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This site is in a rut. It has been in beta for six and half years. The most obvious factor preventing us from graduating is our questions per day stat. All our other statistics are excellent. (https://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/1623/writers)

While graduation decisions are not made on stats alone (Be clearer on what a beta site needs to graduate), questions per day is a vital stat for even being considered for graduation:

When a site starts to consistently receive 10 questions/day, we’ll consider it for graduation. -- (Graduation, site closure, and a clearer outlook on the health of SE sites)

We are barely halfway to that threshold with no particular signs of growth. We also have several users expressing frustration that they seem to be seeing the same questions over and over again. This leads to turnover without growth. We lose people as fast as we gain them. We are in a rut. We need to do something to get ourselves out of that rut and get the site growing again.

A big part of the rut we are in is that the information scent of this site strongly suggests that we are a site for aspiring authors of fantasy fiction. This is only a tiny fraction of the scope that the site was chartered to serve (which might, by itself, be a reason the deny graduation). To graduate we will need to fulfill our mandate better and get the site growing again, and that means attracting fiction writers from other genres and professional non-fiction writers from fields like technical communication and business writing. But we can't do that if we look like a forum solely for aspiring fantasy fiction writers.

This problem has been discussed before in these meta posts:

and several others.

Unfortunately, until we graduate, we can't change our site design. A graphical treatment that shows the range of writing styles and purposes that we are supposed to cover would be a great way to improve our information scent and thus attract a wider range of writers and writing questions. But we can't do that until we graduate. To get there, we have to do it by other means. So here is a proposal for a set of changes that will hopefully improve our information scent and allow us to increase our questions per day:

  1. Change our name to something that reflects the full range of our concerns. As noted in Should we change our name?, the name "Writers" suggest fiction writing rather than professional writing. The current top contender for a new name (but based on very few votes) is Prose and Comms. This name is designed to suggest a broad range of interest and a more professional focus for the site. EDIT while Prose and Comms has several fans, it also has several detractors. A change we can all agree on is better than no change or a divisive change. A less contentious change that has been suggested is Writing.

  2. Change our short network pitch to Q&A for the craft of professional writing, including fiction, non-fiction, technical, scholarly, and commercial writing. as discussed in Can we improve our short network pitch?

  3. Change our SE category from Arts (https://area51.stackexchange.com/categories/1/arts) to Professional. This does not suggest a move away from fiction. Writing and publishing fiction is a profession, and can and should be treated like one, but it opens up the site to other forms of professional writing, a category it was always intended to serve.

  4. Change our on topic rules to better support site growth and to make it more attractive to commercial and business writers. Specifically, change our current "what to write" rule to allow "how do I express this idea" kind of questions while still excluding "help me think up an idea to write about" questions. While "how to express this idea" questions are seldom transferrable to others in fiction, they can be highly useful to others in commercial and technical writing. As such they are actually our closest analogue to the "how do I write this algorithm" questions that are the bread and butter of Stack Overflow.

Suggested wording for the new rule is to replace:

This question appears to be off-topic because asking what to write or asking for help rephrasing a sentence or passage are both off-topic here, as such questions are very unlikely to help anybody else.

with something like this:

This question appears to be off-topic because asking us to help you generate ideas to write about is off-topic here, as such questions are very unlikely to help anybody else.

Nothing in this proposal is intended to make fantasy fiction questions unwelcome of off topic here. They are obviously an important component of the site. But to get out of our rut, we need to broaden our appeal and bring in other writers, which would, in turn, produce better questions and answers that would benefit all writers, including writers of fantasy fiction.

Why not allow critiques?

Another change in our rules is sometimes suggested, which is to allow critiques again. This proposal specifically rejects that suggestion for two main reasons:

  • Online critiquing is well supported by other sites that have rules and mechanisms well suited to the critiquing process. This site could never work as well for critiquing as those sites do and being second best at something does not do us much good.

  • Opening up the site to critiques will make our information scent even worse than it is now. It will drown the site in second rate prose (Sturgeon's law applies here: 90% of everything is crap) and it will never look like anything other than a site for amateur fantasy writers. Even if it improved our numbers, it would do nothing for our site quality or to help us fulfill our mandate, which are both equally important criteria for graduation.

So, that's the proposal. What do you think?

  • Ohh! Saw this one now..I just posted a suggestion here: writers.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1393/… – Karan Desai Oct 10 '17 at 3:20
  • Oh, weird -- "professional" shows up as a category on the main SE site but not in the category list in the page footer on this site. (Please excuse my now-deleted comment while I figured this out.) – Monica Cellio Oct 11 '17 at 1:55
  • Personally, I think that allowing "how do I express this idea" questions is paramount, beta or not beta. – Liquid - Reinstate Monica Oct 17 '17 at 14:12
  • @ChrisSunami, because the proposal is to change the information scent of the site in a specific way what involves doing all of these things. Doing them individually won't achieve the same effect. Like any communication project, you have to look at the effect of the whole, not just the effect of the parts. Getting something out of a rut requires a lot more energy than just rolling it down the road. Changing the name is the biggest single force we can apply until we graduate. The proposal is to do it all because I don't think doing pieces of it will generate enough energy to get out of the rut. – user16226 Oct 23 '17 at 14:23
  • @MarkBaker I now see that several of the sub-questions ARE broken out separately. I will go vote there. – Chris Sunami Oct 23 '17 at 14:54
  • Sturgeon's law can't possibly be right. There's no way 10% of everything is not crap. – Todd Wilcox Nov 1 '17 at 0:01

11 Answers 11

11

Based on the answers and voting here, I see consensus on all of the points except the site name, on which people disagree (so we need more discussion there). For everything else, we seem to agree -- so let's proceed.

