Sarah Loves Data

The Benefits of Blogging

Side view of woman working on laptop, selective focus

I’m a keen advocate of blogging. There are a host of reasons why I believe everybody should have a blog and I’ll explain these later. First let me start by telling you my story…..

Where it all began

On 13th November 2016 I was visiting a friend in Houston, Texas. I had just survived my first Tableau Conference in Austin and was suffering from a bad case of the famous ‘post-conference blues’. I had learnt so much at the conference and wanted to write about my experience. Problem was, I didn’t have a medium that allowed me to do so. Sure, I could have posted a few tweets on Twitter but there was no way I could summerise my conference experience in 140, 280 or even 420 characters.

A few months prior to this in September 2016 I attended my second ever London Tableau User Group. During the networking session at the end I had the pleasure of talking to Matt Francis. When he suggested that I start my own blog I initially thought “no way….I have nothing to write about”. I toyed with the idea at the time but decided to shelve it until I felt the time was right. So now, in Houston with some time to spare and my laptop to hand I decided it was a good time to be brave and start a blog.

I don’t do things by halves. A few hours later I had registered a domain name, set up a WordPress site, written my first blog post and shared it with the world! I was rather proud of myself to say the least. I had no idea how my post “Data16 – Tales from Austin, Texas” would be received or if people would even read it. Either way it didn’t really matter to me. I was happy to have documented my experience and had enjoyed the writing process.

Let’s talk about conference

After the excitement of any Tableau Conference people like to keep the magic alive and reminisce about their experiences (anything to avoid going back to reality). The most obvious way of doing this is by writing a blog post to re-live experiences and share photos taken at the event. Hint: The Tableau Community seem to like these posts a lot! Personally I love reading the post-conference blog posts. It’s always interesting to read about other peoples’ conference experiences and they personal take on the event.

Did they attend the same sessions as you?

What were their key takeaways?

What did you miss out on?

What sessions should you watch back online?

You will probably find yourself asking all of these questions when reading these blogs. My first post was published in a sea of other post-Tableau Conference blogs so I thought it would go unnoticed, yet I was wrong. In fact, my post was well received and is my second most-popular post to date!

Twelve months later…

So, we are now twelve months later and SarahLovesData.co.uk turned one yesterday. Woo hoo!

I have continued to blog throughout the past 12 months and now have 17 blog posts to my name (this post makes it 18). Admittedly I could have written more and it is my intention to write more regularly in 2018. However, I tried to maintain the momentum throughout the year by posting at least one new post every month (sometimes more). The theme of my posts to date focus on three key areas:

I love that the blog gives me the opportunity to write more. I enjoy writing and aside from the odd email or report at work I rarely get the opportunity to write anything longer than a few paragraphs nowadays. I always enjoyed writing assignments at school / university and missed writing at length before I started my blog.

So, that’s my personal account of how this blog came about. Which leads me to the focus of this post…..

Why should YOU start a blog?

Perhaps (like I was) you’re considering starting your own blog but you’re not entirely convinced. I admit it’s scary and can feel like a big step into the unknown. I recently read a blog post by Jeff Plattner who also started blogging recently. In this post he explains the fears he needed to overcome before sharing his vizzes publicly. While this post isn’t specially about blogging he explains the fear of sharing really well and the same principles apply.

I admit it might not be for everyone. Blogging takes time and energy and requires you to commit to completing a task (there’s not much point in starting a blog post if you never intend to finish and publish it). However, I honestly believe the pros outweigh the cons.

Here are my top 6 reasons why I believe you should start blogging (note: these are aimed at those involved in data visualisation but the same principles apply, regardless of what you blog about):

  1. To reflect on your work and explain your processes

If you participate in the Tableau Community and share your Tableau Public vizzes on Twitter you will understand that it’s near impossible to say everything you want to about a viz in a single tweet (yes…even now the character length has been doubled). Perhaps you want to bring something to the audiences attention or explain how you tackled a difficult calculation. This simply isn’t possible when sharing work on Twitter.

