In order to decide what kind of blog I wanted to make, I turned to some of my favorite blogs:

  1. Wait But Why
  3. What If?

They all share a common theme. The author has learned something and creates a post to share that knowledge.

In Wait But Why, Tim Urban describes his process like this:

The way I approach a post like that is I’ll start with the surface of the topic and ask myself what I don’t fully get—I look for those foggy spots in the story where when someone mentions it or it comes up in an article I’m reading, my mind kind of glazes over with a combination of “ugh it’s that icky term again nah go away” and “ew the adults are saying that adult thing again and I’m seven so I don’t actually understand what they’re talking about.” Then I’ll get reading about those foggy spots—but as I clear away fog from the surface, I often find more fog underneath. So then I research that new fog, and again, often come across other fog even further down. My perfectionism kicks in and I end up refusing to stop going down the rabbit hole until I hit the floor.

I love reading his posts because he does two things. First, he thinks hard about what he doesn’t get, even if it seems like something so obvious, everyone should already know about it. Second, he digs and digs until he’s gotten to the basic principles at the “floor”. Reading his posts, I benefit from his hard work. Not only that, but I get a basis to confront and contextualize new information about a topic. (He refers to it as his “tree trunk” where he can hang new information later on in the post linked above.) I feel like I am coming away with something valuable after spending time reading one of his posts.

Christopher Olah has a similar approach. In the introduction to his post on information theory, he says:

Unfortunately, information theory can seem kind of intimidating. I don’t think there’s any reason it should be. In fact, many core ideas can be explained completely visually!

He proceeds to break down this seemingly daunting area in a way that can only be done by someone who gets the concepts at a fundamental level. By the end of the post, I am comfortable enough with the foundation of the topic that I could hold my own in a conversation about it. I feel ready to add more to my foundation because it’s been explained in such an accessible way. Another thing that’s great about his posts is that I know I can refer back to them. For instance, the concept of “mutual information” came up at work, and I knew immediately where I should go for a refresher.

In “What If?”, Randall Munroe takes absurd hypothetical question and answers them scientifically. I love the way he takes ridiculous questions and breaks them down into small enough pieces that they fit into our understanding of the world. He finds some footing to gain traction into the problem and explain it in terms of something more familiar. When most people would say, “That’s ridiculous, we’ll never know”, he keeps coming at the problem again and again until it starts to make sense.

What I like about all of these blogs is that they provide value to their readers by being persistent with breaking down complicated topics into digestible chunks. They get to the bottom of a topic, take a step back, and bring it back together. They also take very little as a “given”. Instead they construct building blocks and the build up an understanding.

I want to take a similar approach to my blog. I want break topics down to their first principles and build back up to an enriching understanding. I want to take no knowledge for granted. I want a reader to come away knowing that the topic has been thoroughly run down and feel confident about adding to their understanding.