articles that dare to say no to the current situation and put forward their own negative views are more worthy of praise.

6. Story

Strictly speaking, the whole story that adds fuel to its content does not help the logical argument. However, to make your article / speech attractive, the elements of the story are essential. Human evolution today, the brain’s response to logic is very slow, and it needs to be trained to understand logic. However, children aged three or four have the response to stories. The spirit handed down by early humans, such as Greek mythology and the Bible, is full of wonderful stories. Up to now, no matter on the company’s intranet or microblog, the high enthusiasm for eating melons can be ignited by logical argument. The story is easy to cause empathy and make people associate themselves. Then the cerebral cortex is easy to hi. The neural network is activated and various hormones begin to secrete

This is the reality of human physiology, so we should respect (make use of) this reality when writing articles. Let’s talk about the poor performance of the program, which led to the wake-up of colleagues at 3:20 in the middle of the night; A failure led to the smashing of the supermarket cash register. When introducing the new programming language, you should show a piece of code and make a comparison to say that Java is not good; When introducing mesh, you have to say that you have to do this to upgrade middleware, but you don’t need it in the future, and so on

I like to tell a true story when I introduce my “Maven actual combat”:

A few years before the publication of my book, because of vanity, I especially liked to brush comments on major book selling websites, such as Amazon, Douban, Jingdong, etc. one by one, I was happy to see the five-star evaluation, and I was angry to see the low one or two stars. Of course, most of the evaluations were very positive. Until one day, I brushed a 1-star comment in Jingdong. I opened the comment while I was sad, but I was happy after reading it. The reason why the reader called 1-star was “let your boss make milk tea, bad comment!” It was because Liu qiangdong’s milk tea broke the news of love that broke the reader’s heart, and then I lay down with a gun.

This story has nothing to do with the technology I introduced in the book, but I like to tell this story because it will make the audience smile and remember that I wrote a book about Maven.

What’s a bad article like

After talking so much about how to write good articles, I also want to say what bad articles look like. The so-called bad articles refer to those articles that have little positive value to readers. What’s more, they not only have no positive value, but also have negative value. Here is a brief summary:

  • Personal notes into articles。 He solved a technical problem, made some records, and then wrote an article and sent it out. At best, such articles can only be called material, because they are not summarized and refined, and they are written entirely from a person’s perspective. When readers read them, they not only can’t feel the system, but also the valuable parts are usually few.
  • Ppt post article。 The author made a speech somewhere. Because he wanted to spread it to more people, he organized it into an article in the way of mapping. Be kind, and add some explanatory words in the middle of the picture, so it was written. I first assume that the quality of the speech itself is good, with logic, views and cases, but even so, the reading experience of such a so-called article is very poor. In a speech, PPT is an aid to “speaking”. If there is only PPT, the real core part of “speaking” will be lost. Therefore, a more responsible approach should be for the speaker to write down what he said in rich words and in a clear way, not just those few pages of withered ppt.
  • Write articles in the way of publicizing military achievements。 Such articles are common within the organization. The title will carry many common words such as “summary”, “year”, “system”, “reflection” and “prospect”. Usually, such articles have neither system nor reflection, and their main purpose is to invite credit. The basic routine is that I have done a lot of things in a year, and the results are very good. With a few frame “structure” diagrams that look similar, and then straight to the white point, I will take a group photo. There are usually many praises behind such articles, but there is basically no discussion. What is it? The author has come to ask for credit. Do you think he did a bad job and offended people? From the perspective of knowledge dissemination and promoting thinking, the value of such articles is almost zero.
  • All kinds of maps into articles。 Compared with PPT mapping, there are also articles pasted with various other maps. The mind map is pasted directly, the design drawing is pasted directly, the flow chart is pasted directly, and the monitoring diagram is pasted directly. At a glance, I just don’t see a few lines of words. A good picture is indeed a picture that wins a thousand words, but it should only be used as a finishing touch. If the so-called article is all pictures, you can’t see the focus or the system at all. Words are very powerful. Words can pull readers into the author’s thinking system and guide readers’ thinking with logic and rhetoric. Or induction, or derivation, so that the original hidden knowledge can be displayed; Or eloquence, or humor, let the author’s point of view shine. Writing should give full play to the power of words. Not only pictures can have a structure, not only pictures can reflect thinking. On the contrary, pictures often become a tool for many people to hide their lack of thinking because of their imprecision.
  • Correct nonsense becomes an article。 Mandarin idioms are often abstracted to a very high level. Starting from the company’s strategy, they are full of words that have been severely criticized recently, such as “top-level design”, “bottom logic”, “empowerment” and “grasp”; If you can’t find a clear logic, you can use 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, 6.0. Anyway, the main version number plus 1 is better than the previous one. As for why the small version number has never been used, I don’t know. Anyway, n.0 is right. Direct n is not good, and direct n.0.0 is not good. After reading this kind of article, you can’t tell what’s wrong. The only thing you know is that this article has no value. You’ve wasted a few minutes of your life.

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