Change our short network pitch to Q&A for the craft of professional writing, including fiction, non-fiction, technical, scholarly, and commercial writing. as discussed in Can we improve our short network pitch?

Done

Change our SE category from Arts (https://area51.stackexchange.com/categories/1/arts) to Professional.

Done

Change our on topic rules to better support site growth and to make it more attractive to commercial and business writers. Specifically [...]

Moderators can implement this now. We can't edit off-topic reasons, only add and delete them, so we'd like to avoid having to make minor changes to the wording once it's deployed. The wording in the question is pretty good, but our other off-topic reasons link to meta posts that explain the problem in more detail. Therefore, we should create a new meta Q&A along the lines of "why are questions asking for ideas off-topic?" with an answer that we can link to. Worldbuilding explored an idea-generation close reason early in its history, so we might get some useful ideas/phrasing there. (I haven't looked up that discussion yet.)

  • 3
    Here you are: What's wrong with “idea generation” questions? on Worldbuilding Meta. See also WB Meta search. – a CVn Oct 10 '17 at 19:35
  • This is great monica. The only thing left is a new background and a name. Here's to hoping our debates pay off! – ggiaquin16 Oct 11 '17 at 20:02
  • 2
    I think that the site name change is key to the overall prospects of success of this proposal. Since we cannot agree on Prose and Comms let's fall back to the less contentious suggestion of Writing. There is a place to vote on this here: writers.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1402 – user16226 Oct 23 '17 at 17:01
  • What about poetry and lyrics? – Todd Wilcox Nov 1 '17 at 0:02
  • @ToddWilcox still welcome; we had limited character count for the blurb so couldn't include everything. – Monica Cellio Nov 1 '17 at 0:09
9

I appreciate the thought and effort you're putting in here. But I disagree with your analysis and where you're proposing we spend effort.

If I summarize your post, I think what you're saying is this:

  1. Writers.SE was meant to be for all types of writing.
  2. In practice, it's attracting mostly amateur SF/F writers.
  3. If we re-brand ourselves to feature other types (and particularly, more professional types) of writers, we'll increase our scope and have an easier time reaching critical mass.

I agree with you entirely on the drift from (1) to (2). I think there are a lot of reasons for that. I don't think that (3) is a strong solution, because (a) I think you're underestimating why Writers.SE drifted in the first place, so I think you might find yourself forcing the site into a shape it doesn't really support, and because (b) I'm skeptical of our ability to pivot to technical communications and other fields of professional writing, particularly on the basis of branding and information scent.

Why the drift from "All Writing" to "Amatuer SF/F Fiction"?

Why SF/F?

For one thing, SF/F is popular. It's popular on the internet. It's popular in Stack-Exchange-circles, and adjacent ones.

Why amateur?

To begin with, all SE sites have questions that are predominantly from amateurs or journeymen. Even the SE sites which successfully answer difficult professional questions requiring a ton of expert knowledge, will also have, for every one such question, a hundred questions that are basic "entry-level" questions that are of little interest to professionals.

But another issue is, what does an "expert-level" writing question even look like? My experience (in fiction-writing Q&A) is that it's a devilishly tricky business to condense a writing problem into a Q&A-style post:

  • Even the most on-topic problems would usually be better-served by a critique than by a Q&A. It's so difficult to examine one writing question without the surrounding context of the story it's in.
  • That's why so many answers boil down to "it depends," "whatever works for you," or "you can do anything (but it's hard to do it well)".
  • Or, we reduce them to a question that isn't a writing question at all, like a historical detail question, or a help-me-brainstorm-this question.
  • The more experience you have, the fewer "basic" questions you have, the kind of broad general questions that are widely applicable and not dependent on the very specific particularities of your own work.
  • TL;DR: Seasoned, professional fiction authors might have very few questions that are appropriate for Q&A, and have better places to get critiques, answers, and feedback. What remains are mostly the amateurs (and, a few kind souls who love the site :D ).

Why fiction?

Because fiction is a lot more exciting than professional content. More non-professional, enthusiast participation. Even if you go way back to the Area51 Site Definition phase, you need to go down 20 questions to reach the first explicitly non-fiction question, which has a grand score of "2".

The reason I'm recapping all this is to say: this isn't merely a matter of branding. The original Writers.SE was explicitly branded as "all kinds of writing." It's a matter of how Stack Exchange and Area51 work, and how they gather an initial critical mass for a site -- organically, following the interests and abilities of the users. And the users SE has, and Area51 has, and Writers.SE has, seem to be overwhelmingly more interested in dragons and POV choices than in technical communication.

You can change the name and the graphics and whatever you want -- but if the content and the userbase only care about fiction-writing, that's what the site's going to have, unless you're capable of drawing in a new userbase you don't currently have.

Do we want to expand our scope?

