14. March 2023 - Jeffrey A. McGuire

Editing Codes Refresher. Podcast Ep 13

Learn where the Editing Codes came from, their influences, and how we developed them at OSP. 


In this episode, Jeffrey A. "jam" McGuire sits down with Chris Fenwick, the newest member of OSP. They take a lightning tour of how the Editing Codes came to be, and why they are so useful in our daily work.

Welcome to the Open Strategy Partners podcast, "Communicate, Connect, Grow!" At Open Strategy Partners, we specialize in strategic product communication. We help you communicate the value of what you do, connect you with the people who need to know about it, and grow.

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The Major Influences on OSP Culture

When Tracy and Jam met and formed OSP as co-founders, they knew they wanted to create something different. “Before OSP, several of us had come out of difficult work environments,” says Jam. “We wanted to build a culture at OSP that was the opposite. So we gathered and pooled our influences.” These significant influences include:

  1. Nonviolent communication (NVC). A communication framework that emphasizes empathetic listening and communication with honesty, authenticity, and respect for others. 
  2. Positive psychology. A scientific approach that aims to identify and cultivate positive emotions, character strengths, and meaningful relationships to promote well-being and personal growth.
  3. Gratitude practices. Linked to numerous mental and physical health benefits, practicing gratitude regularly can help increase positive emotions, improve relationships, and even help your sleep.
  4. Open source. Transparency, collaboration, and being community-driven are values core to an open source working style.

How Culture Translated into Codes

An especially salient and thorny experience helped spark the idea for the Editing Codes: Jam editing Tracy’s writing. “She was getting upset when I was making changes, but seeing that the result was better,” says Jam. “And it was very hard for us to talk about why it was better.”

Tracy and Jam knew this frustrating pattern wasn’t working. They needed an editing process that was more defined, systematic, and less personal. So Jam, Tracy, and other early team members started recording Jam doing “live editing” sessions (he’s really good at these!). In these sessions:

  1. Jam would talk out loud as he edited a piece of writing
  2. Team members would follow along and ask questions 
  3. The team captured the edits, questions, and answers

Later, the team reviewed and distilled the notes, and organized them into sound, practical, and clear writing and editing principles. In addition, the team worked to ensure these principles embodied the values and influences OSP holds most dear. These principles became our Editing codes, and we continue developing, pruning, and using the Codes today.

The Editing Codes Emerged

As the Editing Codes evolved, we organized them into process phase, category, principle, and OSP Pillar. Try out our Guide to get a feel for them.

OSP Created Other Value-Driven Practices 

OSP’s culture didn’t just influence the birth of the Codes. Permutations of these values inform 

how we write, edit, and interact with each other at OSP. Here’s how we put them into practice.

The Positivity Pass 

The Positivity Pass notes the positive elements of another person’s writing piece as you edit it. “If the writer who you're helping has done something well, it's really worth stopping and telling them that,” says Jam. We use the Positivity Pass daily at OSP, and we’ve noticed how it encourages good writing habits, helps ease feedback anxiety, and fosters stronger relationships between colleagues.

When combined with the Codes, some Positivity Pass examples might look like: 

++COLOR  I love this turn of phrase, wow. 

++ METPH This metaphor about a log jam to describe the process is fantastic. Let’s extend that across the whole article. 

Learn how you can use the Positivity Pass.

A Collaborative and Shared Learning Dynamic

In a traditional writer/editor relationship, the editor has more power, and often, the final say. Jam noticed how this dynamic played out in his past working experiences. “I would write something and throw it over the wall to an editor. They would change it, and often I wouldn’t see it again until it was published with my name on it — in a form that I wasn't happy with.” Jam didn’t want this confusing, inconsistent, “black box” to happen at OSP. “I wanted to be able to learn, and I wanted to be able to show people clearly what I thought,” he says.

Mission accomplished! At OSP, we treat writing and editing as a collaborative learning process between peers, with the Editing Codes as a guide and aid. The process is not purely “corrective”, nor is it a one-way street between writer and editor; it’s more of a conversation. Both parties get to share and teach each other, and the writer chooses whether to accept a suggestion. With the Editing Codes, both writer and editor have a shared language to stay on the same page.

Giving and Receiving Feedback Gracefully

Writing can feel especially vulnerable, and there’s always some trepidation when a writer sends their work off to an editor. While writers may know rationally that our editor is trying to make our strong piece even stronger, this doesn’t always land emotionally. “It’s tough for any human to deal with feedback without taking it personally,” says Jam frankly. 

