Blog posts and Twitter conversations over the last week or so — in particular an emphasis on whether programming is the most effective way to contribute — seemed awfully familiar, but I didn’t realize why until I read Harlan Carvey’s observation, “Some analysts seem to look around, see how some others contribute, and say to themselves, ‘I can’t contribute to the community because I don’t know how to program.'”
Substitute “write” for “program” and you’ll see a statement that novelists, journalists and other authors have been hearing for decades. The thing is, looking at Harlan’s list (case studies, book reviews, even asking questions), I can see how those “simple” suggestions might be just as intimidating as reading the Rob Lee post that started it all.
William Zinsser (one of my very favorite writing authorities) wrote in On Writing Well:
Take an adult chemist or physicist or engineer and ask him or her to write a report, and you’ll see something close to panic. “No! Dn’t make us write!” they say…. They were told at an early age by an English teacher that they don’t have “a gift for words.”
Which is criminal. As Zinsser goes on to explain:
“Writing, demystified, is just another way for scientists to communicate what they know…. Describing how a process works is valuable for two reasons. It forces you to make sure you know how it works. Then it forces you to take the reader through the same sequence of ideas and deductions that made the process clear to you.”
That sounds an awful lot like the standard for “reproducible” to me!
Helping the reader identify with your work
My observation is that most of the DFIR practitioners who are active on Twitter and Google+, also keep blogs; many also teach. In other words, they already communicate in a way that, as Zinsser suggests, “…take[s] much of the mystery out of science writing by helping the reader to identify with the scientific work being done.”
You can do that, he explains, by telling a story from your own experience, or someone else’s; relate your science to something the reader is already familiar with and can easily visualize; writing clearly and sequentially, pacing what you explain.
But how many are out there, reading these blog posts, thinking to themselves, “Yeah but… I can’t write”? Or feel as if they’re doing all the writing they already wish to do in their reports?
I’m going to estimate that these readers fall into two camps:
- Those who yearn to be better writers, more effective communicators. They’d like nothing more than to blog and tweet and write trade articles and maybe even a nonfiction book or novel that draws on their experiences. But they’re terrified of looking stupid.
- Those who could not care less about writing more, or they’re too busy to put the work into it… but they’d nonetheless like to contribute more to the community, although they aren’t sure how.
Communicating DFIR experience through writing
Harlan’s suggestions are right on the money, but I posit that for people who are not in the practice of writing regularly, it can be hard to figure out where to get ideas. Two posts I’ve read recently describe seven easy ways to turn old content into new content, and ten mindful ways to use social media.
These posts suggest things like:
- making blog posts out of LinkedIn conversations
- turning blog comments into new blog articles, or written content into video
- knowing your intentions before posting
- sending “random tweets of kindness” offering help
- responding with your full attention
One article is purely about content creation. The other is about the attitude you need for creating good, valuable content. Both worth a read, and worth deeper thinking about how you can contribute.
Contributing without writing
Those of us who love the way a spirited Twitter chat rolls along have trouble understanding those who don’t just jump in, or indeed, who don’t even understand Twitter. There are plenty, though, and I’d like to see the DFIR community come together to use tools like Google+ Hangouts or group podcasts. In other words: natural conversation, for those who are more comfortable communicating by voice.
I also want to put in a plug for getting more involved with professional associations, volunteering on some level as a board member or event organizer or committee member. I know: employers can be stingy with the time you take for this kind of thing. But it can benefit them, too — corporate citizenship is a term I’m hearing more and more about, and building into some of my clients’ strategies — and can be a way for you to contribute in a way that fits you best.