You Can’t Learn Without Feedback
I run a web publishing business, and lately I have been focusing on the question of content quality. I want to produce the best possible articles that I can. I want to do this as an editor, and not as a writer.
The question is, how?
In an attempt to answer that question, I’ve been trying a lot of new things.
But it always comes down to a question of feedback.
The writers I hire need to know whether they are producing quality content. They need feedback in order to know whether they are improving in the right direction or not.
But, it’s not just the writers who need to learn, and who need feedback. It’s me too. I still have a lot to learn as an editor. And that means I need feedback.
But feedback doesn’t mean I need to go ask people what to do, or how I’m doing. It means I need to think of a new way of doing things, try it, and then observe the results. Those results are my feedback.
An Article is a Test
When we publish an article, I like to think of it as a test. It’s a test of whether or not the audience will read it. It’s a pretty simple test that I’ve relied on for a long time. After all, if nobody’s reading, then the quality of the content does not matter.
But that simple test does very little to answer the question of quality.
For example, for our website Freedom With Writing, we aim to publish articles that help writers get paid. The real test would be to know whether or not the readers are getting paid after following our advice. Are our articles leading directly to writers getting paid? The answer to that question would be a very good way of determining the quality of that article.
But that’s not something we’ve figured out how to answer yet.
But even if we can’t answer that question, simply knowing it exists helps us tremendously. Why? We can still use own judgement to ‘guess’ at the outcome.
For example, we publish articles about companies that are ready, willing, and able to pay writers. Why? Because those articles are more likely to fulfill our goal.
Our intuition is sometimes the best feedback available to us. But that intuition can be improved by clearly defining an outcome we want to measure, even if we’re not able to measure it.
I’m still learning how to be a good editor.
My current theory, is that my job as an editor is to define the desired outcomes of the articles we produce, and then communicate that outcome to the writer, along with a suggested path for acheiving it.
How well the article achieves those outcomes is the feedback I get. The feedback that the writer gets is the same as mine: They too, learn how closely the outcomes aligned with the goal.
An Editors Job…
All of this means that my job is to get better at defining outcomes, and then communicating them to the writers.
This means coming up with good questions that can be used to judge the quality of the writing.
These questions can be answered by both me and the writer.
Did the article actually get read by the desired number of people?
How many “Likes” did the article get compared to previous articles?
If the reader follows the advice in the article, how likely are they to get a freelance writing assignment?
Does the article give concrete actions for the reader to follow? Are they clear and easy to understand? Are they applicable to a broad section of the audience, or a narrow one?
The answers to these questions can be thought of as guides to quality.
But it’s possible that this entire line of reasoning is wrong. I haven’t tested it yet. It is based on a lot of assumptions, and not on experience or fact.
The next step…
The next step in my journey as an editor will be to use these ideas when working with my writers. I’m going to be sending them clear ideas of the expected outcomes the reader should experience.
I’ll also send them a set of questions they can use to guide their writing.
My learning will be based on the results.
I hope to report back soon!