This is a place where the Editing Codes can step in to help. For one thing, they provide a coherent framework for new writers who may be sensitive to assessments of their work. “When you’re working with less experienced writers, every word is their baby and it's incredibly hard to take feedback,” says Jam. “The Codes are systematic, so it’s not personal.”  He also thinks the Codes serve as a sort of intermediary that keeps the conversation's focus on the writing (not the person). “When we separate the writing from the person, and can point to these Editing Code concepts, it helps the feedback go down more easily,” he says.

A fresh perspective: faster and more empathetic editing 

Chris Fenwick, one of our newest additions to OSP, is also new to learning the Editing Codes. What does he think so far? “The Editing Codes can definitely speed things up. The basic idea distilled in the Code can be added immediately in a comment,” he says. “For an editor who already knows all the Codes off the top of their head (still getting there!), it makes offering feedback much faster.”

In addition to speed, Chris has noticed something else. “The Editing Codes also aren't just used to offer criticism. You use them to show the writer when something is done well.”

Our Editing Codes help us learn together, be clear in our communication, and demonstrate our positive regard in a concrete way. “It's really a whole communication language,” says Jam, “and we’re proud of it.”

Try our Quick Start Guide.

Creating transparent communication takes practice — join us!

Using the Editing Codes helps you and your colleagues make steps toward positive communication and clearer editing and writing.

To get in touch with us, follow what we're doing, or learn about our Writer Enablement Workshops, email us at hello@openstrategypartners.com, or hit us up on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

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Episode Transcript

From the robot transcription mines, we bring you at least some words from our episode in an order that might or might not reflect our intentions. 

Carl Richards: 0:07

Hi, I'm Carl from OSP. And this is communicate, connect grow the OSP podcast, we divide our episodes across three themes communicate, connect, and grow. This is a communicate episode, where we have a bit of a refresher on the editing codes system we use here at OSP. Jam sits down with the newest member of the OSP family, Chris Fenwick, an experienced writer and editor with an interest in contemporary science and technology. They discussed Chris's initial thoughts about the editing codes, and how they can help us at OSP be more effective writers and more transparent editors. This is a lightning tour of how the codes came to be and why they are so useful in our daily work. Please enjoy this conversation with jam and Chris!

Jeffrey A. McGuire: 1:11

Hello, Chris Fenwick, how are you?

Chris Fenwick: 1:13

I'm very well, thank you.

Jeffrey A. McGuire: 1:15

This is your first time on what we call OS pod internally, the OSP podcast, formally, we call it communicate, connect, grow, which are where our founding principles when we started this thing off. Welcome to OSP, you are our newest communications consultant, how's it been so far?

Chris Fenwick: 1:35

Very interesting. It's quite nice having a variety of clients to work with, which is different from before. I mean, I used to do freelancing, but then for the last four years, I worked internally with one tech startup doing their comps. So going back to having some variety in the clients is is quite enjoyable.

Jeffrey A. McGuire: 1:55

Right? We do have variety, we have a bunch of different people doing really different things in the technical agency, technical product, and open source project space. And it is a joy for me to be able to help people who are my, my peers, and my professional friends in the in the tech world that I come from, help them communicate about their businesses tell the right sorts of stories to help them grow. And with our strategic advice along the way, five years into this, now we can, we can see that it helps them which is incredibly gratifying to me. And since we came out of open source, part of how we operate on a daily basis is to share the things that we learn. And we know. And that is one of the reasons why we have a podcast. And that is one of the reasons why we're doing this particular kind of podcast where we share sort of a quick tip about how we think about writing and editing. You have not been with us very long, but you have encountered our editing code system. And so today as we're sitting in the in the studio, we're we're preparing to talk about three different codes. And I know that you've been talking with Felicity about the codes. So that's where this next question is going. So, Chris, what do you think of this OSP idea of having a codified set of writing and editing code. So far,

Chris Fenwick: 3:19

I haven't been here very long so far. So I haven't had, I haven't actually done any editing work on other people's copy myself. So I've not been able to use them from that site. I think in principle, it can definitely speed things up because you have a sort of a basic idea that is distilled in the code that then can be added immediately in a comment. So I think for an editor who already knows all the codes off the top of their head, for example, then it definitely speeds up the process of offering of offering feedback. And I mean, I've also noticed that the codes aren't just used to offer criticism, but you can put sort of double plus sign and use them to show when something is done. Well.

