4 thoughts on “Do Structured Writing and Crowdsourcing Mix?”

  1. I like your point about the integration between crowd sourcing and structured content. You’re right that forms help structure content. The neat thing is that forms also simplify the authoring experience as well. I think I’ll look for more form-based methods as I work with community authors. One extension I want to implement on the wiki (Mediawiki) is something called Semantic Forms.

    1. Hi Tom. Thanks for the comment.

      I agree, the great thing about forms is that the both provide structure and make authoring easier. I think that one of the great mistakes I see in the design of structured authoring systems is that the are designed to make publishing easier rather than to make authoring easier. The result is that most structured authoring systems are hard for authors to learn — which means they don’t get used, or don’t get used well.

      The proper way to design a structured authoring system is to figure our what information structures your need, and then figure out what will be the easiest and most intuitive way for authors to provide you with that information. Only then should you worry about how to transform that authored content into publishable form.

      That may make writing your publishing scripts harder, but that’s OK. You write the publishing scripts one. People write content every day. If people would approach structured writing as an exercise in data gathering rather than an exercise in automated publishing, things would work a lot more smoothly.

  2. A problem I see is that people who are not technical writers, but producing content such as journal articles or books or edited collections within their profession (e.g. clinical psychology), see this sort of advice and think it might save them time ad money if they could just change their process for producing a jointly produced article or book to include the kind of crowdsourcing made possible by a wiki.

    But as observed in “How content producers get collaboration wrong,” on this same blog, sometimes a small team is better than crowdsourcing. E.g. Wikipedia can produce as many content guidelines as it wishes, but content there will always be uneven because each article is by necessity ad hoc in structure, vocabulary level, etc.

    This only occurs to me as an issue because I am investigating the boundary between collaborative writing/editing practices in technical writing versus the relative lack of same in other fields, e.g. the professions, media companies, etc.

    1. Hi Randy,

      Thanks for the comment. There is definitely a tension between crowdsourcing and effective collaboration. Part of the point I was trying to make is that you can use structured writing techniques to constrain the crowdsourced material to improve collaboration. Could people in other professions use these techniques themselves (thus cutting out writers) or would they need writers (with a suitable background) to set this up for them. I honestly don’t know at this point. Certainly, I don’t know too many writers who are currently qualified to do this kind of thing.

      But are there challenges to the professional writer’s role in this and other fields, thanks to the way in which the Web changes how content is created and curated? Certainly there are — very serious challenges. More and more, people are turning to the web instead of to docs when they need product information or help. I know this, because this is what I do myself. Yes, the web is doing a job we used to do, or at least a part of it. Where does the leave us? I don’t know. One door closes, and another opens — though not always in perfect synchronization. One thing I am sure of, though, trying to defend our old turf is not going to work, and may just make us miss the opening of the next door.

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