This is done. See: This site is now Writing


Back when Writers was created, the convention on Stack Exchange was to name sites for their audiences -- Programmers, Super User, Webmasters, Database Administrators... and Writers. Over time, the convention has shifted to describing the subject matter -- History (not Historians), Photography (not Photographers), Software Engineering, Project Management, Cryptography, Parenting... the list goes on.

I've been wondering if we should ask for a small change to our name, from Writers to Writing. This is for a couple reasons:

  • Anecdotally, "Writers" conveys aspiring novelists to many people. While that's an important part of our scope, our scope is broader than that, and people aren't always seeing it.

  • Many of the off-topic questions we get are asking for critiques, plot ideas, and general discussion -- the kinds of activities that take place in writers' groups/circles.

  • Really, we're about the product and the processes to get there, not personal identity. We want novels, poets, and essayists, and we also want scientists (who write papers), marketers (who write, e.g., brochures), software developers (who write technical documents), etc too. By and large we aren't getting those people.

In comments, Mark Baker brought up the idea of a bigger change -- instead of trying to succinctly describe our scope in a word or two, maybe we can find an "evocative" name along the lines of Seasoned Advice (cooking).

Either way, I feel we should do something. I've talked with technical writers who had no idea that anything other than fiction is on-topic here. (This is also part of why I want to adjust our short blurb; that alone won't make the difference, but it will help.) I don't have much contact with scientific and academic writers, but I suspect their impressions are similar.

We've been in beta for a long time without growing (though we're stable), and part of the non-growth is that people with other writing problems who don't necessarily see themselves as "writers" don't come here.

Regardless of what we name the site, the front page will usually be dominated by fiction. That's fine; fiction is popular, after all, and we want people to bring their (on-topic) questions about writing fiction here. We also need to be more active in putting questions that don't work on hold (and fixing and reopening them when possible). There's other site-promotion stuff we need to do better.

But, all that said... is our name part of the problem here? If so, can we fix it?

I proposed Writers -> Writing because it's small but still significant. There might be a better (bigger) change -- please propose those too.

SE has renamed sites before, so it's possible with support from the affected community.

What do y'all think?

  • I'm curious how the change might be interpreted by search engines. Would it be more likely, for example, that a person searching for help with "technical writing" would be handed this site higher in the search results? – MetaEd Sep 11 '17 at 17:49
  • What's the result on this? The idea to change the name to 'Writing' clearly has some support. How do we go from here to implementing it? Or do we need more input before such a change can happen? – Thomas Myron Jan 11 at 0:41
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    @ThomasMyron thanks for the reminder. I have email to the team already written and just when I was getting ready to send, we had a change in the mod team. Resurrecting this now... Update: (Jan 14) We've submitted the request and are awaiting a reply. – Monica Cellio Jan 11 at 3:04
up vote 24 down vote accepted

Since no one else actually proposed it as a formal, votable answer:

Writing

It's a small change, but a significant one. It is still simple, easy to understand or search on, and descriptive, but it has much less of the current connotations that we focus on novelists.

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    +1, not because I think it is a big enough change, but because it may be the biggest change we can get people to agree on, and doing something is better than doing nothing. – Mark Baker Oct 23 '17 at 16:54
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    I was looking for this question again to suggest exactly this. To me, 'Writing' suggests a more professional attitude, while keeping in tune with novelists. People who do scientific or research writing probably don't consider themselves 'writers', but 'writing' fits them perfectly. – Thomas Myron Dec 19 '17 at 21:53

I do not think it is a problem catering to all kinds of writers (and I have written plenty of ad copy for a living, so I do understand the maxim that if you emphasize everything, you have emphasized nothing; or to paraphrase, if you try to focus on everything, you will have focused on nothing).

Wide net descriptions are a problem for two reasons:

First, if our potential users cannot tell from our name that we can answer their burning questions. (Or itchy questions, or swollen questions.) "Typists" would not be a good name for us.

Second, if out net catches too many fish. In my opinion "Writers" is broad, but still not catching enough fish -- I don't think we get many (valid) questions.

Thus I would not specialize further; and pre-exclude questions most of us would be willing to answer.

A catchy name would help us catch more visitors. That said, I would also upvote just "Writing".

