Stakeholder Storytellers

On my team, we have an in-depth process for revamping sections of our large college website[1]I gave a presentation about it at Confab Edu. There isn’t a video, but my slides are online.. One of the notable features is a sort of co-writing process. It’s something I haven’t heard of anywhere else.

Our team and the stakeholders come up with topics and questions that match the audience’s needs: how do I get a car from the motor pool? Is there a club that does stuff I’m into? Can I get the article I need for this paper? All of this is pretty basic stakeholder interview stuff.

But in a writing meeting, we ask the stakeholders to talk about topics as I type rough sentences and paragraphs in real time. We get something that covers all the key points about that topic in very plain language.

Later, I’ll edit it into something a little smoother for review and improvement. Eventually, our goal is to produce something that’s clear and accurate with a conversational tone.

I hadn’t really thought much about where this part of the process came from until quite recently.

One of my oldest friends and former writing partner has a Twitch show[2]Tuesdays, 9am-ish PST with one of her writing friends. They’re co-writing two projects and the show is when they critique each others’ work.

I just started following along, and in the last episode, they talked about the critique process. Writing groups, they noted, tend to have one of two critique styles: read-ahead, and read out loud. They’ve gone with reading out loud, and they discussed the strengths of that process.

Their take on it mirrored my own experiences. In particular, it’s a strong process for getting useful feedback on early drafts.

  • The reader focuses on the overall effect, instead of grammar or spelling. You’re listening to a story: does it work?
  • The writer is able to hear janky awkward phrasing as they read. Sometimes, you change things even as the words are coming out of your mouth.

Co-writing with stakeholders isn’t quite the same thing, but it sends many of the same signals. People with lots of writing experience know how you should treat a first draft, but even they will be tempted to mark up the technical errors when you just want to know if the things works as a whole. People without that experience tend to get stuck on commas and typos.

Typing fast but not particularly accurately; writing half-sentences; using casual language[3]Stuff is particularly magic., all while people are talking: these send the signals that we’re working on a draft. The power of voices over the written word puts us all in the right frame of mind for this stage.

And as in a read-aloud writing group, they keep the focus on the story. Even if the story isn’t a novel, but just the saga of getting a permit and a car from the motor pool.


1 I gave a presentation about it at Confab Edu. There isn’t a video, but my slides are online.
2 Tuesdays, 9am-ish PST
3 Stuff is particularly magic.

Author: Elaine Nelson

Elaine Nelson was directionless with an English degree in the late 90s and then: GODDAMN INTERNET. In her current gig, she wrangles content and content management systems, but her last job was Webmaster, so she's dabbled in all sorts of web work. She's an editor at The Interconnected, previously published in The Pastry Box, and once had a poem published in an anthology of GenX writing, when that was the big new thing.