Editing in open source is about nurturing writers and non-writers, and watching where you tread to sustain a path of non-code contributions.

There are two key aspects to editing in open source:

  • Open source = volunteers, so tread gently.
  • Open source = global communities, so tread mindfully.

Open source = volunteers

Tread gently.

Most writers I’ve edited for in open source projects aren’t writers - they’re developers or UX designers or tech integrators. They’re also volunteering their writing time.

Remembering that my writers might be unpaid, non-writers means going gently on edits. Specifically, I tend to retain the author voice as much as possible, and sometimes that means (gasp!) retaining some poor construction.

This approach has several benefits:

  • Writers feel legitimate because they’ve gone through the editing process and improved the finished piece.
  • Writers feel proud and validated to see their writing in print.
  • Writers are more likely to continue to contribute their writing, which ultimately benefits the project and the broader community.

As an open source editor, you might also be volunteering your own time. Editing lightly is faster, meaning you can meet deadlines and move with the project.

Open source = global communities

Tread mindfully.

The open source projects I’ve been involved with have all been global, with English as the preferred language. That means working with many people who are non-native English writers.

Obviously, editing for global communities requires sensitivity to cultural difference. My job as an editor is about thinking globally—having a broad awareness of what is region-specific and might not convey meaning across borders. This could be word choice, figures of speech, language conventions, currency punctuation, and hemispherical bias. I don’t always know all the answers, but I do know enough to flag things that might not work. Here, I’m advocating for the reader and being sensitive in my feedback to the writer.

Being a native English speaker gives me a kind-of natural superpower. I find that most writers are keen to lean heavily on my native-speaking abilities. They tend to embrace the editing process as an opportunity for refreshing their language skills. I sometimes find myself having to explain grammar rules that have grown dusty in my mind. Generally, though, this is an area where I can add value, and it makes me feel good.

Minimalist editing

My approach when editing in open source is to consider the broader context of the writer and the project.

  • Is the writer usually a non-writer?
  • Is the writer a non-native speaker?
  • Have they ever contributed before?

I don’t go for brutal edits with a heavy red pen, I tend to dial my editing back a bit. Of course, I polish the writing and try to add value to the finished piece, but not at the expense of my author’s psyche. If an article needs more substantial changes, I’ll try to occupy a space of collaborative writing rather than heavy-handed editing. (We’re all in this together!)

As an open source advocate, I believe in the importance of non-code contributions for the health of any project. Editing lightly in open source sustains non-code contributions. If people know there is a friendly editor (who is not TOO heavy with the red pen), they’re more likely to write the next blog post, community sprint review, or team retrospective.


Image credits: Open source by Garth DB from NounProject.com