I'm agnostic on whether Writers.SE stays fiction-first, or manages to get other writing areas to flourish. Both are excellent, as long as the result is a healthy site.

If expanding our scope is the solution (and I'm not convinced it is), then my question is:

What would expanding our scope require?

And my answer is: the same process of site-definition that Stack Exchange offers any beta site.

An SE site is defined by what questions are asked and answered, not by its title or graphical scheme. If you want to change what Writers.SE is, then what we need to do is answer the basic Site Definition questions:

  • What are examples of questions we'd like to see?
  • What would our on-topic/off-topic guidelines be?
  • Do we have committed users who can participate in the site's new scope? Can we recruit some?

What alternatives (or parallel goals) do we have to expanding our scope?

Let's say our conclusion is that fiction writers are our strength, and we want to focus on that. Or, heck, maybe we want more technical writers and more fantasy authors; that's fine too :)

The process is actually very very similar. To encourage more questions and more participation, we need to:

  • Provide good examples of what we consider "good" questions, so newcomers can easily get a feel for the site.
  • Emphasize our on/off-topic guidelines, make them as prominent and as helpful as possible.
  • In general, recognize that our site is currently really hard to just jump into, even more than other SE sites; we need to make it easier for casual users to be able to find us helpful.
  • Participate in the site by writing the kind of questions we'd like to have.
  • Bring in new writers by promoting the site, well and consistently (which, alas, was something I did very poorly at in my time as a mod), in order to reach beyond the low-hanging fruit of Stack Exchange users who also like writing.

Counterproposal

My bottom line is this: Stack Exchange sites are an ecosystem of site definition, userbase, and questions. An unclear site definition, an insufficient userbase, or the lack of a consistent source of decent questions, leaves an SE site in poor position. I think that, at the moment, Writers.SE suffers from all three of these.

Therefore, I think we should be looking at:

  • Creating a more helpful introduction to the site. (I started this once, and never finished ::sadface:: )
  • Re-running site-definition questions, particularly the list of "example questions of what we want on the site."
  • Question drives, to create more of the content we want.
  • Promotion opportunities; finding places to feature and point other writers to our site.

I dearly wish I could volunteer to get these things done. I wasn't able to when I was mod, and I'm not able to now. But those are the directions I think are crucial.

  • 2
    Well, our scope, as currently defined, is all writing. So the proposal is not to expand the scope but to fill it. Currently we have size two feet in size 12 shoes. The result is we stumble. The possible solutions are to grow bigger feet (this proposal) or get smaller shoes (your proposal). Personally, I favor smaller shoes: reduce the scope of this site to fiction and support the Technical Communication proposal that is currently in the commit phase. But when I have suggested this in the past, there has been fierce pushback from some and support from no one. ... – user16226 Oct 19 '17 at 16:35
  • 1
    ... So if the smaller shoes proposal gets no support, then the bigger feet proposal is the next best alternative. Do I think this proposal has a high chance of success? No. I think it pulls the limited levers we have as hard as we can pull them. It is not based on confidence of success, but on doing all we can reasonably do. ... – user16226 Oct 19 '17 at 16:37
  • 1
    ... And I agree with you that the Q/A format is not well suited to fiction. And in fact this site operates far more like a forum than a Q/A site. I think that the Q/A format makes much more sense for technical and commercial writing where there are far more small reusable solutions than there are far fiction. But I think it is very hard to get those questions, or the people who could answer them, to come here when the information scent here is amateur SF/F. ... – user16226 Oct 19 '17 at 16:40
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    ... My preference would be to have all the people here who want to support a Q/A for technical writing commit to the Tech Comm proposal and get it into beta. Then reduce the scope here to Fiction Writing. But unless we can drum up support for that proposal directly, the next best thing is to do all we can to bring those questions here, then, if we fail, we have a stronger case for scope reduction and a separate site, and if we succeed we have a stronger site. – user16226 Oct 19 '17 at 16:43
  • @MarkBaker : Good thoughts. Thank you for explaining! :D I think I've missed most of those previous conversations, which is a shame :-/ – Standback Oct 19 '17 at 18:30
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    @MarkBaker I for one am not willing to tell the people who've specifically worked to build tech-writing content here for years that we don't want their efforts and they should go support some other proposal, even if they're a minority. That feels like a slap in the face. Disclosure: I'm one of those people. If tech writing becomes unwelcome here I'll stop answering tech-writing questions, not go help found another site. We've been claiming size-12 shoes for years; it's time to grow bigger feet. – Monica Cellio Oct 20 '17 at 2:20
  • @MonicaCellio And I sympathize. I've tried to build tech writing here myself, though obviously not for so long. I think there should be a place for tech comm on SE. Honoring the work that has already been done is important, thus this proposal. If you ask me which course I think would have the better chance of success, I do think it is two separate sites with two distinct information scents. Nevertheless, I am willing to keep working on making it happen here, as long as we have things left to try, and if we can show signs of making progress. – user16226 Oct 20 '17 at 2:51
  • 1
    Thanks @MarkBaker. I appreciate your work to help this site! – Monica Cellio Oct 20 '17 at 3:10
6

1) Change our name: I love "Prose and Comms." The more we debate balancing our scope, the more I like the vagueness of "Comms."

2) Change our pitch: By all means.

