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OS news: Article Retrospective

December 9th, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

I have now had three articles published on osnews.com. See sidebar menu for the direct links.

Re-reading them, I’d say that the most recent one (“What It Would Take To Make Me Consider RISCOS Again”) is probably the poorest of the three. I think that the first one (“My Dream OS”) was probably the best one and the second one (“A Very Critical Look At OS Recreation Projects”) was probably the most insightful.

If you’re interested in this sort of writing, read on for some more retrospective analysis and some conclusions.

The first one – “My Dream Operating System” (about 4000 words)

This was my first attempt at writing a tech article and in some respects, it was the most successful. The article was intended as an exercise in developing my ability to write in a less academic and more ‘chatty’ style. In those terms, it was reasonably succesful in eschewing the overly formal style that I was attempting to get away from. On the other hand, it could have been tighter and grammatically better without compromising the informal tone.

As with most of my writing, it suffers from a weak opening section. The first few paragraphs are particularly flawed and could should have been rewritten after the first draft was finished. Things aren’t quite as bad as I start to get into my stride towards the middle of the article.

Also, when I was writing it, I was determined not to get bogged down in grammar; in some of my other writing, I invest quite a lot of time examining the meaning of every word and phrase. In all fairness, when writing about a more ‘serious’ subject it is more important to be assured of the precise meaning of what is being written. This was supposed to be a ‘fun’ article rather than a polemic treatise.

If nothing else, having written the first article, I discovered what the goal of the exercise actually is: to improve, but also form an agreement between, the technical and expressive sides of my writing. ‘Compromise’ is the key word here: readability and entertainment value are just as important as precise meaning. The use of imprecise language is perhaps an indication that the ideas are not very well defined but perhaps a good idea, well made, shouldn’t have rely upon strict grammar to succeed?

The article was written over the course of a couple of sessions and posted off without a proper honing stage. One of the reasons for this is that I was quite nervous about submitting it; given that I have a tendency to procrastinate rather than finish things off (oh, I’m famous for it!), I decided to get it sent off rather than allowing it to wilt and die on my HD.

In the article’s favour: The tone is about right, it’s grammatically not too awful, it has a good pace, it makes most of the points that I intended and I hope that it is successful in conveying my enthusiasm for the subject matter.

An extended honing period could have improved it as could have an extended planning stage.

The second one – “A Very Critical Look At OS Recreation Projects” (about 4000 words)

I spent a bit more time on this article than I did with the first. As with the first, I didn’t worry overly about emaculate use of language. In some respects, this article was more successful than the first because I found a greater number of ‘hooks’ for expositional analysis of the subject. I was able to actually utilise the methods of philosophy and even psychology. That is the area of the article that was the most successful.

The structure of this article was similar to the first: a first half that defines the principles of the investigation in question followed by a second half that applies those principles.

I enjoyed writing the first half of the article but by the second half, I was beginning to get bogged down with it. It also occurred to me that some parts of the article would require quite intensive research. To get around this, I made the decision to restrict the scope of the analysis in the second half to operating systems that I was already familiar with. If I focused upon operating systems that I was less familiar with, I could have got myself into a situation in which I would have to do two hours research for each few hundred words of article.

As with the first article, I didn’t do a very extensive rewrite, although, I seem to remember that I retouched the first half a little bit. As with the first article, having finished the first draft, I had to make a decision between either spending some more time on it or posting it. Spending more time on the article meant the possibility of allowing the project to linger and wilt as I endeavoured to make it ‘perfect’ or I simply got tired of it. By the end, I was a bit burned out with the project: I wrote it for free and it was taking time away from other projects. If it had been a piece of paid work, I could have justified the extra time for it.

As I said above, the article improves upon the first one as it contains a bit more analysis and formulation of thesis. I could feel myself applying what I have learnt, particular from my study of philosophy. For this reason, I hope that it’s an article that not just anyone could have written.

The finished article doesn’t quite have the vigour of the first and I don’t think that I got as close to the chatty tone of a magazine article as the first article managed to. It was perhaps overly ambitious and frankly, just too much work to do for a free project that wouldn’t bring any direct benefits.

The Third One – “What It Would Take To Make Me Consider RISCOS Again”

The article was only finished about a week ago so, I might not yet have enough distance from it to make a proper analysis. The best thing to come out of writing article #3 was that I have started experimenting with using a ‘mind mapping’ tool for the note taking stage of a small projects (see last news item for details). I’ve made some useful advances in the project planning area. I also chalked up a bit of experience in terms of ‘what not to do’ when writing such an article.

The planning stage went well but I ended up letting the article length balloon out of control. The project really started to drag so I was sick of it by the end. As I was nearing the 6,000 word point, half as a long again as the other two, I made the decision to finish it off at all costs. I was so sick of it that I don’t think that it was even given a thorough proof read.

There are a few little moments where the article starts to shine, with a bit of in-depth analysis and theorising but it much of it ended up as a dull stating of dry facts. I had anticipated a bit more fallout from hardcore RISCOS fanatics so the final bit of work I did was to add a bit of pre-damage control to the front of the article. In retrospect I wonder if I might have insulted some of the RISCOS enthusiasts who read the article?

Anyway, as a learning experience, article #3 was quite useful. But the article wasn’t the most worthy addition to my portfolio. To really finish the article would have meant adding another two or three thousand words and spending perhaps a total of another few nights on it.

The main thing that I have learnt from writing #3 is that there might be more value in creating articles closer to the 2,000 word mark. At this length, it can still be a useful exercise but there is less chance of me becoming bogged down when writing it. If the idea needs further exploration, it might be worthwhile to revisit it later with a part 2. No more epic-length tech articles!

Future Articles

I’ll try to maintain the 1 article per month rate but I’m going to cut down on the article length. Then, they can still serve as a useful exercise but without detracting from other, more important writing work.

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