I think this is a good idea in principle and I agree that the name Writers suggests fiction to most people. What I wonder is if "Writing" is really that much different in what it suggests. The word for virtually all business prose these days is "content". Now I, personally, hate the word "content" with a blue blinding passion, but, my feelings aside, if you want to attract people from the business communication side of things (which includes tech writing, marketing communication, science writing, content marketing, business communication, etc.) the word you want is "content". And while novelists themselves do not tend to use the word "content", publishers do. It is the modern business word for prose (and other forms of communication) that sells or can be sold.

EDIT: Based on comments, brainstorming some evocative name ideas:

  • Words of Wisdom
  • Words to the Wise
  • Prose and Comms
  • Content Prose
  • The Write Way
  • Content Corps
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    Thanks for this information. I hadn't realized that the "content" meme (cringe) had spread so broadly. (Wow, what a vacuous word!) I was also thinking about "Professional Writing" -- possibly clearer to many, but we'd need to make sure our serious amateurs still feel engaged. (I mean it in the sense of "level", not "salary".) Do you think that would help with the groups you mentioned? – Monica Cellio Sep 11 '17 at 20:41
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    A quick bit of googling reveals two things. First, the phrase "professional writing" seems to be used almost entirely by universities and colleges to describe education programs. Second, these programs don't only serve people who want to be writers full time, but people who need to write as part of their profession, so it would include writing for lawyer or engineers -- people who would not think of themselves as writers. As such, it is rather akin to "business writing". – Mark Baker Sep 11 '17 at 21:01
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    So, does "professional writing" mean writing for a living, or does it mean writing as a requirement of other professions? – Mark Baker Sep 11 '17 at 21:07
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    I was thinking about the pro/amateur divide, and cooking is another place you see this. The site for "professional and amateur chefs" is called "Seasoned Advice". Maybe we could do that kind of title. Something like "Words of Wisdom" (off the top of my head). The point of doing that is that it makes people go to the short description to confirm who the site is for. The title hints at it strongly enough to be found, but then you get to use the short description to frame it properly for them. – Mark Baker Sep 11 '17 at 21:11
  • Oh that's an interesting idea -- maybe not that one specifically, but some other evocative name. I'll update the question to ask for suggestions along those lines. Bonus: the URL wouldn't need to change (Seasoned Advice is still cooking.se, Arqade is still gaming.se, Mi Yodeya is still judaism.se...). – Monica Cellio Sep 11 '17 at 21:13
  • I love "Prose and Comms." That's brilliant. :D I would not ever want this stack to focus solely on business content production, but Prose and Comms does beautifully embrace both fiction and non-fiction (business, academic, "content") writing. – Lauren Ipsum Sep 14 '17 at 12:51
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    @LaurenIpsum That's my favorite too. – Mark Baker Sep 15 '17 at 13:14
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    Content: Even if everybody else is jumping off a structure spanning a chasm or river, I think I would still prefer to jump off a bridge. :-) – Amadeus Sep 15 '17 at 21:49
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    @amadeus Sure, but if you want to attract a particular crowd, you have to speak their language. Communication is incompatible with a high horse. (And my horse is as high as anyone's.) – Mark Baker Sep 15 '17 at 22:43
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    just FYI, SE has essentially moved away from the punny site names, and prefer more descriptive, obvious, names. – Mithrandir Sep 23 '17 at 20:13
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    I think any of these is likely to reduce traffic, not increase it. I have no idea what "Prose and Comms" is supposed to mean, and neither will the average person passing through Stack Exchange. – Chris Sunami Oct 23 '17 at 14:48

I think it is a problem of this site that it tries to cater to all kinds of writers. The process and problems that technical writers face are completely unlike those that writers of fiction face, and one group cannot much help the other.

A product needs a clear profile. A site that is for everyone, simply attracts no one.

If this site wants to establish itself as the go-to source for something, then it has to exclude someone. And as this site is closely associated with many of the more technical sites of the StackExchange network, I would suggest to turn this into a technical writing site.