3) Change our category: My only concern is, if things go south, can we change back? Is there a rule about "only once every N months" or something?

4) Fix the "what to write rule": I like the idea of "how to express this [business/commercial] idea" as being more broadly applicable while "help me generate ideas" (or "help me write my plot") is still off-topic. I'm happy to give that a whirl. That said, "Help me reword this sentence/phrase" should still be verboten.

5) No on critiques.

  • 1
    Yes, that is an important distinction on the what to write rule. Fix my grammar is not the same thing as how do I express/explain this concept. Perhaps a separate "we don't fix grammar" rule would be appropriate, so as not to overload one rule with too many caveats. – user16226 Oct 1 '17 at 19:49
  • 1
    Yes, a single reason for grammar and proofreading, not entangled with other stuff, sounds like a good idea. – Monica Cellio Oct 1 '17 at 19:56
  • I'm getting twitchier about "Prose and Comms." - I've gone from "Ha. Nice one." to "yeah, yeah" in the space of two days. (Mark - in case you've not already guessed, it was this that inspired my question about use of humour the other day). On the basis of answers received elsewhere and a quick look down the list of other SE site names, I would tend towards something basic and factual. It looks like no one else has yet tried to work in a pun (though it's arguable that writers might be the people to do that), in which case "Writing and Communication" would say the same. – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Oct 2 '17 at 10:54
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    @ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere The purpose of Prose and Comms is not to be funny. It is an attempt to exploit a known property of information foraging behavior. It has been shown that readers will continue to read and click links as long as the perceive that information scent is getting stronger. It is hard to give and accurate information scent for this site in one or two words, so we need them to read on to find out more. To do that we need a name that suggests this might be the right place, but does not accidentally suggest this is the wrong place. ... – user16226 Oct 2 '17 at 12:53
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    ... Prose and Comms is intended to suggest a range of writing interests without drawing firm boundaries around anything, thus deferring boundary setting to our short network pitch and our on topic rules. Of course, some other name could do that too. But simple declaratives tend to draw boundaries around themselves which may cut off the reader's information foraging too early. – user16226 Oct 2 '17 at 12:57
  • "Seasoned Advice" is another example of a "clever" name. My concern with "Writing and Communication" is that it suggest a scope extension (all of writing plus all of communication). Another variant is "Written Communication", but that feels like it excludes script writing, for which the final communication media is video, but which has always been on topic here. This is why I think we need a name that does not suggest a hard boundary. I also think we should be more concerned to stand out than to fit in if we want to get out of our rut and grow. – user16226 Oct 2 '17 at 13:14
  • I have been noticing though that we have been getting a lot of " I have never been.... how do I write it" and they are not being suggested for closing. Are we going to start allowing this or are these still considered off topic? There is a question today for example where someone was asking what it's like to be pregnant because they have not been. The other day we saw a question about what it is like to be in a fight. Should we continue to close these? Many seem to lack effort though the pregnancy one does appear the questioner put in effort before hand. – ggiaquin16 Oct 3 '17 at 16:45
  • 1
    I feel like there's a name for this — it's not a shopping question, but it's a kind of research question. Asking "how do I research X" might be okay, but "Please tell me about X because I don't want to research it" (I don't want to leave my house to talk to one pregnant woman? Seriously?) should be closed. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Oct 3 '17 at 17:02
  • @ggiaquin, that is an excellent question, and I think it deserves its own meta question so we can discuss it. Do you want to ask it, or shall I? – user16226 Oct 3 '17 at 20:38
  • 1
    @MarkBaker I can bud no worries. I wasn't sure if I should or not and saw it come up in Lauren's post so I figured it might be worth starting it as a comment here. – ggiaquin16 Oct 3 '17 at 20:51
  • 2
    Doesn't 'Prose and Comms' send a message that poetry and lyrics are off topic, when the help center says they are on topic? – Spagirl Oct 5 '17 at 11:58
  • @Spagirl, possibly. We are trying to serve a group of people united by technique rather than goal or product and people don't tend to think of themselves that way."Writers" is technically the most descriptive phrase, but it is not sending the right signal. Poets and songwriters are a smaller community than technical, marketing, and business writers and we need to find ways to bring those people in. I haven't heard a name suggestion yet that promises to do the job perfectly. If you can think of a name that might appeal to poets and tech writers equally, I would love to hear it. – user16226 Oct 6 '17 at 19:33
  • Prose and Comms is like a bad band name: Way too clever. Should this be the first SE site to have a "clever" name? "Music Practice & Theory" could have been named "Music Notes". I'm so glad it's not. – Todd Wilcox Nov 1 '17 at 0:07
4
  1. Change the name. I don't like this plan. "Prose and Comms" would be good for our chat room name. As a site name, it feels too clever.

  2. My suggestion:

Q&A for the craft of writing for professionals and aspiring professionals including fiction, non-fiction, technical, scholarly, commercial, and content writing

I know it's a bit long, but a) I think it captures the desired audience better -- both folks who do this for a living and folks who would like to do this for a living, and not those who are doing it for a laugh and aren't serious about improving their skill, and also b) it include the keyword "content" since lots and lots of commercial and technical writers use this word to describe what they write.

Also, it might be worth even more words to expand "craft of writing" to "writing, revising, editing, submitting, and publishing" and other actions related to writing that are under our umbrella.

