On my team, we have an in-depth process for revamping sections of our large college websiteI 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 showTuesdays, 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 languageStuff 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.