This question got me to thinking: Is there some way we could use this site to set up group writing exercises? The problem is that whatever we set up would have to fit well in the stack-exchange format.

Perhaps this is a terrible idea, but I'd love to at least brainstorm on it. If we could come up with something that's a good fit for the SE model, it would make this site unique on the web.

Responses to this that are proposals for a way to set up a writing challenge or exercise on writing.se would be the most helpful. Even if they just get voted down, there's nothing lost. Also, it's always good to stress this: if we try something and it fails miserably, that's okay.

  • What are the criteria for when you would consider it a success? Commented Dec 11, 2010 at 4:26
  • @Jakub - Not sure, but Robert's answer to this question is why the current exercises aren't working. Something that works with the Q&A format - where the responses are properly answering a question - would have to be part of it. Just asking "describe this scene" with some preconditions isn't a question that has a proper answer, or at least we haven't figured out how to do that yet. Commented Dec 11, 2010 at 22:48

6 Answers 6



(DEPRECATED) Policy on Writing Critiques

So effectively these questions might be allowed, so long as they are about your actual writing that already exists.


I agree with Robert. These just don't seem like a good fit here.

In my opinion, group writing exercises should be a way to learn and improve, and I don't think they can be very effective at that within the stack exchange framework.

There is no correct answer

I don't even know what the check mark would mean in this context. I guess it would denote which "answer" the original poster liked the best. However, this makes it feel less like a constructive exercise and more like a contest.

Voting is corrupted

Corrupted is probably too strong of a word, but voting is definitely being used differently in these questions than in most others. People are going to vote up the entries they like ("good" writing) and vote down the entries they don't like ("bad" writing).

Upvotes are typically supposed to show that you've contributed to the good of the site (with a good question or answer). However, the value of these writing exercises is primarily in the criticism! An answer might be downvoted for poor writing, even if it ends up being a useful example. Similarly, a very well written piece might be heavily upvoted, even though it garners few comments or useful criticism. Votes might actually go against the most useful content.

Community wiki removes the reputation gain associated with these votes, but that is a pain too - as the site gets big and there are a lot of these questions, it's going to suck for the moderators who have to change them all to community wiki.

Also, I think this continues to add to the contest feel and detracts from the constructive criticism.

Comments and editing don't work well for this

The length limit on comments is a pain, and they get very messy very quickly, especially when it's a dialog of more than two people.

It's also likely that these posts will get revised a number of times, and comments are not linked to specific revisions. An answer with three or four revisions and 15 comments will be difficult for newcomers to follow.

  • Why can't you make a downvote require a comment as to why? Not in the software?
    – johnny
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 1:20
  • Well, that Jeff has removed the CW checkbox for questions isn't really an argument against writing exercises ;) Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 8:47
  • @johnny - Downvoting does not require you to comment. This has been discussed on meta.stackoverflow, and I think it's pretty unlikely that this will ever be an option. Part of the reason is that it removes the anonymity of votes, which many people are against.
    – sjohnston
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 15:59
  • @John - Not an argument against writing exercises, per se. However, my personal feeling is that if we do allow these, they should be CW, because otherwise they could be massive reputation farms. But again, forcing CW adds complications.
    – sjohnston
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 16:02

I don't think it is feasible, but I love to prove myself wrong. So let's start with justkt's proposal:

Find a painting, post card, or photograph. Describe it with as much "showing" as possible. Try to incorporate all five senses.

As question you post a painting, tag it writing exercise and describe shortly what the exercise is about. It should be a CW question.

Now people answer it with their exercises. These answers should be discussed, what can be done with the comments or with the chat forum. This could be very constructive for the first five answers. As soon as the number does above 20 answers, it's dead. Who will read all these answers to discuss them accordingly and tell the authors what they should improve?

Defined rules for the process could be useful. E.g. the first challenge could be to post their first draft, without revision, which means they are not allowed to edit until their answer was discussed (5 minute grace period is a problem here). Then you can start a second session, where they rewrite their posts and it is discussed again.

But how useful is this, if you get 30 different opinions? Several different views are good, but at a certain amount they are more irritating than helpful. I still don't think that this work, but maybe we have to test it with four or five exercises before we can be sure.

