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November 11, 2003
If you want to learn about it blog about it

I can't claim to have had a very busy day, but I have had what was by my standards a slightly nerve-racking day. This was because I have just been on the radio, talking about something I am not confident about because it is such a complicated subject, namely the government's plans to introduce, slowly but surely, a national compulsory Identity Card scheme. I didn't know how long this little performance would take, or how well, badly or dreadfully I would do, so I spent the day fretting. Now it's done. It lasted only a tiny few minutes, so I had no time to dig myself into a very deep hole or be humiliated by some pro ID card fanatic. Nevertheless, the end result of my worryings and wafflings is that is now nearly eleven in the evening and I still owe the universe a posting on my Education Blog.

Allow me then to inflict a ramble upon you, in the form of a further reflection on just what a superb method of self-education blogging is. Anything more profound would almost certainly take me past midnight, and there have been too many take-a-look-at-this just-goes-to-show-don't-it postings of late. They don't take long, but nor do they add much. A day that includes one or two of these is fine. A day with just one of these and nothing else is not one I'm very proud of.

So, off we go.

During the year or two before I got started as a blogger, I felt that I was ceasing to make much in the way of intellectual progress. To be blunt about it, I had stopped learning. I'll spare you the details, but I've written about this experience here.

Blogging has changed all that. The comments on this blog are not numerous, but they make an impact on me, especially if they are critical, and whether I reply or not. Only today, I received a quite long email complaining about something I had put here a month or so ago, and I emailed back with an acknowledgement of error, together with a partial defence of other things I'd said. As most of us know, error and learning are things which are intimately related to each other. Through the simple discipline of having to bend my mind to matters educational at least once every day, I have learned an enormous amount about matters educational, and am confident that I will learn lots more as the years roll by.

I am not vain enough to imagine that more than a tiny handful of decidedly eccentric people ever trawl their way through the archives here, but it will not surprise you to learn that one of these eccentric people is me. Mostly I am relieved by the experience, for I usually agree with myself. But more to the point, I learn things. To be exact, I have things reinforced for me. Just reading something is one thing. Having to stir it up inside one's head and organise one's thoughts and write them down is an order of magnitude more educational. Reading it back a month later piles on yet more education.

Learning doesn't just mean piling up facts. It means organising them into coherent patterns, spotting their interconnections, and also spotting contradictions and confusions, and reformulating the original truths in such a way that they remain true, but do less to contradict other truths which are also true.

Of all the blogs I write for, the one which has done most to bring all this home to me in recent weeks has been this one, for which I have been writing about the Rugby World Cup. This experience has given me an entirely new respect for what real sports correspondents must endure and for what they achieve. Simply, I have learned far, far more about the game of rugby by writing about it than I would ever have learned about rugby merely by watching it. Writing about it meant making judgements, and then not being able to deny to myself (never mind to anyone else) that this was what I had put. One week Ireland, or whoever, looked great. The next week they were being mangled. One day England's backs looked all-powerful. Days later they were leaden footed cloggers. What was happening? Blogged questions are far harder to forget about than unblogged questions. I arrived at answers, and blogged them too. Commenters commented. (See especially this posting, and the comments on it.)

I think the rugby thing has been particularly striking because I've never really tried to think systematically about rugby before, to the point of actually writing stuff down, ever before in my life. Over the years I've written about politics, about education, about culture, about transport, about civil liberties (including ID cards) before, so the extra push given to my thinking on these matters by blogging about them has been less dramatic. But I'd never before written about rugby.

Well, I'll spare you the details, because if you are not a rugby fan, you won't care. My point here is, if you want to really learn about something, blog about it.

I know what you're thinking. Why do you need a blog to write about something? Well, of course you don't. But if you are as disorganised as me, and as big a show-off as me, blogging will basically make sure that you do it systematically and regularly and that you will later read what you have earlier written. It will organise your notes for you and supply you with a search engine to find what you put about some particular thing after a gap of three months, or a year.

It may not look very systematic to you, but blogging is the most systematic and sustained studying I've ever done in my entire life.

And although it definitely wouldn't suit everybody, I can't help thinking that there are lots of other failing or failed students who could turn their entire studying life around by following the same path. Like I say: if you want to learn about it, blog about it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:58 PM
Category: Blogging

I know what you mean. I feel that I have learned more about things by writing about them.

I must admit, in Ubersportingpundit.com terms, that what I really need is an editor to set me deadlines and force on me that inescapable MUST that is part of the journalist's trade.

Would this make blogging more fun? Perhaps it would not, but I do feel that it would make me a better writer.

Comment by: Scott Wickstein on November 12, 2003 04:44 PM

Hi Scott

I think if you can fit it in, as I now can on two of my blogs (I couldn't do Ubersportingpundit every day as well!), it is a good idea to write something every day. However, I think it depends on what sort of writer you are. I am the sort who does much of my thinking while at the keyboard, spotting connections and immediately pinning them down. Similar thinking away from the keyboard may stick in the head, but I reckon a lot of it just disappears on the brieze and the knowledge (or the connections) don't really accumulate.

Daily blogging can be a serious nuisance of course, and derange a whole evening. I try to get it done good an early. (Today's Culture is already done.) However, it can also give rise to what I often think are very good postings. I often do blatantly "quota" postings on my Culture Blog, about a painting that I think looks nice for example, and then I add whatever waffle I can manage before midnight arrives. And it turns out very interesting, to me anyway. Without the daily rule, things like that would seldom happen. Not for me.

The danger of course is that you become gripped by the More Means Worse rule. Quality suffers in the pursuit of quantity. This posting we're referring to here now seems to me to be bad in being too egocentric. It would have benefitted a lot from a link to someone else saying something similar, instead of all those links to myself elsewhere.

I guess it depends on what kind of writer you are.

Comment by: Brian Micklethwait on November 12, 2003 05:47 PM

Very well put, Brian. I have always found that writing about something and perhaps finding a few references where similar comments have been made has helped me to clarify things in my own mind and to learn some of the finer details of a particular topic. Blogging is the medium for someone who works in that way.

For a while I was content simply reading other people's blogs and then adding my own comments but the desire to create my own blog and then invite some of my friends with whom I share my thoughts and opinions to blog alongside me at the same blog became overwhelming because it wasn't always possible to comment at other blogs and sometimes I found the blogs I read occasionally missed an issue that I considered very important. It struck me that the best opportunity to comment on every subject of importance to me, without waiting to find it mentioned at another blog, would arise from being able to write for my own blog. I think one of the great things about reading other blogs though is that they provide stimuli and they act as useful prompts to get me motivated to write (especially when I read a piece at a popular blog such as Samizdata and I get the opportunity to read conflicting opinions in the comments sections).

I wish I had time to blog every day as I'm sure it's more beneficial than simply blogging every few days or as little as once a week but I try to write something substantial and well-planned at least once a fortnight.

Comment by: Stephen Hodgson on November 16, 2003 11:16 PM
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