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I volunteer as an editor for the Mozilla Developer Network (MDN), an organization that creates free open source software such as the Firefox browser. MDN has a large number of technical topics awaiting review, around 625 at this moment.

Most topics are very short and well-written, so they require few if any edits. Other topics are long and written by smart people who aren't great at technical writing. Very few topics are poorly written. The scope, pace, and choice of topics to edit are up to the editor. The style guidelines are not stringent. So far, I haven't come across any interactive examples that need testing.

I enjoy editing, and I find contributing to open source software gratifying. It also improves my writing/editing skills, and I gain technical knowledge. However, there aren't a lot of extrinsic rewards, such as earning reputation points.

People who volunteer do this have to be mostly content to work quietly in the background. Do you have any suggestions on how to attract and retain like-minded technical editors?

  • Publishing here is a good start! – lonstar Jan 4 '16 at 6:01
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    The senior editor for MDN provided the following additional information:One quick way to get your feet wet with MDN is to do editorial reviews. Many of our contributors are not native English speakers, so their content often needs a good copy-edit. Doing some editorial reviews will help you get familiar with the editing environment, and with some of the content on MDN. Here are instructions on how to do that: developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/MDN/Contribute/Howto/… – rolfedh Jan 5 '16 at 23:58
  • For creating new content, we need help with the "Learning Area", which has tutorials for people who are learning web development with no previous programming experience. We need tutorials written, and especially "active learning" exercises or activities for learners to try on their own, to get familiar with specific concepts. Here is an overview of ways to contribute to the Learning Area: developer.mozilla.org/en-US/Learn/How_to_contribute – rolfedh Jan 6 '16 at 0:00
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    Could you say a little more about what the editing task entails? Are reviewers/editors mainly cleaning up bad English, or are they restructuring sections of documentation, enforcing style guidelines, testing examples to see if they work, expanding terse or incomplete documentation, etc? The skills, commitment levels, and rewards are different depending on what the task is. Thanks! – Monica Cellio Jan 6 '16 at 1:18
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    Thanks, @Joe. My question is sincere. In particular the part about retaining them. I'm stumped. I am looking for some way to support and motivate people who volunteer for projects like this. – rolfedh Jan 6 '16 at 12:05
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I write voluntarilly on sites like this. But I also write for money. (My full time job is school teacher.) What motivates me to write in different circumstances varies. For example, when writing teaching resources I don't usually accept a job for less than thirty pounds per hour. However, writing here doesn't pay. I do it because I get satisfaction out of helping people and because writing about topics makes my thinking about them clearer. One thing that helps me appreciate how I am helping other people is the voting system on the site. If people like my answers they vote them up. If they don't like them they vote them down. There is a tangible response to what I contribute.

I just asked my son, who contributed a huge amount of material to a Pokemon site, why he did it. He said, 'Because I thought I was helping people.' He received an award, a copy of a new game, because of his contributions, but he didn't do it for the reward. He did it because he thought he "could contribute something worthwhile".

What I see Mozilla asking for is money or my time to read about new features, etc. I don't see requests for writers. I don't see benefits for writers. I am the sort of person who is prepared to do this sort of job and yet I wasn't aware that there was a need. You need to make this more visible.

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I'm multi-tasking at my current job where one of my duties is writing technical documents. I was in a team for the last 10 months whose job was creating the user, spare parts, quick-start manuals for 2 of the main product lines. Last week I've started creating the service workflows and how-to articles teaming with one senior field technician. This senior technician is very enthusiastic about the documentation project and willingly contributes his experience but doesn't lay his hand onto the keyboard to write anything. I don't want to lose this opportunity so I don't complain and do the writing, reviewing, editing etc part, too.

As a side job I'm acting as the scrummaster of the R&D department and trying to convince them to write everything, anyhow they want to express themselves promising them that I'm going to do the review-edit part. The R&D documentation project doesn't have any pressure or backing from the management so I'm having trouble convincing the R&D team to write down their procedures. None of them is willingly taking part.

My case is not exactly what you're dealing with but my experience tells me that writing is not for everyone and people mostly do rely on their memory to do their jobs. I only had success in convincing people to contribute to documentation in cases where the contributing party really needed this content and had someone willing to do the writing part of the job.

So I guess that in your case, you have to find out practical documentation necessities, be available for content contributers, announce it, and unfortunately do some voluntary writing and share it with the community. My guess is if you insist doing that for some time you'll start building up a little group of like minded writers (hopefully).

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