When it is CW, we could use the same voting rules like on Meta. Downvote, if you do not like it, upvote if you do and do not vote if you haven't really a opinion about it. We should ask the readers in any case, to leave a comment why they have voted (or not voted). In a writing exercise people ask for critique, so counter downvotes shouldn't be a problem (hopefully).

  • I agree with the last part of this answer especially. We should try it. Seems somewhat analagous to code golf on SO.
    – justkt
    Commented Dec 7, 2010 at 16:20
  • great edit. I really think we should try this.
    – justkt
    Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 13:30
  • @justkt: Ok, then let's try it. We first need a photo. First I thought to look at photo.stackexchange.com and just grab the photo of the week, but I'm not sure, if they are always suitable for writing inspirations. Then I asked my old friend Google and came up with stuff like these pics: adigitaldreamer.com/gallery/displayimage.php?album=2&pos=31 - adigitaldreamer.com/gallery/… - adigitaldreamer.com/gallery/… - I can pick one and start the first exercise with the rules form my edit. Agree? Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 15:13
  • go for it. I'd link over here so people can further add clarifying suggestions on the meta discussion as we flush things out. I'm a fan of the #2 photo.
    – justkt
    Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 15:23
  • @justkt: Done writers.stackexchange.com/questions/733/… Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 15:59

I think they are a great idea. On Stack Overflow there is code golf, and on Photography there is the weekly picture (although that's on meta)

Is it q&a? No. Does it matter? No. Exceptions are always possible, and having such regular "contests" can help greatly in building a community, as Writers seems to grow a bit slow?

I'm all for it. Maybe it would be worth seeing with jzy if it is possible to announce/feature the excursive on the front page? Look how he integrated the photo stuff on photo SE.

Of course, someone would need to take ownership and run or at least overlook the excersizes

  • 1
    I still think writing exercises are not a great fit, but I would definitely be more receptive to them in meta (where reputation and voting are less of an issue) and with some sort of regular schedule, as opposed to allowing them in an unlimited fashion on the main site.
    – sjohnston
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 17:46

I do like the idea of writing exercises, but the problem I see is that this becomes less a Q&A and more of a discussion, which ultimately is what the SE platform is supposed to be. A place to get answers, not a discussion.

I think discussions are great, and IMHO, more valuable in many cases than Q&A, but I don't think it's something that's appropriate for the site.

  • Perhaps any writing exercises need to be in the form of a question. "Writing exercise: How to describe [foo]" or "Writing exercise: how to create [mood] given the limitations of [foo]". Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 19:19
  • @wayOutwest - seems like this could be something like code golf on SO.
    – justkt
    Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 19:30
  • I've started another test-case exercise. Commented Dec 8, 2010 at 19:32
  • ...which doesn't seem to be working. Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 1:30

Without critique I cannot see how this site can become popular. There are only so many, "What do I now" or "How do I get published questions." Without submission and critique the site becomes of very little value, at least to me. No offense intended to anyone. Just what I think. I think the vagueness of answers is second because a good community will yield some good answers, irrespective of personal bent.

  • always a downvote without an explanation. That has to be one of the downfalls of this environment.
    – johnny
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 3:51
  • 3
    On Meta, downvotes simply mean that someone has disagreed with you. Try not to take personal offense to it.
    – StrixVaria
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 14:34
  • I believe critique is vitally important for writers, and I am all for it. I just feel that the SE engine doesn't work very well for critiquing, especially when the writing sample is in an answer and the critiques all have to take the form of comments.
    – sjohnston
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 17:42
  • @StrixVaria I just get frustrated sometimes. Note taken.
    – johnny
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 19:36
  • 1
    @sjohnston one problem I see is the sheer volume. everyone will expect everyone else to read and critique and no one will end up doing it, bad user experience.
    – johnny
    Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 19:37
  • On cooking there was, early on, a proposal to write up software to handle recipe requests (which are off-topic there because it doesn't fit Q&A). I've been seriously considering writing software for "submit an answer to this writing exercise" that would have a good format for it. If I do, perhaps it could link to writers somehow?
    – justkt
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 14:16
  • turns out, you were right Commented Jan 4, 2011 at 22:58

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