Andy & Eva do a fantastic job of summarising the design processes behind their vizzes each week for #MakeoverMonday. Their posts are structured in such a way which explains the task at hand, how they tackled it and why.  Personally I find explaining your design choices in a blog really makes you think about or even question them. It also makes you more design-conscious going forward which can really help improve the quality of your work.

2. To give attribution – giving credit when it’s due

Following on from #1, it can also be difficult to credit other people when sharing your work on Twitter. Perhaps you were inspired by the work of somebody else that you saw online or used a process documented in somebody else’s blog to build your viz. If this is the case it’s only fair that you acknowledge them and give them credit. This is easier said than done, especially if you don’t have a blog.

This is a hot topic at the moment and actually formed the topic of one of the table discussions at Fanalytics at #data17. Various options were discussed which you can read more about here. In the meantime blogging is a great way to credit your inspirations and mention anybody that helped you with your work (either directly or indirectly).

3. To share your knowledge and inspire others

The Tableau Community is extremely open to knowledge-sharing and there are countless authors out there that blog about Tableau tips, how to’s and tutorials on a regular basis. In fact, there wouldn’t be a community (not as it stands currently) without all of these amazing blogs. The majority of my learning has come from reading the blog posts of such authors and I am so thankful to everyone who has taken the time to share their learning with the wider community. By participating in the community and sharing your own knowledge it’s almost like you’re giving something back to the community, thus helping it to grow. By blogging you will also help to inspire a new generation of data rockstars!

4. To help people understand what you do

Often when you describe data visualisation to people outside of the community you are met with blank looks. Not everyone has heard of Tableau (or any other data viz tool for that matter) or understands what data visualisation entails. By having a blog which features some of your work makes this so much easier. This is especially true if you build visualisations with a familiar subject matter that could appeal to the masses; for instance vizzes about music, sport, movies or politics.

5. To support your portfolio

When I was searching for a new job recently I was surprised about the number of prospective employers that took an interest in my blog. In one interview the interviewer had read through some of my blog posts in detail prior to meeting me and commended me on my writing style. While a Tableau Public profile is an excellent portfolio in itself, a blog is a great addition to this and shows your dedication to the craft and also gives you the opportunity to showcase your writing skills.

6. To get something off your chest

There are lots of discussions that usually start on Twitter and become quite difficult to follow with lots of people commenting on various different threads. Often these are things can’t be summarised in 140/280 characters either so it becomes quite difficult for people to try and explain their thoughts or ideas through Twitter alone. This is where having a blog can come in particularly handy.  A blog will give you a platform to express yourself to say what you really want with enough room to do it.  If there is something you are particularly passionate about, don’t rant on Twitter. Write a blog post instead.

I want to start but don’t know how?

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that blogging is a good idea. Great! Question is, where do you begin? You may have lots of questions like:

What platform should I use?

How much does it cost?

I don’t know anything about web design. Where do I begin?!

Thankfully I found a really detailed post here which talks you through everything you need to know about setting up a blog from scratch.

Personally I purchased my own domain from GoDaddy which I hosted on WordPress. WordPress seems to be the most popular choice for hosting blogs. It’s easy to use and has a great app you can use if you like to write blog posts whilst on the go (I wrote my #data17 conference review on my phone on my flight home from Las Vegas….what better way to kill a few hours). You don’t necessarily need to purchase your own domain and there are successful bloggers out there that haven’t. For instance, Charlie Hutcheson’s blog https://learningtableaublog.wordpress.com/ has won an award for Best Blog for two consecutive years at the Vizzies (the Tableau Community Awards presented at the Tableau Conference each year), yet it doesn’t have it’s own domain and is purely run through WordPress. It’s up to you.

Over to you

Hopefully you have been inspired by this post and are all set to start your own blog. Remember it’s not a completion; think about quality over quantity. Before posting any post, ask yourself what somebody is getting out of your blog? You don’t need to write anything lengthy or elaborate but there should always be some key takeaways, even if it’s just food for thought.

Why not include starting a blog in your #VizGoals for the new year?

Thanks for reading.