How to write about software testing

Based on the number of requests I’ve had to write articles recently, there seems to be a big demand for testers who can write  well about software testing.  I’ve been asked by a few different companies to write articles on their behalf. Sometimes I’ve been asked to write posts for someones’s blog. I’ve only done that once with Quck Testing Tips which was a lot of fun. But generally, I find it hard enough to be inspired on my blog, let alone writing for some-one elses!

I thought putting down what helps me, might help a few testers out there. Writing well is a great skill for a tester to have. Think of all those persuasive bug reports you will be able to write.  Its also a great way to consolidate and  refine your thinking. (A great read on this topic is chapter is Maria Hammeren’s chapter entitled “writing as a method of reflection”  in the book Dialogue Skill and Tacit Knowledge.)

1) Write from the heart.

Personally, I’m only motivated to write when I have something I feel passionate about. Thats a good thing because you can create a bond with the audience. But it can be unhelpful too if other people are relying on you to write something.

Perhaps passionate is the wrong word, but  writing posts that resonate with you reach out in some way to your audience. Perhaps its the choice of words you use, I’m not sure, but your readers will pick up on your sincerity.

2) Be yourself

That is, don’t try and be the expert unless you have personal knowledge about what you are writing. In practical terms, avoid trying to sound more experienced than you are. Be honest about your experiences.If you do write on a topic (say automation) in a authorititive manner, you had better be able to back it up with fact and substance.

An excellent example of someone who does this  well is Michael Bolton. I believe in what he writes because he cites references and backs up his statement with examples and facts.

Nuff said.

3) Give yourself Permission

I have James Bach to thank for pointing this one out in a tweet*. Its so true.
Give yourself permission to write your thoughts. They do count and they are of value. Trust me on this one. A great example of some-one who does this is Lanette Creamer. I admire they way she is so forthright with her ideas.

*tweet info with nod to Michael Bolton for supplying it

[quote style=”boxed”]As a teacher this is key: Permission givers http://bit.ly/9qnyOt (thanks @jerryweinberg, for the link, and the permission)[/quote]

4) Proof Read

I tend to write posts 2 or 3 times before I let them loose on the world. Seriously. This is how I work.

a) Write down sentiment anyhow, anyway. Don’t worry about what it looks like
b) At this point I  feel free to explore, sometimes I stray from my originally intended topic to the point where I have a compeltely new article.
c) Read the post (try reading it aloud), and rewrite it, move paragraphs around to get a better flow. Cut out paragraphs that prevent a nice flow through the post
d) Take a break, do something different
e) Come back re-read the post, edit it. check for spelling then send it

A trap you can fall into though is over proofing. If you feel really strongly about something, and you leave it to the next day, you may chicken out and decide not the send it. Sometimes posting in the heat of the moment is a good idea. (Hey I never said writing was clear cut!)

5) Give credit

If you get an idea based on a book you read, share that. If something inspires you, share the link.

6) Be Original

No-one wants to hear trite stuff that parrotts what others say. Believe me. Make your content your own. If you are talking about a hot topic, try and put your own personal spin on it. What are your thoughts on it? Don’t parrott a thought leader, their stuff is far better than yours anyhow.

7) Be Precise

Often its a struggle to come up with a precise word that reflects exactly what you want to say. But please, don’t be lazy about it. The english language is diverse and there’s bound to be a word that aptly describes what you want. Use a thesaurus if you have to, or do what I do and wait until the right word comes to you. Your readers will appreciate it.

8 ) Why do you write?

Here is Bernard-Henry Levy on his view on writing. Great stuff. In particular what drives him to write is interesting:

[quote style=”boxed”]I am not writing to be loved. There is as much pleasure to being hated as being loved. I write in order to convince. In order to win. In order to change, even just a little, the world. I recently launched an appeal on Twitter supporting those attacking the official websites of the Tunisian regime. An intellectual calling for hacking doesn’t happen very frequently, and there is a stir. I am happy that it succeeded. I care about being heard.[/quote]

Whats your driver? Is it your ego, is it SEO ratings or is it something else? I started writing to get ratings for my website, but now I write for the pure joy of writing, because I get a kick out of crafting a beautiful piece of work.

9) Practise

The only way you are going to get any good at writing is by practicing.  How are you going to practice, well thats up to you, but writing a blog is a good start. Don’t aim for perfection, just get out there and write something. I will never forget my first blog post. It was the equivalent of hello world! (I wish I still had it, I would link it here)

Well, thats it. Nearly

There is one more thing.

If you are serious about writing skype me on charretts. I offer free coaching and I’m willing to include writing in that scope, as long as its to do with testing.

[By the way, when I’m talking about writing, its mostly in the context  of articles, blogs etc.]


 

14 Comments

  1. Awesome blog post Anne-Marie. I still need to work on 3, 7 and 9 above. Sometimes, its so hard for me to improve in writing no matter how well I write, but writing is ‘The Therapy’ for me. It helps me think, think better and think deeper. Unknown paths become familiar as I write. Known paths take me to unknown destinations. Nevertheless, I am enjoying my writing journey. Thank You for this wonderful post.

    Reply

    1. I started writing essays in my earlier days simply to see if I could do so, on the basis that if I could write 2 or 3 sides of A4 on a topic I at least had some idea about the topic. It didn’t mean they were good ideas of course :)

      As you state it’s a great way to consolidate and refine your thinking. In the writing process you realise you’re not that clear about certain points or have conflicting perspectives and so reject and refine them.

      I must also add my voice to the idea that many testers don’t write due to a fear they have no valid view compared to us that do write or have been around a while. Many testers have great twists on ‘common’ knowledge that help clarify or expand it.

      Get writing!

      Mark.

      Reply

  2. Since documentation is an integral and crucial aspect of software testing I think testers must not only lke to write but also be good at it.

    Reply

  3. Of course Anne, writing do bring ideas to life and as you say help consolidate them. The honours are yours for sharing these tips. Thanks

    Reply

  4. anne-marie, thanks for this post…I was looking for some inspiration to make my blog alive…fortunately i found yours while browsing…I am a struggling blogger tryin to put my thoughts and ideas in words.

    Reply

  5. Great post AM. I’m a touch slow on the up-take!

    Mark hit the nail on the head for me with this comment – “I must also add my voice to the idea that many testers don’t write due to a fear they have no valid view compared to us that do write or have been around a while.”

    I struggled with this for a while prior to starting my own blog. The thing that got me over the line in the end was changing my focus… I had to see my blog as something for me, not something for others. Of course, if others find something useful in there, bonus! In the end though, it’s about my learning.

    I find myself learning a lot about a given topic when I decide to write about it. There is always research that goes along with my writing, and so by default I’m constantly learning new things!

    Reply

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