What I Learned Doing The A To Z Project


So now I’ve had the chance to rest a little and recover from the Summer 2015 Mathematics A To Z Project. I’d been inspired to it by Sue Archer and her Doorway Between Worlds blog. I had piggybacked on her discussing the word “into” with a description of its mathematical use.

The first thing I learned is that it’s easy to write several week’s worth of essays in a big session if I have a clear idea what they’re all to be about. That left me feeling good. I do worry when I go several days without anything fresh or more than the reblog of someone’s interesting pictures. I like sharing someone else’s interesting pictures too, mind you. I just know it’s not work on my part to share them. Also when I had to travel a while in May and June, and when my computer was out for repairs, I didn’t have to scramble to do anything.

Another is that I liked the format, which had me jumping around several concentrations of mathematics. It also had me jump from common enough levels into math-major stuff all the way to grad school stuff. I particularly liked trying to introduce graduate-level mathematics in tolerably clear English and in around a thousand words. Helping me out here was the Hemmingway Editor, which attempts to judge how complicated one’s writing is. It’s in favor of shorter, clearer sentences with fewer adverbs and no uses of the word “very”. I can’t agree with everything it judges. It’s a computer, after all. But writing about advanced subjects while watching how complicated my sentences came out has helped my prose style.

Something else I’ve learned from this is that there’s a taste for pop-mathematics about more advanced topics. It’s easy to suppose that people who never studied, or never liked studying, mathematics are most likely to read about the easy stuff. That’s probably not quite so. Probably what people really want is to feel like they’re being let in on the cool stuff. Mathematics has a lot of cool stuff. A lot of it requires a long running start, though. For example, I couldn’t talk about a ring until I’d described what a group was. So that essay felt like it was taking forever to get started while I wrote it. I don’t know how it felt to people reading it. The z-transform, similarly, has a lot that’s neat about it, but it took a while to get there. I hope it stayed promising long enough for people to stick through it.

My terror throughout writing all 26 entries was that I was about to say something really, obviously stupid, and that a flock of mathematicians would descend on me. Scorn and semiprofessional humiliation would follow. I’m still a bit worried, although nobody’s said anything too bad to me yet.

The project was quite good for my readership. Between the A to Z essays, Reading the Comics posts, occasional other essays, and reblogs, I went a solid thirty days with something new posted every day. That’s surely why June was my most-read month here ever. And why July, though having fewer posts, was still pretty well-read. I confess I’m disappointed and a bit surprised I never hit the “Freshly Pressed” lottery with any of these. But that’s just the natural envy any writer has. Everybody else always seems to be more successful.

I’d like to do a similar thematically linked project. I might in a few months do another A to Z. I’m open to other themes, though, and would love to hear suggestions.

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