The problems discussed here are about outlines, citations, and writing for the web. I believe the solutions presented here will enable us to continue in a more efficient manner, and avoid more rework in the future. The idea is to provide the clarity necessary to enable the proofreaders, researchers, and authors on Team JFA to perform these tasks efficiently.
There will be no rush to go live at the expense of credibility and quality.
The Concept of an Outline
The concept of an outline for posts, as seen on the outline tabs, has been murky.
Outlines on this site serve these purposes:
- Outlines facilitate researching quality sources as separate step in the workflow.
- Outlines provide the raw material for the article, summary, and clipboard tabs.
- Outlines provide a way to explore the topic, often with detail that goes deeper than the article.
- Outlines provide a way for advocates to help commit talking points to memory.
How is it that outlines help commit talking points to memory? Each node in the outline implies a question that is answered in its child nodes. Because you can show and hide the child nodes at any level, you can try to answer the implied question in your head before opening the child nodes.
Sometimes these purposes are at odds with each other. For example, the best way to structure an outline as raw material for an article is not necessarily the best way to structure it as talking points.
There are also general questions about structuring the outline:
- When should nodes be complete sentences and when should they be phrases?
- How many nodes should be at one level?
- How do you avoid writing a series of sentences, one per node, and calling it an outline?
Outlines are an important part of this site, even if it takes some time for people to realize their value. They become even more useful, I believe, once more content is complete and the outlines are merged into one single large knowledge base.
Sources and Citations
Finding quality sources is difficult, and formatting citations in accordance with any of the standards is tedious. But it’s important for our credibility that we have quality sources and consistent citations.
My recommendations for citations on this site have been less than optimal. The tools I suggested to help with the process are not as good as others that are available. The sources and citations I have entered for the posts that I have written are, in many cases, poor and inconsistently formatted.
Writing for the Web
Writing for the web is different than writing for print. There are many good sources of information about this. One of my favorites is the Nielsen Norman Group. Just a couple of examples:
- Writing for the web should be scannable.
- The most important points should be at the top.
The writing I have done so far needs improvement in these and other aspects of writing specifically for the web.
Addressing the Problems
I will address these problems by providing good examples, writing contributor guidelines, recording walk-thru screencasts, and implementing the workflow software.
I will write a contributor guidelines document, starting with outlines and citations. These guidelines, in conjunction with the examples discussed, will hopefully provide a path toward clarity for all of us.
Providing Good Examples
Currently we have 2 basics articles, 6 objections, and 1 rebuttal completed. They need to be rewritten to conform to the new guidelines. I will first rewrite one of the basics articles and one of the objections to conform to the guidelines and provide good examples. I feel like in the past I have inadvertently expected contributors to read my mind. Even if they could, they would have been disappointed with what they read.
I mentioned in an earlier email that I have installed a workflow system. In the future you will be able to login to the backend of the site, see your assignment, choose whether or not to accept it, then edit the text directly in WordPress. I will record a few screencasts to walk you through this.
Recording a screencast about how to accomplish a task is much faster than writing about it, and is generally clearer to the audience. I plan to record screencasts to walk you through the following:
- Using the workflow system
- Editing a post
- Researching and entering citations
- Image Preparation
The goal is to provide a structure and way of working that will not only get us to a go live date, but will continue with new blog posts, new rebuttals, and the continual refinements we need to be making to existing posts. Once things are flowing smoothly, I plan to open more of the initial article writing to the team.
Once I finish the first shot at the guidelines, have a couple of good examples, and do a few screencasts, I will offer you some assignments. In the meantime, whenever you see a problem or error on the site please let me know.
If you have ideas, concerns, questions, or recommendations about any of this, please email me. Also, I will run what I’m doing by you from time to time, and ask for your thoughts.
Thanks for sticking with me through the fog. I’m so fortunate to have you volunteering. Hopefully, these steps will put us on the right track, and we can truly make a difference for the animals, for humanity, and for the planet.
Good things are happening.