  1. Eh. I don't care either way.

  2. I have mixed feelings about this. This is likely the equivalent of the EL&U single-word-request, and they are awful questions that people love. They generate a lot of traffic, but they aren't great content. On the other hand, they generate a lot of traffic.

And as a final thought, I don't contribute a whole lot at Writers anymore. I didn't find answering the questions to be particularly rewarding, and the few times I asked questions, I didn't find the comments or answers to be stimulating in the way I would like them to be. I enjoy chatting and participating in the writing discussions/prompts that we do periodically, and I plan to continue doing that. If we expanded or more clearly defined the scope, I might find some questions to ask though.

  • 1
    Thanks for the comments. On Prose and Comms, see my comment on Lauren's post. The problem on the short network pitch is that there is a hard word limit. If you go to the meta post on the name change you will see that we started out very much were you are, and had to compress from there. I think that the reasons for your low participation (with which I very much sympathize) are exactly the reason we need to do something -- something as big as we can in the limited scope available -- to get the site out of its rut. – user16226 Oct 2 '17 at 13:03
  • 1
    Re professionals, I think we have to trust that aspiring professionals want to hang out with established professionals. I don't think the word "professional" will keep those folks out, I think it will make them want to come in. (It is certainly that way with every writing organization I belong to: it is where the aspirants go to meet the pros.) The other point of using the word professional, though, is to define scope. SE is about answerable questions, and answers to writing questions require some standard of measurement. Professional gives us a measurable standard (what will people pay for). – user16226 Oct 2 '17 at 13:07
  • Oh right, of course there's a word limit. I had forgotten. – Kit Z. Fox Oct 2 '17 at 13:10
4
  1. Name. I see zero reason to change our name. Writers is perfectly broad and perfectly clear. It fits the site far better than anything I can think of. Prose and Comms is an attempt at a witticism which only ends up being unclear. If I were scrolling through the list of SE sites looking for one on writing, I would search for 'writing', not 'prose'. I feel that changing the name can only hurt the site. (You see this with the cooking SE. Seasoned Advice, while brilliant, is not what a chef will be looking for.)
  2. Short Network Pitch. 100% behind you here.
  3. Category. Also with you on this one. Makes total sense. Not the first place I would look, but then 'arts' isn't where I would look if I was a technical writer either.
  4. On-topic rules. Also with you here. Although I think extensive review will be needed to very clearly define the difference. I see a lot of confusion and mistakes arising from this otherwise.

Those are my thoughts. I'm with you on everything but the title. I think the title is perfect; changing it can only hurt us.

  • 1
    On the pure dictionary definition of the word, "Writers" is a perfect fit. But one thing writers learn is that what a word means is often far less important than what a word suggests. The site has been in beta for 6.5 years with that name. We don't know if a different name would work any better, but changing the name is the biggest single lever we have to pull to try to get the site out of its rut. "Writers" means everyone who writes. It suggests people who writes fiction. So the attempt is to apply information foraging theory by manipulating the information scent. Nothing else has worked. – user16226 Oct 8 '17 at 11:21
  • 1
    @MarkBaker To me it suggests writers of any kind, so both the definition and the suggestion line up perfectly. I don't know if others feel the same way though. I would advocate for us changing other things first, like the network pitch and category, before changing the title. I believe changing the title will make the site harder to find, which would be a big blow to its traffic. The other options are safe - changing the title has the potential to go disastrously wrong. If none of the other options work, then change the title. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Oct 8 '17 at 16:41
3

I can't find a good place to put these comments in the above reams of comments. I am submitting an 'answer.' This is not an answer. As an aspiring writer who knows most of the mechanics of writing but has not written fiction before, this has been a nice resource. There are other resources I use as well. I am a scientific writer. I cannot imagine any scientific writer finding this site useful for scientific writing. We have enough guidance within our disciplines for that.

The turnover you are seeing on the site IMO is due in part to the nature of all these sorts of websites, and you will see turnover regardless of what changes you make. I understand that you are trying to grow (limit that turnover), but from the user end Kit's comments sound true to me - People that find the site useful will use it, and when it stops being useful they will wander somewhere else.

My goal is to finish my story as well and as quickly as possible. This site is one resource I use as I am writing and revising my draft. The question about pregnancy for example, served a purpose for me in that got my mind off the circles i was spinning, on my revisions. I assume (perhaps mistakenly) that person had some reason for being unable to leave their house, and so it's great that they can talk to people online who can answer the question. Anyway, my goal is to get the thing wrapped up efficiently, feel good about it, and move on to the next step (seeking publication?).

