Motivating Volunteer Writers
How is editing a newsletter different from editing co-workers’
documents? First, the writers are volunteers. They can quit writing for
you at any time. Second, often you never meet the writers face-to-face
and interact only by email.
How to keep writers wanting to write:
Edit politely. While you may need to be brutally
honest in your editing, you do not need to be brutal. Asking “I’m
reading this as X, but I don’t think that was your intent. Does
Y sound better?” is much nicer than “Awkward, rewrite!”
don’t rewrite. One responsibility as editor is to let
the voice of the author come through, not your own voice, tone, or
- Educate, don’t lecture. If you have a style
guide in place and the author hasn’t followed it, suggest the
author review the style guide for future submissions. Additionally,
if the author requires some basic grammar assistance, don’t chide,
but make helpful suggestions.
- Make review copies available. If you’ve extensively
edited an article, let the author see it before it is published. Edits
can misstate the author’s point, although it may not seem that
way to you.
- Remember that English may be a second language or the writer
may be inexperienced. Do not get frustrated with the author.
Sometimes the best articles come from less skilled writers who just
need help expressing themselves.
- Work with the authors. Treat them as you’d
like to be treated. You depend upon them for input and ideas. Do treat
- Help and advise when necessary with new writers. There
are times when a writer needs handholding. It might be the first article
they’ve written, or the topic may be more extensive than they
anticipated. Check in with them and ask how it’s going, and offer
help if wanted. It also never hurts to check in with established writers
and ask how it’s going.
- Maintain contact. When the newsletter is published,
let the authors know. Many authors want to read what they’ve written
and tell their friends, co-workers, and family. That brings more readers
to your site (if online) or more potential long-term readers (if in
print). Also, if there is a request for a reprint, let the author know.
Tell the writers you appreciated them writing for you and, when truthful,
say you’d welcome working with them again.
Volunteer writers have particular ideas about their articles.
You do not want to publish blank pages; a writer does not want an article
to be changed so much that it is no longer recognizable as his or her
work. As an editor, you want to publish the best possible newsletter,
but not at the expense of alienating the people who provide the content.