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Ask HN: anyone interested in forming a group to review each others' copy?
27 points by nonrecursive on Dec 20, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments
I'm creating a new site for an iphone app I've developed, and I've been writing a lot of copy. It'd be very helpful to me get others' feedback, especially from folks here who are in the same boat. At the same time, I'd be very happy to provide feedback for others. I am not a professional writer but I do think I'm able to provide constructive criticism for most kinds of writing.

In the past I had created a web site, hallwaytesting.com, which was supposed to be a community for people to get usability and give feedback on their sites. I shut it down because I and one other person were providing the majority of the feedback, while most people would only ask for feedback and never give it. I'd like to prevent that from happening again, so I think it would be better to have a private, closed community (or group of communities) of people who could learn about each others' writing needs over time.

If it's an indication of the kind of the writing feedback I would give, you can have a look at http://www.usabilityfeedback.com/example/overall_impressions.html . I would probably not go into such exhaustive detail (the above is a paid service), but it should give an idea of how observant and articulate I am.

I'm not sure how to get something like this organized, so if someone's interested and capable of organizing - please lead the way!

I am no longer a professional writer, but most of us I know are happy to give feedback if specifically asked. (As the saying goes, it's a lot easier to be an editor than a writer.)

The problem I've had with doing startup copy reviews is that it often bleeds into product critiques. As Sean Ellis says, if your survey.io question responses are in the 25-40% range, the issue is often your positioning, not your product.

I'd be happy to join you in this endeavor, but I think you're asking the wrong questions. I think you should really focus on getting real user feedback rather than "expert" feedback on how to make your positioning clearer. Again, your positioning itself may be wrong, and only real user testing and questioning will make this evident.

I think you make many valid points. Get user feedback, whether by asking or by doing a/b tests or whatever, is definitely the surest way to know if your copy is effective.

Still, I think that getting feedback from your peers can be helpful. Your peers can answer basic questions like, "Does this writing make sense?" and "Is it interesting or boring?" They can also offer suggestions, like "Try speaking to the users emotions rather than simply stating what your product does."

I think it would also be useful to get feedback when it's time sensitive. For example, I'd like to get feedback on the copy of my iPhone app before actually releasing it, since most app sales occur within the first 6 weeks of release. Getting feedback beforehand seems like it would be useful.

I also want to clarify that my intention is not just to share marketing copy for feedback, but also blog posts of any kind - technical, personal, whatever. (Unfortunately I can't update the original post to specify this). In those cases I imagine discussion wouldn't revolve around marketing, but just around writing.

Thanks again for your feedback!

Lacking this type of a group, here are some ideas to get feedback on copy:

1) If it's a title or something short, take out Google Ads and see which ads yield the most clicks.

2) If you want to get more in-depth feedback, consider a service like http://www.feedbackarmy.com. (Disclosure: it's my service). Feedback Army is nothing more than a front-end to Mechanical Turk. I'd summarize what I expect someone to take away from the copy and ask those as questions to see if the reviewers "get it". Also when you do this, small mistakes (like spelling errors) will get picked up. I see this all the time.

3) I usually find a friend to read my copy. Barring those, I harass my sister on Skype. This works too.

Best of luck!

What's your sister's Skype username?

I kid, I kid. I've been sending my writing to a few friends as well and that's been useful. However, I'd like it to be a reciprocal activity, as I'm quite happy to read other people's work and comment on it. I also think it'd be nice to, in a way, work together with fellow HN folks for an extended period of time.

Probably part of the reason your community ended up the way it did is because it is a very common paradigm that there are a few people who are deemed "experts" and the rest are deemed "beggars". I've belonged to a number of lists where a few people were treated like they had all the answers and everyone else acted like they had nothing to contribute and were only there to get support, not give it. (This is similar to the school paradigm where the teacher and one or two bright kids are viewed as the only folks having answers. So most people readily adopt such a social assumption.)