When I have reached my goal there's a good chance I will be off to other websites, and this one will have served its purpose. This is a function of me. Don't take it personally.

~~~~

  1. I did not think Writers smelled like fantasy fiction. It's probably more true though that internet users tend to be young and have experience with FF and so that will dominate your traffic. I think Writers sounds like anybody that writes anything.

  2. No preference.

  3. I lean yes.

  4. I lean yes.

I assume many hi-rep contributors here are published writers. That is a plus for me, coming here. I don't need FF YA critiques, I need critiques from people who have a bit more breadth. (I realize how horrible that sounds, sorry.) So, more professionals, great!

$0.02

  • 1
    I think this is very much the reason that we need to attract non-fiction professionals to this site. Stack overflow is populated by people working full time in software development. they have ongoing technical questions year after year. They don't go there as a brief phase in their development to pick up a few basic principles and then move on. They stick around to solve ongoing practical work problems. This is what Stack Exchange is supposed to be all about. There are a thousand places you can wander through to pick up basic writing advice. This is supposed to be something different. – user16226 Oct 7 '17 at 14:06
  • Then probably a name change is good - Also my decision to post a few questions had a 'fishing' expedition element (Is this place useful?). Scanning the first few Q's was part of my decision, and I actually came here secondarily from Worldbuilders. The reputation and badge system feels very juvenile to me. Like scouts. So, you might add to the mix for consideration: Pin a few Q's along the lines of what you are trying to solicit to the top, change the rep/badge system (The site is basic game theory with that). – DPT Oct 7 '17 at 14:51
  • I also don't like being told to read the rules before posting, as childish as that sounds. That is the approach on Worldbuilders SE. It is easier for a naive user to simply post than to do homework first. I suspect <1% of new users tour the site first - and so if there is info on other parts of the site you want users to know, somehow pin that to the tippy top of the question page, maybe 'in 140 characters or less' (it is 2017.) :-) – DPT Oct 7 '17 at 14:54
  • Our little tiny site has no control over the Stack Exchange algorithm or any other part of the system. The question for us is, does the SE model fit writing. We know that it fits programming very well, and a number of other SE sites have managed to become significant if not preeminent resources in their fields, all of which were fields that were previously provided for. I think it is reasonable to suggest that it may fit professional, technical, and scientific writing better than it fits fiction, if only those fields has any momentum here. But they never will if we go on as we are. – user16226 Oct 7 '17 at 17:02
3

Having joined this community recently I was just posting this question here Do most users start on Stack Overflow? and while asking is broadly was interested in Writers specificaly as mentioned in the question.

So what was the answer, less than 8%. I know I am jumping to a lot of conclusions here, but I feel like this means 90% of the users were programmers on SO who went "hmm writing, I like writing, let me check this site out".

I think this quickly grows to explain why this is an amateur fantasy writer site. This is my story too, and this is what I am.

Now we have to also think that there are a hell of a lot more people out there who are interested in writing in some way other than computer programming. To me this means that for this site to succeed it must attract fresh, outside blood, and not leach from SO.

  • Yes, I think this is the key question. Can this be a site for writers, or can it never be more than a site for programmers who like to write. Clearly, though, the site would be of more value to programmers who like to write it it were a site for writers, because writers would be able to give better answers. But first, we have to attract the writers. – user16226 Oct 24 '17 at 16:37
  • That makes sense: Things like SciFi or Worldbuilding tend to attract larger audiences, but they also are more likely to be pursued as hobbies by people who do other things i.e. code hackers. (I say ‘hobbies’ with users like Valorum well in mind.) – can-ned_food Oct 26 '17 at 17:56
2

Broadly agree. Specifically :

1) "Writers" smells more like fiction, but how about "writing"? Keeps it simple. "Prose and Comms" is a cracking joke and gave me a chuckle, but like the best joke in the world it's never as good on the second, third or hundredth reading.

2) Yes. Sounds good, though possibly better without the word "professional" unless we actively want to discourage anyone writing for the love of art - particularly those who might later become professional writers. Phrasing it as "..the craft of writing..." works for me.

3) Swings and roundabouts, that one. Would the number of professional writers we attract by changing category match the number of amateur writers (or potential professionals) we discourage? Might professional writers who consider themselves artists also be discouraged?

4) Yes. I like the suggested words.

Critiques? I'm with you - particularly about Sturgeon's Law.

So I'm generally in agreement, though I would look for a balance between those who are currently writing professionally and those who are not - particularly those who might in the future. Professional writing should certainly be a category, but should it be the only category as the original suggested network pitch seemed to imply? If we're looking to increase the number of questions per day, anything that might scare off our aspiring authors of fantasy fiction would be counterproductive.

  • 1
    1. Unfortunately, writing smells like fiction as well. The word in commercial circles today is "content" and making it is called "content creation". Indeed, I'd say there is a real risk of another intrusion into our scope if someone decides to propose a Content Strategy site on Area 51. "Prose and Comms" is an attempt to bridge the writing/content divide. What other names could do the same? – user16226 Sep 30 '17 at 11:28
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    2. The reason for the word professional is twofold. First, to send a clear signal to professional writers and writers in the professions that they are welcome here. Second, to provide a basis on which to give factual answers to questions, which is a basic premise of SE. The problem with Ars Gratia Artis is that it is non falsifiable. There are no right answers. We can only really give answers about fiction in terms of its capacity to achieve professional publication. If you are just writing for the fun of it, then no answer is right or wrong, only fun or not fun. – user16226 Sep 30 '17 at 11:34