Academic writing is very formulaic, and once you have mastered it you no longer need a resource such as this site. That is the reason why almost all of the academic writing questions that we see on this site are by non-academics or first year students who ask about how to cite something in either APA or MLA. These questions are repetitive, boring to answer, and do not add any value to the site. They are also already answered in many resources on the web (such as the APA Style Blog or Purdue OWL) or in the relevant APA Manual and MLA Handbook, and we should in fact stop doing the work for those who are too lazy to use the references they were told by their professors to use. In sum, I think that academic writing does not need a site like this and questions about academic writing deteriorate the site quality.

Fiction writers, as has been discussed repeatedly in other Meta questions, have needs that cannot be addressed by the StackExchange format. Fiction writers need to be able to ask open and subjective question, discuss, and network. While certain fiction writing questions work well here, it seems to me that the majority of fiction writers who come to this site just ask a question or two and then move on to other communities where they are both among themselves and can interact without the strange limitations imposed on them by the strict Q&A format.

Technical writers on the other hand often have a technical background and appreciate the StackExchange format that is very much like a technical writing or software poduction environment. Also it seems to me that questions about technical writing fit the format very well.

Generally I see two possible directions for this site to go:

  1. Become a technical writing site. I do not think a similar community exists on the web, and this could be a great market niche to fill.

    The name then, of course, should be "Technical Writing".

  2. Remain a general writing site and do some serious research on what (fiction) writers want from an online community and implement those features (e.g. – I'm guessing based on the questions and meta requests that I have seen – possibly remove restrictions that forbid open-ended discussions and critique requests, better networking features such as private messages, a place to announce and discuss one's own publications, etc.).

    The name then, in my opinion, should remain "Writers", as that suggests a somewhat higher standard, while a name such as "Writing" clearly implies all kinds of it, including job applications and love letters.

Since StackExchange (the company) have spoken against any changes of or additions to their basic framework, the direction this site must take, to me clearly seems to be the first option. Otherwise I don't see how this site will ever leave beta status without massive advertising efforts.

To better evaluate my suggestion, it might be interesting to see a statistic of the number of technical writing versus fiction writing questions and answers and the numbers of users that are active on each kind of question. If technical writers and technical writing questions form a small minority, then my suggestion of obviously wrong.

  • I think you are right that the scope is too broad here. People often feel that broad scope = more people, but it it not so. Too broad a scope means a site that does not look like home to anyone. However, there is already a proposal for a Technical Communication SE that is at the commit stage, and there are, in fact, a number of Tech Comm sites already on the Web, including TechWhirl, Technical Writing World, and dozens of linkedin groups, though none of them is a QA site. – Mark Baker Sep 12 '17 at 16:49
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    What I suspect is that many SE sites are essentially places where SO users come to talk about their hobbies. Lots of programmers write fantasy for a hobby, and that seems to account for large chunk of users here. I am a tech writer by trade and do a fair amount of coding, which brought me to SO, which brought me here. I'm not sure how many people will be attracted to this format if they are not using SO or one of the other SE sites where it works naturally. – Mark Baker Sep 12 '17 at 16:57
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    There is a proposal for a tech-com site, but technical writing is already on-topic here and we should continue to encourage it. We have good TW Q&A. If their site becomes "Writers 2.0" then it should be shut down; they're only advancing because their scope includes things like technical training and videos. (Though their sample questions are almost all writing.) In other words, yes we should watch what happens there, but no we should not give up part of our scope just because another site includes it. We're established already -- 250+ questions just on the TW tag, plus there are others. – Monica Cellio Sep 12 '17 at 17:27
  • @MonicaCellio I suggested the exact opposit of what you decline. I did not suggest to exclude techical writing, but to exclude all non-technical writing. Or maybe I did not understand your comment ... – user26338 Sep 12 '17 at 18:04
  • @what sorry, I was responding to Mark but ran out of characters and dropped @-addressing. I agree with you that we're good at, and well-positioned to, serve that audience. – Monica Cellio Sep 12 '17 at 18:13
  • @MonicaCellio I'm interested in there being an SE that tech writers regard as their place. If that is here or the new proposal does not matter to me, and I will support any initiative here that may help make Writer's that place. BUT I don't see much enthusiasm from the current community here to make that happen. This is not the first Meta discussion on this subject, and few people ever comment. So far, there are just three of us in this discussion. Right now there are 180 people committed to the new Tech Comm proposal. How many are committed to tech comm here? – Mark Baker Sep 12 '17 at 20:30
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    A51 committers drop off pretty quickly, especially the ones with no other SE experience. I think we should improve the site we have, and I'm open for suggestions on how to do that. The single biggest thing we (the people who care) could do is to get more tech writers here and more tech-writing questions on this site. Most of the A51 committers have never been users here, alas. – Monica Cellio Sep 12 '17 at 20:36
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    @MonicaCellio I am all for improving this site, and I'm in for coming up with suggestions to do that. But my concern is whether anybody else is interested in improving it, or even thinks it needs improving. Maybe we should start there. – Mark Baker Sep 12 '17 at 21:23
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    @MarkBaker meta participation is very low here across the board; it's not that people are active on meta but not interested in this particular set of problems. If you look at the list of users (ordered by participation), what is #4 on the list and he's been back a month. #5 has never posted (but has voted). It seems to be really hard to get people to come to meta much at all. :-( (Many sites share this problem, alas.) – Monica Cellio Sep 12 '17 at 21:41
  • @MonicaCellio Meta is not very visible from the main sites. Maybe we could post Meta Questions to Writers and move them to Meta after they have been answered or after a certain time? Or extend the "Featured on Meta" inset in the right sidebar of Writers to include a five instead of two Meta Questions? – user26338 Sep 13 '17 at 3:03
  • @what I think that'd be clunky if we did it directly, but maybe we could step up referencing specific meta threads in comments where possible. – Neil Fein Sep 13 '17 at 3:17
  • @NeilFein An automatic solution that does not depend on user effort would be better. Otherwise those users will eventually stop doing it. – user26338 Sep 13 '17 at 3:29
  • @what Undoubtedly, a more systems-based solution would be better, but a partial, temporary solution can solve part of the problem until we can think of a better one. – Neil Fein Sep 13 '17 at 3:57
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    I welcome technical writing questions here, and @MonicaCellio's are particularly good, but I would be appalled if this stack became Tech Writers only. – Lauren Ipsum Sep 14 '17 at 12:50

