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Why We Write: The Value of Writing and the Editorial Process That Keeps Us Accountable

05-04-17 Austin Munhofen

Writing is hard. Austin shares the value in writing Foundry articles and the process that keeps us accountable.

The Value of Writing

Writing is hard. Good, thoughtful writing takes time. There’s research and reflection, sometimes collaboration and thought exchange—and that’s all before you reach an outline, syntax creation, and word choice. There are so many cases to be made against writing—time is just one of them. At Sparkbox, we recognize the myriad challenges of writing, but we are more convinced of its value than we are dissuaded by the obstacles—and we’ve found the most natural way to manage the demands of a hungry blog are parallel to how we manage client projects.

Writing Makes Us Smarter

There are tons of ways writing makes us smarter. Building on basic knowledge of the subject matter may require some research. In fact, we don’t publish many Foundry posts with less than one reference link—a reflection that we’re aware of other opinions on the topic. It’s just good practice. We also find out where our knowledge gaps are when we further dig into the thing we’re writing about. In this way, the writing process is incredibly educational, giving us the space to ask questions and get them answered—and then share our findings. It’s problem-solving and teaching. And we’re all about teaching and reflection at Sparkbox. Build Right, our apprenticeship program, our journey scaling and information sharing are central to our culture, and we see just as much value in open sourcing our learnings as we do open sourcing our code. Writing represents what we do and who we are. And in many ways, we see this as an investment in our future clients, an investment in the web, and an investment in ourselves.

Writing Sheds Light on How We Work

The Foundry houses article after article that shares a snapshot in time to how we approach the web, from our take on logging deployments to approaching accessibility to creating CSS architecture. We’ve also built a pretty strong repository of case studies, which are clear examples of how we solve problems and work alongside our clients to create solutions that fit their needs. Often times, we’ll link to these pieces during the business courtship process. Case studies and Foundry articles are the closest way a potential client can experience what it’s like to work with us before they actually do.

The Foundry has so deeply weaved its way into our culture that even during the busiest of seasons and full loads, we do everything possible to continue sharing what we’re learning. Much like a client project, it’s considered an investment that requires great care and consideration.

Setting Expectations and Creating Accountability

We have about 25 awesome designers, developers, UX designers, content strategists, and project managers. They all write, including our apprentices. Humility, empathy, and fluency are at the core of our ethos, and we practice these not only as professionals carrying out our craft but also as authors. Setting expectations early is important. Whether it’s accurately portraying what it’s like to work with us for clients during the sales process, or potential Sparkboxers during the interview process.

Accountability for the writing process stems from our governance. Just like client projects, having defined roles reduces process-related cloudiness that could create a bottleneck. Defined roles not only create accountability but also pave the way for ownership. Editors, authors, and peers have a specifically defined contribution to the whole and are keenly aware of how their part impacts the final, published piece.

Accountability is further enhanced by our Scheduler Hub. Much like our Project Hubs, the Foundry Scheduler Hub thoroughly records the process of what we’ve accomplished with each article and what we need to do in order to ship it. The Hub is not perfect, and we’ve adjusted it over time as new realities arise and inform it, but it does the job of distributing authorship equally, setting deadlines, and providing a central holding spot for defined roles to collaborate and review the status of a piece.

A Personalized Approach

To keep the Foundry consistently stocked with rich content requires some muscle and an organized, personalized editorial process. Our organization stems from our Scheduler Hub, as previously mentioned. But the personalized approach is the real gem in our editorial process because that’s where we show that our support for authors is paramount. Much like our client work is about meeting client needs, we work with authors for their needs, not ours.

It’s an exercise in empathy.

So instead of telling authors what they should write, how they should write, and for whom they should write on each specific piece, we give general audience and content suggestions. And then we ask questions, like Is there something you’ve discovered in your work that you’d like to share? What value do you think this provides, and who do you think would gain the most from reading it? This kind of partnership, with its back-and-forth Q&A continues throughout the editorial process, conforming to the author’s needs. Some authors may need more help with developmental editing—topic brainstorming and ideation—than others; some like to walk through feedback in-person while others prefer collaboration in a Google doc. Some prefer more collaborative prewriting to get all the things defined—like a longer client discovery phase.

...we, the editorial team, don’t have more allegiance to that process than to our authors.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all. It’s an exercise in empathy. As with all exercises in empathy, it does mean things get messy. It does mean that personalizing the process takes more time. But all projects—client and Foundry alike—are about the relationship. So yes, while there is a sturdy structure to our process that we’ve found produces a good rhythm, we, the editorial team, don’t have more allegiance to that process than to our authors.

Investing In Words

Ultimately, one of the goals of the Foundry is to attract like-minded clients who care about building right. Investing in words is super valuable to us. That said, this investment doesn’t come without its challenges. Finding time, inspiration, and motivation can be hard. Really hard. Especially with competing priorities. At the end of the day, we’re always going to serve a current client need over our own. In fact, this piece is a supreme illustration of the challenges of writing, as this post is publishing sooner than expected to replace another post that hasn’t been completed due to busy client schedules. It happens, and it’s difficult. We’ll take every chance we can, though, to get smarter and empower others to build a better web, so we’ll continue to write and share every chance we get.

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