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    I'm with you on suggesting balance, and I think we would have a lot more capacity to do that once we graduate and could create a site design that would suggest the balance we are looking for. At this point, though, I am more concerned to tip the balance toward the professional side simply because the site is so unbalanced the other way and we need to do something with the limited means available to us to get the site moving forward again. I don't think any of this tips the scale all the way. I think is will still smell fantasy fiction, but hopefully not quite so dominantly. – user16226 Sep 30 '17 at 11:44
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    1) Sounds flippant, I know, but how about "Writing and content" to bridge the writing/content divide? 2 & 3) The trouble with a message to Group A that they're welcome is it could send a message to Group B that they're not. If we increase the professional side at the expense of the aspirational side, we could end up no closer to (and possibly further from) any questions-per-day statistic. – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Sep 30 '17 at 11:51
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    Well, as long as the the aspiring are aspiring to be professional, whether that be in fiction, non-fiction, or business writing, I think "professional" covers everybody, or at least everybody we can give objective answers to. But I agree that we want to avoid the implication that we are strictly about business writing (though in our current rut, I do think the prospect of gain has to outweigh the fear of loss). Including the term "content" in the title would be a strong signal to the commercial side, but would it turn the creative side off? (Most creatives seem to loathe the word "content".) – user16226 Sep 30 '17 at 12:08
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    I don't have the impression that "content" is as widespread as @MarkBaker says it is. Marketing people, managers of web sites, and probably some parts of the business world call it "content", but in my experience technical writers and scientific writers don't. Also, some people who use "content" mean art, too. – Monica Cellio Oct 1 '17 at 2:34
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    @MonicaCellio My impression is that the use of "content" is quite uneven among practitioners (I hate it, personally), though I think it is almost universal as a business term. And I agree that it is also used in the arts. Netflix talks about acquiring "content". We could think about a name like "Content creators", which would certainly cover a lot of people. This issue with that though would be an implicit scope expansion, since content covers all media, not just writing -- the reason people started using content in the first place. – user16226 Oct 1 '17 at 3:34
  • Honestly, I'm less committed to any one name than I am to the idea that we have to do something using the very limited set of levers available to us, to try to heave the site out of its rut and get it growing toward graduation. It is not going to do for writing what SO did for programming unless we can get it moving again. I'd be happy to support any proposal that was different enough to make a difference. – user16226 Oct 1 '17 at 3:38
  • Actually, re "Content Creators" I think it is important to note that while writing was the assumed media for most purposes until very recently, now the choice of media tends to come up in every business conversation and communication strategies tend involve a mix of media. Making ourselves a "Content Creators" site would put all those decisions into our wheelhouse without in any way excluding our fantasy fiction writers. Maybe "Content Creators" is exactly where we need to go. Go big or go home. – user16226 Oct 1 '17 at 3:43
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    "Content" and, by extension, "Content Creators" evokes a strong, negative reaction for me. That sounds like videos, music, podcasts, ad collateral, and other stuff that is most definitely not technical or scientific writing in my experience. I agree with the proposals in this question -- we need to do something. But fundamentally I think we are (and should remain) about words, and SE has sites for audio and video production and music anyway. Let's figure out how to appeal to all the kinds of writers we want to attract. @MarkBaker – Monica Cellio Oct 1 '17 at 3:48
  • @MonicaCellio, That's all true (though all those things do have scripts/copy). So where does that leave us on the name? Prose and Comms? Something else? – user16226 Oct 1 '17 at 11:49
  • @MarkBaker Prose and Comms is the best suggestion I've heard. I think it works; I wonder if we can do better, but I have no ideas. – Monica Cellio Oct 1 '17 at 19:03
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    I do 75% of my professional work with marketing. If this site becomes all about "polishing marketing content," I'll bid a fond adieu. Some marketing content as part of a balanced scope is great. All or mostly "media content" is not why I'm here. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Oct 1 '17 at 19:31
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    I'm just planting a "this far, no farther" flag in re shifting our scope towards business writing and "content" as it's defined when discussing marketing. I think encouraging business writers to come here is great. I simply want to register my opinion that we shouldn't shift so far in that direction that all our questions are about how to get the requisite keywords into a corporate blog post, for example. You wrote above "Maybe 'Content Creators' is exactly where we need to go. Go big or go home," and my reaction to that hypothetical would be "Welp, heading for home, then!" – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Oct 1 '17 at 23:46
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    @LaurenIpsum Agreed, I don't want it to turn into that either. – user16226 Oct 2 '17 at 0:08
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I know that I don't ask questions here because, frankly, I don't think that I have anything to ask here.

Not a matter of protecting my ideas or prose, but because — and you will pardon the arrogance — I am a better writer than most of the people here.
Devising questions presented with answers written by myself seems like rather too much work. I am uncertain, most of the time, what aspects of my writing intrigue readers or other writers; selecting small portions of my writs to be used as examples of how or why certain techniques can be done effectively seems far too inverted to be of much applicability for others.

There is that old cliché about something which cannot be taught. I.e. I cannot tell you where to look, but I can explain how to understand what you yourself perceive.


If I see a question that pertains to one of those aforementioned techniques, then I shall answer it. Of course, the few answers which I have proffered were not well received — returning us to the beginning of this example of conceit.


In more direct response to your proposals —