Jeffrey A. McGuire: 4:08

Yeah. So in our founding phase, several of us had come out of difficult work environments. And we wanted to build a culture that was the opposite of that. And we've been really strongly influenced by nonviolent communication, by positive psychology by gratitude practices. And part of the idea of the editing codes and exactly the point that you mentioned, we have a quick phase in our process called the positivity pass. If the writer who you're helping has done something, well, it's really worth stopping and, and, and telling them this is good. We look at writing and editing, first of all as a collaborative learning process between peers. And part of that comes from my origin story where I would write something, basically throw it over the wall to somebody else. Who would do stuff and I might or might not see it again, before it was published with my name on it in a form that I wasn't happy with. Or my boss would make 34% of it, how he wanted and then run out of time. And I had to guess what was going on. So I wanted to be able to learn, and I wanted to be able to show people clearly what I thought. And so if you're told, "Hey, this is great, this stylistic choice, this, whatever, that's great," that helps you that helps reinforce, you know, doing the good things. We also, if you've worked with less experienced writers, they, they every word is their baby. And you know, it's incredibly hard to take feedback. And also, just as humans, it's really hard to deal with feedback in general without taking it personally. And I feel that having these codes, it lets us be transparent, it lets us be clear about our intentions. And that it's, it's, it's also sort of systematic, and so that's not personal. But there's a psychological concept where if you're fighting with someone, and you have a problem with their behavior, instead of saying you always are you never or you, you, you can say, this behavior, this thing, this kind of event, so and so. And it removes that conversation from them to talking about the thing in between you. And sometimes when I when I'm in this kind of a conversation with someone, I'll even sort of, because I'm a very gesticulate person, I'll like sort of name it and I'll wrap my hands around it or move it to another place in the room. And then I'll point over there to like, let my emotions out. And I find that really helpful. I believe that talking about the writing as a process and calm these, these, naming these concepts, helps us, I believe the word is disintermediate, the like, separate to the writing from the person, and and helps the feedback go down better. And another thing that we do in general, as we use these to ... we don't say, "Hey, you did this, and I corrected it that was wrong. Now it's right." Generally will say, Hey, this is the original, and I suggest maybe this would be clearer or stronger or more colorful or something. And that gives the author the chance to say hey, I love that everything's better now. Or they say, "You know, I thought about this really carefully. And no, I don't agree with that feedback. So I want to leave it how it was." Or what happens to me very often is I'll see what I originally did, I'll see a suggestion that's very smart, and better than mine. And then, hey, somewhere along, there's something even better, like a third idea that that maximizes everyone's input. And I'm, and I love that process. And so this, this helps us learn together, this helps us be clear, clear with each other. It's kind of a whole communication, facilitation language somehow I know that's a huge amount of me talking about these things. But it came out of a whole bunch of experiences. And basically, Tracy, the other co founder here, she's not a writer, I was editing her stuff. She was getting upset when I was making changes, but seeing that the result was better. And it was very hard for us to talk about why it was better. So in our first two or three years in with our earliest employees, we did a lot of sessions where I would edit texts and talk out loud, and people would ask me questions as I was going, and we captured these things as we went. So I'm glad you like them so far. And I hope you I hope you find them as helpful and useful as, as we have over the last few years developing and applying them. That was a huge amount of words that I just blasted at you. Do you gotta get sure what the question should be.

Chris Fenwick: 8:37

I mean, I feel like I have to wait and see and how ... spend more time using them also for myself. Yeah, that's totally fair. Okay, and in this recording session, which we'll be releasing in the next couple of episodes, we'll be discussing three codes which are quite general and generally applicable. So good writing, which are lead clear and gram. Terrific.

Jeffrey A. McGuire: 9:01

So I look forward to it. In the podcast land, see you next time in recruiting session land. Now we keep talking.

Carl Richards: 9:28

Share your examples or questions with us via Twitter at open underscore strategy or email Hello at openstrategypartners.com. If you'd like to learn more in the meantime, come on over to openstrategypartners.com. Have a look at our writer enablement workshops, case study offering or get in touch to talk about your strategy or product communication needs. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this podcast, all the Peas at OSP thanks to our clients who believe in us, shout out to Patrick Gaumont for our high energy, maple syrup flavored theme music and to Mike Snow for additional horn arrangements. Thank you for listening and subscribing! About our three themes on the podcast, you'll hear different members of the OSP team hosting episodes over time, communicate all things communication. We share how we tackle writing, editing, word choices, formats, processes, and more. Connect in depth conversations with interesting smart people about who they are, what they do, and how they approach their life and work as communicators, technologists and leaders grow. We cover approaches to understanding and expressing the value of what you do, including tools, templates, and practical applications. We also feel strongly about building a mindful positive human first culture at work that's bound to pop up from time to time to this podcast is us figuring out communication connection and growing together. Subscribe now on YouTube, Apple podcasts or the podcast channel of your choice. Follow us suggest guests and topics. Ask us questions on social media. We are @open_strategy on Twitter. Until next time, I'm Carl Richards and this is the OSP podcast.


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