writing-notebook How to write about open source software

Thanks to the Both.org editors for this interview to help new writers get started writing about open source software.

Both.org is a new community website that publishes articles about all things "open source." This is an excellent venue to learn about how to use open source, and how to get engaged in open source. But it's also a great opportunity to share your perspectives on open source software. Whether you are a new writer looking to gain experience, or an established author who wants to share what you know, Both.org wants to make space for you.

We reached out to the Both.org editors to ask about the website and how new writers can get started writing about open source software.

What kind of website is Both.org? What kinds of articles or content should people expect when they visit Both.org?

Both.org is a site that takes a look at both sides of "open." We talk about open source code, and we talk about open culture. Humans love to share things. We're hardwired for it.

Modern restrictions on sharing the stuff we love is unnatural, and only open licenses, like the GNU General Public License (GPL) and Creative Commons (CC) to name just two, ensure that our culture (digital or otherwise) can remain a common, shareable, and shared experience.

Can anyone contribute an article to Both.org? What kinds of articles can people write?

We write about open code and open culture. If you're writing about something that's open, we're probably keen to publish it. Linux, BSD, Illumos, ReactOS, FreeDOS, and lots of other open source operating systems are great topics. Tutorials are always popular and useful.

You might write about cool new open fonts you love, or a Creative Commons podcast or album, a site with Creative Commons photography or sound effects. Share what you love to share.

We're not interested in topics that aren't about open source - not because those topics aren't worth discussing, but because there are lots of sites on the Internet that can talk about those things. We're focusing on "open."

Does someone need to be an expert on something to write about it?

Not at all. Sometimes the best person to explain a concept is a person who is freshly mystified by it themselves. When you become an expert, you often start to take details for granted. You forget what used to confuse you, and so you don't bother explaining the basics.

We all do it, and it's necessary that we do it because otherwise every article ever written would start back at the beginning of every topic and there'd be no room for advanced content. But there's always a need for a fresh perspective.

You don't have to be an expert, you just have to have had an experience that you want to share with others.

What's the process to submit an article idea?

You can submit your idea for an article you intend to write or an article you have already written to open@both.org. We'll review it to determine whether it's a good fit for the site. We may also test any code or configurations to ensure the information is accurate, and then we'll publish.

We have a pretty light touch when we edit, unless you specifically request help. For instance, if English isn't your native language, then we're happy to smooth out linguistic quirks for you.

How can someone share their article?

Markdown is generally the ideal format for article submissions. It's easy to write, easy to read, easy to edit collaboratively using diff tools or versioning, and it imports easily into our web content management system.

That said, we have a lot of great open source tools available to us, so we can read HTML, LaTeX, Google Docs, Word documents, LibreOffice documents, and other common formats. We don't want the format to be a barrier to submitting your first article, but then again simple is often the best solution for everyone!

But we cannot accept PDF submissions, because a PDF cannot be easily edited.

What does the submission feedback process look like?

If you send us an idea for an article, we'll email you back an expression of interest, or we'll politely decline.

Once you've written the article and sent it to us, we'll email you confirmation that we would like to publish, or not. After that, one editor reviews the article and makes necessary changes. You get a review copy so you can see exactly what we intend to publish. Once you are satisfied, we schedule it to go live.

We're consciously trying to keep the editorial process easy because we're all volunteers, and our aim is to give great content a home on the Internet in a place where lots of people can see it.

We're not interested in creating a laborious, opaque system where articles go to die. We want to remove barriers to collaboration and sharing, and we want to publish articles.

What is your role as editors on the website?

When I first started editing content many years ago, I used to focus on the literal spelling and grammar. Nowadays, I think computers are pretty well positioned to assist with that, so it's a little less important for me to spend time on that. Besides that, I've managed to learn a few things about how people read and learn, and so these days I try to help the author convey information clearly and concisely and accurately.

Sometimes this means splitting up an article that's just too long for anybody to endure. Other times it means removing a paragraph where the author postulates about all the different ways you could achieve something, and instead just focusing on the one way the author actually believes you should perform a task.

A great article can usually be made even better with just a few changes of wording and a few cuts here and there. The important thing for me is to work with the author to ensure that their content is the positive contribution to our community that they want it to be.

We're excited to highlight Both.org as a place where both experienced authors and new contributors can write about open source software. Thanks to the Both.org editors for this interview to help new writers get on board.