Every month or so the OTW will be doing a Q&A with one of its volunteers about their experiences in the organization. The posts express each volunteer’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. Today’s post is with Rebecca Sentance, who volunteers as chair of the AO3 Documentation Committee.
How does what you do as a volunteer fit into what the OTW does?
I’m a co-chair with the AO3 Documentation committee, also known as “Docs”, which handles the user-facing documentation for Archive of Our Own — things like FAQs, tutorials and screencasts. You can find our work over on the Archive FAQ page. Our job is to make sure that there’s clear and accessible documentation explaining the different functions of the Archive, which users can consult if they run into any issues.
For this we work closely with the Support Committee, making sure that our docs address the user queries that they’re getting; Accessibility, Design & Technology, to take interface changes and feature updates into account; and Translation, who make our documentation available in all sorts of languages.
I also wear another hat which is as a layout editor for the Transformative Works and Cultures academic journal, where I’m responsible for HTML tagging articles for publication in each issue. I’ve learned a lot about the world of academic HTML in the process!
What is a typical week like for you as a volunteer?
Every week is a little bit different. I do the bulk of my work for Docs at the weekends, so during the week I’ll take care of smaller tasks like replying to and resolving comments on documents I’m betaing, checking in with the newer members of Docs that I’m mentoring in my capacity as chair, and looking over documents on “Free For All” — that’s the last internal beta stage our documents go through, where everyone in the committee goes over them with a fine-tooth comb and provides feedback.
Then every Saturday, Docs chairs will have a meeting to touch base and discuss anything that needs our attention. There are three of us, based in Australia, the UK (me!) and Canada respectively, so finding a time of day that works for all of us is a fun task! On the plus side, it means one of us is always awake and available if we’re needed. We also have committee-wide meetings about once every two months.
At weekends I’ll sit down to do more in-depth beta and drafting work. Drafting is the process of creating a document from scratch, after which it passes through five beta rounds which focus on different areas: Testing, Accessibility & Internationalisation, Coherency & Consistency, Readability and SPAG (Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar). From there a doc moves into Free-For-All, and finally into External beta where other committees will take a look and provide feedback. My favourite beta stage is Testing, because I’m a hands-on sort of person, and I like to poke about with the Archive and find out what works and what doesn’t!
What was your path to becoming chair of AO3 Docs?
Haha, to be honest, it was a path I hadn’t even realised I was on at the time. Right from when I joined the committee, I was interested in training to be a chair someday, but imagined it would be a long way down the line. But I was proactive in volunteering to help with any admin tasks that needed doing, attending committee meetings (I love meetings), and offering my opinion on issues to do with the committee’s direction and future. I was also keen to get involved with the wider OTW, which is a plus point for a prospective chair.
This must have caught the eye of our incumbent chairs, because eight months after I joined Docs I was approached about training to become a chair, and I delightedly said yes. That was in April of last year, so from then on I became a “chair-track trainee” (as we like to call it) and carried out hands-on training with my fellow chairs, Sammie and Claire, and in January of this year I was officially “chaired up” to the level of a full Docs co-chair. However, I still consider myself a “junior chair” and there’s always more for me to learn.
User-facing documentation uploaded to the Archive between 2014 and 2016 by the AO3 Docs team. The Docs team is responsible for creating and editing help documentation in multiple formats, from text-based FAQs and tutorials to video tutorials, or ‘screencasts’. Revised refers to existing docs that were rewritten or amalgamated, and New refers to brand new docs that were created from scratch. Statistics start midway through 2014.
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
The best thing about being a chair in an OTW committee – and about being part of the OTW as a whole – is the feeling of doing something tangible to give back to the fannish community. That was the reason I applied to join Docs in the first place, and the reason that I pour so much of my time and energy into the OTW.
Docs is also the perfect committee for me because I’m a writer and editor in my day job, and I get a lot of joy out of tinkering with language and helping to improve the way something is communicated. The Docs committee is a haven for word nerds, and we have members who love to delve into the intricacies of spelling and grammar or spend ages debating the perfect wording for a single sentence. I used to be a beta reader for fanfiction, which I got into because I love to edit and help improve the quality of someone’s writing. Docs work is really similar, but with a bigger team — and we’re in the business of creating as well as editing.
Plus, I get a kick out of knowing that the documentation that we create is the same documentation that countless Archive users refer to whenever they have a problem, or want to learn about a feature. So we contribute directly to helping people use the Archive — which is a big responsibility but also very cool.
What fannish things do you like to do?
I’ve been an avid reader and writer of fanfic ever since I was a teenager (well, there were also a few fanfics I wrote at a younger age before I discovered the wider online fanfic community, but we won’t talk about those…), and fandom has always been a big part of how I spend my free time. I started out reading fanfic on Quizilla, which was written as a second-person narrative with occasional responses to choose from, sort of like a fanfic choose-your-own-adventure. From there I progressed to Fanfiction.net, LiveJournal and AO3. My early fannish experiences were mainly in anime fandoms and Harry Potter, but I’ve since dabbled in all sorts of fandoms from The Road to El Dorado to Pirates of the Caribbean, Marvel Cinematic Universe and Inception.
In the past I’ve written some journalistic articles about fandom and fanworks for Paper Droids, an online magazine for geeky ladies. I also love to read about fandom, and record my fannish recollections over on Fanlore.
Now that our volunteer’s said five things about what they do, it’s your turn to ask one more thing! Feel free to ask about their work in comments. Or if you’d like, you can check out earlier Five Things posts.