What is that?
Pair writing is one method we’ve used to help us gather content. We work alongside subject matter experts in short sessions and write together.
I recently worked with Anne-Marie Greenhill of the Academic Skills Center to rewrite the content of their web pages and she wrote:
Working with colleagues to complete specific tasks is a common practice for some of us at the Academic Skills Center, so it was interesting to collaborate in this way with the web team. We had our own requirements as to what our site visitors should know and the web team had to consider the overall development of the University’s web pages. Writing together gave us a better understanding of what this entailed.
How does it work
We are the content professionals and the colleagues we work with are the subject matter experts. In this case Anne-Marie was the expert on the subject and she thought:
It might seem counter-productive at first to have two (or more) people working on the same task at the same time, but in my experience, when done effectively, it tends to increase productivity, and those who collaborate invariably produce better writing and sharing. mutual knowledge and perspectives of what they are doing.
Before starting the writing process we all had to agree on what we perceived the purpose of the project to be, what we could expect to achieve at the end of a very short period, and what we would leave behind for future development. You also need to trust the people you’re pairing with and agree or agree to disagree and offer solid reasons for it.
We sat together for one or two hour sessions and wrote together. One person acts as an observer and the other is the driver. The driver writes the content while the viewer asks probing questions such as:
• Who is the audience?
• What does it mean?
• Is that the right tone of voice?
The process of writing it together highlighted any information that was unclear or why it needed to be included and gave each of us a better understanding of what the structure should be, how the content fits together and where it should be placed in the site much more quickly than if we had worked in isolation. Working collaboratively avoided confusion and made the drafting process easier and more focused.
For this method to work, I think all parties must be focused, honest, and positive, especially when reviewing or commenting on each other’s writings or giving feedback, and must continue to communicate. As one person types, the other can act as a draft reader so changes can be made on the spot while thoughts are fresh in both minds. It can be very productive to have someone dispute what you have written and force you to explain what your point is. You may think you’ve made it perfectly obvious when it’s not explicit, the language is unnecessarily convoluted, or you may have included acronyms that will mean absolutely nothing to your average reader! We found that editing and drafting together as a work in progress was a very constructive and time-effective way of writing.
Because we think it works
Normally a piece of content is emailed and a draft is emailed back, then again and so on. And it can take days to get anywhere. Writing in pairs gives us workable content in 2 hours.
Anne-Marie wrote that:
It was constructive to discuss what content was required and why it should be included, or excluded, before starting to write, as a result the writing was more focused, focused and took less time to complete.
We scheduled regular times to meet to maintain continuity and flow of the writing, developed a system for writing each section that worked for whichever couple were working together, and agreed on a consistent tone and voice for the sections. Every time each of us has invested in working together has certainly paid off. What we produced was greatly improved by sharing opinions and correcting things as we created it.
We not only get the content, we get good content. Contents that work more for the University and meet the needs of users.
We leave the sessions with a much deeper understanding of the topic. Colleagues walk away with a better idea of who their audience is and how to write better for the web.
Writing in pairs may not be for everyone, or for every task, but it was certainly effective for this project, which would not have been completed in the allotted time if we had worked individually. I can only suggest you give it a try to see if it works for you!
It’s obviously not for everyone or all projects, but we find working face-to-face to be a much friendlier and more effective approach to getting good web content.