We've gotten some feedback from a variety of non-fiction authors that they don't feel that this site is engaging their demographic very well.

Charles Stewart said so here on meta. He seeded three questions and has been moderately active. rianjs also said so on meta. Even Stack Exchange Valued Associate Dori somewhere got the impression and posted it on an Area51 discussion about merging in the technical writing proposal here and on the meta discussion about merging in Technical writing. Apparently some technical writers viewed the downvotes that initially gathered around How much time do you spend writing one page on average? as a reflection on the community view on technical writing instead of on the failure of the original question to meet our guidelines as seen in this comment on the Technical Writing proposal linking to that meta discussion -

@Mark: given recent... feelings... on Writers meta, I'm beginning to believe there may be benefit in separating technical writing from Writers (meta.writers.stackexchange.com/q/105/16) – Zayne S Halsall Dec 4 '10 at 10:48

If you are a technical writer or other non-fiction author, editor, or publisher what does this site need to do in order to get you to participate more actively, especially providing questions that you think will draw other non-fiction writers here? If you supported the now-defunct Technical Writing proposal, what did you expect it to provide that Writers doesn't? Even if you aren't a non-fiction author, how do you think we can serve our non-fiction members and prospective members better?

I don't want to change anything about the way this site handles fiction and poetry (well, we could use more poetry questions too), I just want to make sure we are actively covering our whole base.

  • 2
    I was going to ask why the "technical-writing" tag has about 5% of total questions on Writers.SE where it should be at least about half of the questions (or to be modest maybe one third or one fourth) because there is as much technical content in the world as there is fiction. Just think about the user manuals :) Before asking it directly I did search the word "technical" and found this question and the answer by @rianjs. Now I'm curious about why this trend hasn't changed over the 5 years time gap. Should I ask a separate question or should we continue to argue this in here?
    – Montag451
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 12:24

1 Answer 1


Warning: wall of text ahead.

As I stated before, I don't downvote topics because I don't find them useful. I downvote if something is clearly idiotic or factually wrong or someone's being a jerk--which I don't think I've seen yet. Writing is so broad, it seems to me that these basic criteria are the only sensible ones. By contrast, the normal StackExchange criteria is the idea of usefulness, but aside from using words, fiction and non-fiction don't have much in common. I suspect there are more fiction writers (or aspiring fiction writers) here than there are technical writers. If they downvote technical or non-fiction questions, this is discouraging to the non-fiction crowd, and they're apt to leave. This seems to be an obvious unintended consequence of the "usefulness" metric.

Another concern I have right now is a cult-of-personality problem that seems to be developing. Dori's posts tend to get downvotes, but I suspect this is less because of the content, and more because of who posted it. (Example.) If this is indeed the case, this behavior needs to be thoroughly slapped down because it is completely and utterly counterproductive, but unlike Slashdot, StackExchange doesn't do meta-moderation AFAICT.


In terms of non-fiction content... like I said above, aside from using words to communicate, fiction and non-fiction usually have very little in common. For a "creative" discipline, technical writing isn't very creative. Generally speaking, you're condensing an idea or some piece of knowledge down into actionable steps or set of easily digestible bits, depending on your audience, and what you're writing.

As such, we non-fiction types don't really run into the same problems that fiction writers do. With some basic caveats, I don't need to worry about, say, word choice in the way that a fiction writer does when they're trying to create a setting or mood in their work where a poorly-chosen word can ruin a whole paragraph.

Along similar lines: a lot of technical writers do it for a living. It's not a hobby. That means they're doing it 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week, 48-50 weeks out of the year. Assuming more conservative numbers: 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year gives you 1440 hours a year or writing. If you take Gladwell's 10,000 hour figure seriously, it'll take you 7 years to be a master. I suspect a lot of technical writers here have more than 10,000 hours writing. In some cases (not me), A LOT more. As such, we probably don't have as many questions to ask, simply because we've "paid our dues" already.

On the other hand, fiction tends to be a hobby, therefore you probably find more beginners doing it (first 1-2,000 hours) than you do veterans because they don't spend their days doing it. You wouldn't expect Stephen King, for example, to have many questions, or Neil Gaiman, but I have no doubt that there are some technical writers here who have spent more time stringing words together than both of those authors have, so they probably don't have much left to ask.

That leaves the teaching component. I'm not good at it. It's that simple. My best advice on writing is to "Just do it" and then I'll help edit later, and explain why the content maybe needs to be edited if my corrections are not obvious, but I'm not very good at contriving teachable nuggets where I could propose a question, wait a day, and give a possibly-ideal answer.


That being said, there are clearly developers and other technical people who are working on improving their communications chops, and I thoroughly enjoy helping those people, and while I know Writers.SE is still finding its niche, I suspect that's the kind of non-fiction writing you're most likely to see for the foreseeable future. :)

  • And here's a good example of where/how the difference between fiction and non-fiction work comes into play in a significant way. The accompanying meta thread is also worth checking out. writers.stackexchange.com/questions/622/…
    – rianjs
    Commented Mar 16, 2011 at 19:50
  • 2
    Re: Dori's post. Downvotes on meta are different than downvotes on the main site. Downvotes on meta means someone disagrees with the answer. Commented Mar 16, 2011 at 19:54
  • Re: Dori's post - I have not noticed such a downvoting tendency at all. Downvoting to say that you disagree with the sentiment that technical writers are not welcome is hardly the same thing as downvoting a person. Dori's answers on the main site are extremely helpful and her input is welcome here.
    – justkt
    Commented Mar 17, 2011 at 0:27
  • Re: Asking questions - someone should go to the now-closed Technical Writing proposal and use their on-topic questions as seeds for our site.
    – justkt
    Commented Mar 17, 2011 at 0:28
  • I downvoted Dori, because I disagree with her. I think tech writers should stay here and not follow 'Technical Writing'. What you write about hobby/professional writing is nonsense, sorry. You are right, that (experienced) pros ask fewer and other questions than (beginning) hobby writers (surprise, surprise). But making up numbers, there are more or fewer professional non-fiction or fiction writers is just rubbish. Beginners have more questions than pros, no matter what they are doing. Commented Mar 17, 2011 at 9:42
  • @rianjs - all that said, thanks so much for taking time to answer the question.
    – justkt
    Commented Mar 17, 2011 at 13:00
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    @justkt I'm going to start asking some of the questions that were asked on the proposal and voted as good on-topic questions. Commented Mar 17, 2011 at 13:29
  • I agree with this analysis. I've got way more than 10,000 hours of tech writing; while you never completely run out of questions, I don't have as many as I used to and many of the ones I do have are too specialized for here. But I'd love to be able to help out less-experienced tech writers with their questions. Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 4:19

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