  1. Not necessary. Not all people who inquire as to my vocation of ‘writer’ seem to think that I only write fiction. I will grant that many of them do preconceive of an unknown or unpublished “writer” as someone who aspires to write the so–called novel. However, this is because a technical or otherwise non-fiction writer will usually qualify their vocation with such.
  2. That looks decent to me.
  3. It is all in the nomenclature. I myself have so defined the ontological class of ‘art’ as to include both musical and industrial purposes — among others. “Professional” is an ontologically inane word.
    Of course, I more–or–less agree with the intent which I interpret your proposal to convey in the pertinent vernaculars.
  4. You mean require the asker either mention or refer to demographics or to psychology of the reader? I haven't given this one much thought, so I'll not blather any more here.
  • 4
    You know, it really isn't about esteeming people. It is about esteeming answers. That's why answers here are supposed to be factual and based on sound reasoning. What distinguishes professionals (ontologically inane though the word may be) from amateurs is that they successfully balance the confidence that they have something to contribute with the knowledge that they always have something to learn. – user16226 Oct 7 '17 at 16:54
  • Wow, but my remarks do seem harsh. Anyways, I think that you are describing wisdom more than professionalism, @MarkBaker. Anyways. So far as I know, I don't have any problems with my writing for which I could seek assistance by the Stack Exchange format. – can-ned_food Oct 8 '17 at 9:44
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+1 to Standback and the SF/F focus.

As a research scientist and coder, I came from an SE site for a programming problem. I did find a solution, but also got distracted by an interesting question "Hot Network Questions" that happened to match my expertise.

The differential analysis I would offer here is simple: programmers use SE to look for specific answers to specific questions in coding.

A) What does this error message mean?

B) Why does this code only work 9 out of 10 times?

Their problems are immediate and the answers are solutions.

A) "That error message is a red herring, the real issue is probably because your memory allocation failed, so look for an error leak or trying to allocate memory with an uninitialized variable or x, or y, or z."

B) "That's asynchronous code and you aren't waiting for the event correctly, so sometimes the data you read is garbage".

That makes such a site a source of specific solutions to specific problems, so programmers search it and ask very specific questions all the time. I know some students that use it several times a day.

Writers prohibits specific questions about "what to write", "what is wrong with this prose", or "how to fix this plot", or anything that is deemed too specific and therefore not generally helpful.

Therefore, like any book on how to write a novel, we're going to run out of questions to answer. Then the questions are going to get repetitive.

I think moving to serve specifically amateur SF/F writers would help, but to grow the number of questions per day, you need to broaden the scope or include a scope that lets aspiring writers ask for specific answers to specific question once a week or so, and I think our "scope" currently prohibits that.

2

Expanding on the answer by Amadeus, I would even go so far as to say that Writers got it all wrong.

The essence of Stack Overflow is that its users post their own code and ask, why it doesn't work (that is, they ask for a critique) and what they can do to make it work (they ask for help rephrasing their code). On Writers, on the other hand, it is expressly forbidden to ask for a critique (why one's own writing doesn't work) and how to make it work (help to rephrase a sentence).

Essentially, Writers takes all the limitations of Stack Overflow – a question must have one and only one clear answer; questions mustn't insprire discussions; no list questions; and so on – that make discussing writing useful, and then Writers even declares everything else as off-topic that makes Stack Overflow worthwhile and would actually be useful to an individual user's writing.

What is left on Writers are vague universal writing truisms (such as the stupid and wrong ideology of "show, don't tell") and repetitive format questions (about how to cite, use commas, or use writing software). Writers is what Stack Overflow would look like if it would only allow questions about general programming principles. Not many programmers would be interested in such a site.

And it is no wonder that on Writers those who want help with their writing don't stick around, either, because they are not offered the hands-on help that Stack Overflow offers to progammers.

The simple truth is that Stack Overflow is a code critique site. To be successful, Writers must become a writing critique site.

And it is not true that critiques are only useful to the author of the critiqued text. Thinking about what is wrong with a certain text and coming up with solutions to specific writing problems can be extremely helpful for both the person who offers the critique and others who observe the solution: while you try to find a solution to a problem that another writer has, you learn something about your own writing, as it forces your to reflect your own writing practices, think outside of your own habits, gives your examples for solutions that you can apply to your own writing, and so on.

I'm currently critiquing two novels for other writers, and it is one of the most useful writing exercises I ever did. I'm learning so much, and giving help at the same time.

  • Actually, I think it would be fairer to say that SO is, at heart, an algorithm request site. Its core questions ask, how do I solve this coding problem. Sometimes those questions come with a sample of the code they have written to try to implement the algorithm and a statement of how it is failing. That is very different from posting a piece of code and asking for a critique. You can't critique code without knowing what it is trying to do. And that is exactly what item 4 of this proposal tries to accomplish. Tell us what you are trying to express, and how you have tried so far. – user16226 Nov 10 '17 at 12:15
  • But a question in the form "Here's what I wrote. Tell me if it's good" is not a good fit here and is not a good fit on SO either. – user16226 Nov 10 '17 at 12:20
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    We're more of an analogue of Software Engineering than we are of Stack Overflow. As I understand it, Software Engineering (formerly Programmers) was created to funnel the design, algorithm, and process questions that SO didn't really want because they were too far from actual code. On SO, "here's my code - what's wrong with it?" questions are closed; you have to at least say what you're trying to accomplish. And I don't know the detailed history, but there's also Code Review, presumably created to fill a gap. Bottom line, analogies to code sites are trickier; it's not just SO. – Monica Cellio Nov 10 '17 at 16:07

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