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A guide to the 18F Writing Lab

We’ve got some exciting news on the content front: To help our Writing Lab become even more efficient, we’re introducing our Writing Lab guide. The guide is designed to equip 18F staff with the information they need to quickly and easily request writing and editing help from the Lab, and also to provide our Lab editors with guidance on editing styles and workflows so we can provide a smooth experience for staff who request the Lab’s help.

In case you missed our last post, the Lab is a virtual writing center where 18F staffers can get personalized writing and editing help from members of the 18F editorial team, which includes members of the Content Guild, the Experience Design Content Team, and the Outreach Team. We provide short-term, ad-hoc writing and editing help for the rest of the 18F team. Our goal is to make sure every piece of content 18F produces matches our content guidelines, and also to lift the writing and editing burden off the rest of our staff so they can spend their time working on projects with our partner agencies.

Since launching in June 2015, the Lab has been popular among 18F team members. We’ve completed 144 individual projects, including writing and editing position descriptions for our talent team, editing a series of Node.js tutorials, standardizing the voice and tone of our internal team handbook, and refining many other presentations, blog posts, one sheets, and sections of site copy.

As we’ve grown, we’ve noticed a need for expanded documentation of our internal processes. Though, all things considered, the Lab has run really smoothly these past ten months, Lab editors have encountered a few hiccups. For instance, Lab editors often debated the proper protocol for closing issues in the Writing Lab’s GitHub repo. Some editors preferred to close an issue as soon as they completed a client’s request, while others waited to get the client’s OK before closing. Identifying and codifying the preferred process has resolved these debates. (If you’re wondering, the proper closing procedure is to contact the client and ask them whether it’s OK for you to close the issue. If you don’t get a response within two days, close the issue with a comment saying you can reopen it if there’s more work to be done!)

In addition to documenting the workflows we already follow and the expectations we hold, the Writing Lab Guide also introduces new material. For example, the metadata section provides guidance on estimating how long your request will take to fulfill. Suppose you’d like help fleshing out an idea for a presentation; how much time do you think your request will take? If you answered “at least one hour,” you’re correct! Generative-help requests almost always take at least an hour because they involve research, brainstorming, writing, and editing. This guide will help folks using the Lab make more accurate requests, which, in turn, will help Lab editors better budget their time.

We encourage you to review the entire guide and share your feedback with us. To suggest topics we can cover (or to recommend updates to existing topics), open an issue in our repo. We review and respond to issues as quickly as we can. Likewise, we encourage you to start your own Writing Lab — stay tuned for more posts on this topic!

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