John Witherow is hard at work today, but luckily most of his work will be done by other people – his team. For John is the long-standing Editor of The Sunday Times and will be beavering away today so that we can get the paper in the morning. Luckily, he doesn’t have to write it all himself; we could be waiting several weeks otherwise for him to get it all done. The way The Sunday Times works – even if you don’t like its politics or doubt its accuracy – is an important lesson for website owners. Indeed, new research on Wikipedia shows that the collaborative way in which content is produced is, in fact, the best way to go about it.
This research, from the University of Arizona, found that the highest quality entries on Wikipedia were those with most collaboration and in which the teams putting together the article had specific roles. Some people merely added content, others added content and justified it, and others re-wrote and edited material. The researchers found that when teams were working together, with individuals taking up specific kinds of writing and editing tasks, the quality of the resulting article was highest.
Strangely, this is the way newspapers work. Different people in the production process have specific writing and editing roles. Reporters merely write the articles. Sub-editors then seek to justify that what has been written is correct and that it fits the space. “Back Bench” editors, as they are called, then re-write and hone the article so that it fits the political viewpoint of the publication. The result is invariably a much better article than even the best reporters can produce. It is a system that goes back centuries and endures today, simply because it works.
With Wikipedia it appears that those articles which have been assembled rather on the newspaper production model are those which are the best ones. In other words, quality content comes from teamwork – but, importantly this research tells us – only when team members are assigned specific roles.
This is an important consideration for many website owners. Much website content is “home produced”, especially in the small business sector. Even if you have a ghost writer, website content rarely goes through much of a review process. Usually what happens is somebody writes it and then someone else approves it. Often that’s the same person – even in big business. The consequent quality of what appears online is therefore not as good as it might be.
So, assembling a website team – with specifically assigned roles – could well help boost engagement as a result of increased quality. Here’s what you could do:
- Appoint a website writer (that might be you, of course)
- Get someome to be the “sub-editor” who checks the text only for accuracy and adds relevant links, pictures, charts and so on
- Ask another person to review the article and re-write it if necessary for grammar, spelling, clarity and house style
Giving people these specific roles will, according to the University of Arizona research, boost your quality. At the moment you might have a couple of people writing and “approving”, but it seems such roles are too generalised. Providing your staff with much more specific roles – just like a newspaper – means your quality will rise.
And what do you do if you are on your own? Easy. Use a three-step process:
- Write the article or blog post, but don’t worry about links and graphics
- Check the article for accuracy and then add relevant links, images and so on
- Come back to the article after a break and then re-read it, concentrating this time on grammar and spelling
Even the worst online writers can improve the quality of their work in this way. And just think, you only have to do it for a few hundred words each day – not the 250,000 words (five novels worth) that will appear in tomorrow’s Sunday Times..!