I have managed on some lists to reduce that tendency. One issue is that giving advice is "status-y" and often the people giving most of the advice try to hog status. One way they try to protect their turf is by vehemently arguing with anyone who puts forth a different point of view. This kills conversation and makes most people scared to speak up, especially if the owner/moderator is someone who happens to be doing this. One thing that helps reduce this tendency is a requirement to 1) cite your sources or 2) speak from first-hand experience. The second criteria means that saying "I think" and "I feel" and "In my experience/view" works better than saying "You should" or similar. This is hard when the express purpose of a forum is to give such feedback but keeping it from coming across as personal criticism makes a big difference.

Another thing that helps is "greeting people at the door". Encourage new people to post an intro. Make sure you personally welcome them warmly no matter how boring, bland, and uninteresting their intro is. Set the example for others to follow in that regard.

On one list I belonged to, introductions got replied to only if someone said something interesting and engaging enough to inspire commentary and discussion. I noticed that folks whose intro inspired conversation jumped right into discussion with both feet. People who got utterly ignored seemed to never post again. When I became moderator, I had two personal rules: 1) Greet everyone at the door and 2) Don't tolerate 'orphan' threads -- if no one said anything in reply to a thread, I would go back after a few days and reply even if I had no answers. Sometimes this did help get other replies. If it didn't, the person at least did not feel shunned. Within a week, the list went from cold and low traffic, to warm, lively and high traffic.

Good luck with this.

Why waste 20 minutes of a professional developer's time, multiplied by the average number of reviewers, with a bonus for bad advice due to inexperience?

You know those clients who think programming is easy? Writing and reviewing copy is hard. So is pretending that you're an unbiased fresh-minded user, in a group of novice reviewers.


1) Tell me what you think the site is for. 2) Is this site attractive? 3) Try to perform task X, cancel before it asks for credit card info, and tell me what the most annoying thing was. 4) etc.

Send them several sites to review, including yours and your competitors'. Save $200 or heaps of everyone's time. Or pay a professional.

Personally, I would not find it a waste to spend 20 minutes reading and providing feedback. I think it would hone my own writing abilities. Also, I wouldn't mind if I got bad advice. Live and learn.

I picture this as a good way to a) get feedback, b) improve your writing skills, and c) connect with other developers. Mechanical turk can provide a, might help with b, but in no way can provide c.

That said, it's definitely a good choice if you just want feedback on your copy. An even better choice is a/b testing.

Really cool idea. I'd be interested in joining and perhaps adding some thinking to how it might leverage game mechanics to make it more interesting... letting the best/most prolific editors/proofreaders/copy writers rise to the top.

Do we simply create a www.stackoverflow.com type system for web copy?

Something like stack overflow is not what I would desire. It's simply too large, whereas I'd rather "work" with a smallish group of people. Or perhaps have multiple groups of people, and mix up the groups periodically.

Could you please send me an email? My address is in my profile.

I'm interested.

I think the easiest way to kick things off might be a simple reply-all discussion by email.

Agree, was going to suggest a Google group.

Whatever gets setup, add me to the list: george@illuminatikarate.com.

I'd be interested as well. I think it would be best to follow the model used by online peer review sites like critters.org. Ie, you have to do n number of reviews before you would have your own copy reviewed. This worked very well.

could you please send me an email? my address is in my profile.

It's interesting that you shut the previous community down. Why didn't you iterate? Force people to provide X feedback for others in order to get Y feedback for yourself?

I just didn't have the time for it and wanted to use the server resources for something else. It also just seemed like the spirit of the community had changed in a way that I didn't know how to reverse. Too many people who didn't know each other at all.

If you're interested please email me (my email's on my profile). Once it looks like the thread's quieted down I'll send out an email to everyone. Thanks!

Just make a google group - I'd join it.

Is there a Google Wave / Group for this? My email is the the profile.

I don't see your email. Did you put it in your "about" section?

No, sorry – it's "pornografi", domain is gmail.com

update: google group created: http://groups.google.com/group/writing-feedback

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