I do agree we need to spice things up a bit for our page. A name change could provide us with a better eye catcher than simply just writers. At the same time, we still get questions that even with the name "writers" still are obvious miss matches.

I think Mark Baker had some really good ideas for names, Particularly "Prose and Comms" and "The Write Way". Both of these are good play on words that also fit into what we are about as a site. Ideally also, it would be great if we can get a customized site.

I know this part is slightly off mark from the current subject but we should also take a look at our "on topic" requirements. I feel like they are just too tight to generate enough consistent basis and we don't exactly have topics that keep people coming back to see what comes the next day. Often times our questions are stale. The same few "newest" questions sit at the top for hours or even a day or so at a time before something new is written or a old question is bumped.

We should be helping to also inspire people to write. Our writing prompts I feel should be a part of our main site and not the meta. We are taking a creative field and making it very restrictive.

I saw in a comment that we are too broad, but I don't feel this to be true. Most questions get closed because they are too broadly asked, but our on topic requirements are a bit tight in my opinion. I do agree we should not be helping with research still, but I do think that we should consider allowing critiques to be a part of on topic.

While critiques are subjective by nature and one can argue that the critique is only valid for that individual, I might beg to differ on that slightly. As we all know in SO, critiques of code happen all the time, and code is easily reusable thus being allowable.

While a writing sample may be specific to a story, the critique, tips, feedback that could be generated will be helpful for OTHERS. If someone posts a paragraph about an issue they are having, I might not so much care about the content, but the critique of an issue with the passage.

A comment might suggest something that I have not thought of before and realize I do wrongly in my own writing. Or someone may have written something really well and I can take away from what they did in that passage with how something was done. Understand why they did it well, read the comments on why it was good, and then apply that knowledge to my writing.

Ultimately, a name change to the site is a good start, but I feel like we need to re-brand the site as a whole. I am sure I am not alone in stating that it get's hard reading the same question reworded 100 times because that is one of 10-20 questions that fall under our on-topic restrictions.

Writing Right

How To Write

Writing Well (would be great if we had a logo of an old stone water well, but .. oh well)

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