How Writers Can Improve by
Contributing to Content Communities

See also: Effective Team-Working Skills

Writing is a discipline, with all the connotations that word brings. Talent and disposition enter into it, but it’s ultimately a grind like any other skill: something to be honed through hard-fought increments. And while the key is writing more (with a special mention going to reading more), there are countless things you could write and myriad scenarios in which you could write them.

You could take up abstract poetry, wrapping your brain around different meter arrangements and ruminating on the optimal deployment of synecdoche. There’s a lot of value to be found there. Or you could start plotting out a novel: laying the groundwork, figuring out a satisfying ending, creating the connective tissue that will keep all the chapters in line.

Pretty much any writing task you choose will improve your writing (provided you make a real effort to do it well), but each one will improve your writing in different ways. One task that can prove highly productive in a real-world sense is contributing to content communities: sites that see many contributors share, discuss and collaborate on content.

In this post, we’re going to look at how writers can improve their skills by contributing to content communities, considering what makes it so different from other tasks. Let’s get started:

They can get better at fulfilling briefs

Whether you’re a writer in a set role for a company, a freelancer with a tendency to be given specific types of work, or self-employed and getting ahead through pitching assignments or creating your own work for a particular audience of readers, you need to be able to follow a concept through to fruition. Sitting at a desk, hammering out whatever words happen to drizzle from your mental nozzle, and spinning that into profit? Very unlikely, regardless of your ability.

Because content communities need to hold together (bound by compatible themes and set styles), and because audiences like familiarity, content needs to follow certain rules (covering things like headline styles, paragraph formats, and the user of imagery). Those rules preclude freewheeling creativity. Instead, they demand constrained creativity: knowing the options available to you, and finding ways to be creative despite the limitations.

And when there’s a gap to be filled — something yet to be covered — it’s a great idea to fill it. Perhaps some new innovation has hit the mainstream and needs to be documented. These things require writers to meet expectations, helping them get better at writing within the lines.

They can add to their researching skills

Writing non-fiction can be very freeing, because you don’t need to stick to reality and thus don’t need to fact-check anything. You can simply invent a world of your own. But if that allows your research skills to atrophy, it can become a major problem, because research is a core part of almost every variety of professional writing — so you need to be good at it.

Many content communities were set up with encyclopedic intentions, and there are far more of them out there than you might think. For one example, visit Everipedia: originally a fork of the better-known Wikipedia, it has a different contribution system and a lot of opportunities for new writers to provide citation-heavy content. Taking the time to work on a handful of posts (and getting advice from seasoned contributors) could really help with future research projects.

They can learn to collaborate on projects

Writing can be solitary if that’s how you’d prefer to approach it: indeed, it’s always solitary in a practical sense, because you can’t realistically have two people working on the same passage at the same time. But there’s a lot of writing that ultimately requires multiple writers, whether to enrich it creatively or simply hasten its completion: take the website for an enterprise-level business, for instance, that might require original content for each of thousands of pages.

By participating in a large project (perhaps with the goal of covering every subtopic for a particular area), a writer can get some invaluable experience of collaboration. They can learn how to follow guidelines, match their style to that of others, and communicate with others to ensure a sensible workload distribution. If they aspire to one day work in a managerial role, this can give them an excellent foundation for getting to that point.

They can become accustomed to being edited

Sites like YouTube (technically a content community) are restricted in various ways, but they’re generally very open in terms of format, and contributors have total creative control over their work provided they meet the provided standards. When you upload a video of your opinions about the latest blockbuster, YouTube moderators don’t get to re-cut it to change the narrative and replace your original file. They can remove it, demonetize it, or leave it alone.

Most content communities don’t work this way, though: they require contributors to submit their work to be peer-reviewed and edited, and will generally have them in editing for a long while before posting them. It’s all part of the vetting process. Once a writer earns the trust of the community, their work will stop needing to be reviewed so thoroughly, but that can’t be rushed.

Very few writers like having their work edited, but it’s a necessary part of the process, and growing a thick skin about writing criticism is a key survival mechanism. Due to the stringent requirements of some content communities, they can effectively steel writers against the sting of criticism, setting them up for long-lasting careers in the broader media industry.

Content communities are interesting places, full of contributors who don’t get paid and don’t get much credit for their work yet strive to meet exacting standards for the sake of accuracy and usefulness. You can view it as noble to some extent, but even if you’re not an altruist, it’s still worth getting involved if you’re eager to take your writing skills to the next level. You might just find that it’s exactly what you’ve been looking for.

About the Author

Laura May is Digital Editor at Just Another Magazine. We write about beauty, fashion, lifestyle, relationships, travel, trends and anything else that matters to you. Name throwing you off? Don’t take it too seriously – we intend to stand out from the crowd.