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The format (page size?, bound or unbound?) chosen for a publication depends on its intended use and the audience or readership. Here are some things to think about when planning a publication.


Printed information materials are needed for a variety of uses.

  • Training materials — for use during formal and informal training courses
  • Teaching materials — for trainees to use, in turn, to teach other people
  • Reference materials — for trainees to refer to as needed after the course, or by people who have not attended training

Some materials need to fulfill only one of these functions. Others may need to fulfill more than one. The format depends on the use: loose-leaf materials may be better suited as handouots during a training session, but are not very handy for reference: they get out of order easily. For reference materials, a table of contents is vital, and an index is very useful.

Choose a format that will best fulfil the uses you envisage for the materials.


readingcPrinted information materials are useful for a variety of audiences:    

  • Trainees in training courses
  • Teachers
  • University students
  • Schoolchildren
  • NGO staff
  • Extension personnel
  • Journalists
  • Local people
  • Local and national government officials
  • The "interested public"

Design your materials with the audience in mind. For schoolchildren, use large type and lots of pictures. For semiliterate people, keep the words and sentences short, and make sure the pictures carry the message even if the words do not. For busy government officials, structure the information so the most important things come first.


Printed information materials can take a variety of formats. Each has advantages and disadvantages.


Each topic is printed on a separate sheet. As far as possible, each topic fills only one sheet (front and back). The materials are printed on heavy paper to ensure long life. The paper can be color-coded for easy reference.

Advantages Disadvantages 
  • Can be updated easily
  • Easy to copy and use in training
  • Pages get lost and out of order
  • Expensive to print and mail because uses heavy paper

Bound books

The materials are printed as a single, bound book. Topics are grouped into chapters and sections.

Advantages  Disadvantages 
  • Pages don’t get lost
  • Handy format, easy to carry
  • Cheaper than loose-leaf to produce and mail because paper is lighter
  • Hard to reproduce or update


The materials are printed as a series of thin, pocket-size booklets, with one booklet per topic or subject area.

Advantages  Disadvantages 
  • Topics easy to refer to
  • Easy to carry and reproduce
  • Can be updated or added to easily
  • Booklet can contain more information than a single sheet
  • Smaller size restricts use of illustrations
  • More complicated to produce than single sheets
]]> (Administrator) Writeshops Tue, 11 Feb 2014 18:29:08 +0000
Ways to produce information materials

Producing information materials presents a number of problems. The information typically comes from many different sources. The materials must be accurate and supported by scientific research or field experience, and they must be relevant to the needs of the audience. To be effective, the materials typically need to be simply written, well-illustrated, and carefully laid out.

However, many information materials, particularly those written by scientists, do not fulfill these criteria. They draw information from only a few sources. They are scientifically accurate, but may not be relevant to the needs of the audience. Many such materials are not simply written, and they contain few, if any, illustrations. Therefore, they are not effective.

Information materials can be produced in various ways.

Below is a brief description of each of these processes.

Single authorthinking

The single-author approach is the most usual method of preparing information materials. One person reviews the literature, draws on his or her own experiences, and writes the manuscript. This is then edited and laid out by an editor and desktop publishing specialist.

  • This approach allows close control of the manuscript by one person. He or she decides what to write and how it is to be presented.
  • The author must have a broad knowledge of the subject area. But it is unlikely that he or she has direct experience of all there is to know about the subject. The author must rely on information that is already written in the literature.
  • The single author needs a lot of time to write the manuscript, check facts, and develop illustrations. It may take years for the author to complete a lengthy manuscript.
  • The single-author approach is suitable for certain types of topic: where a single expert can develop a sufficient grasp of the subject, and has sufficient time to write the manuscript.

Small writing teameditors

The small-team method is frequently used by academics to write textbooks. A small team of 3-4 people reviews the literature and writes the manuscript. Because several people with different (but overlapping) areas of expertise are involved, the coverage of the subject matter can be more comprehensive and the writing process made faster and less burdensome on each person.

  • The small-team approach requires coordination and editing to ensure uniformity.
  • The authors still need much time; it can still take years to develop a manuscript.

Multiple authors and editor

Many books are edited by a single person (a specialist in the field), but a different author writes each chapter. The editor selects the authors and invites each to contribute a chapter on his or her area of specialization. The editor provides guidelines on the content and style of each chapter. The authors write and submit their manuscripts, which the editor then revises to ensure that the style is uniform and there is not too much overlap or contradiction among chapters. The editor checks the revised version of each chapter with the author before the book is published. The editor may also write the introduction and one or more of the chapters in the book.

  • This approach often takes a long time because the authors delay submission or revision of the manuscripts.
  • The manuscripts may vary considerably in style and quality from author to author.
  • There is limited opportunity to check each chapter with other specialists in the subject area.


A "reporter" (a writer with a background in the subject matter) interviews key individuals, reviews the literature, and writes the manuscript. This approach is useful if the subject matter is not highly technical, and where the resource persons (e.g., scientists) do not have the writing skills to translate their experiences and ideas into a form that the audience (such as farmers or extension workers) Writing1.gif (2125 bytes) can understand easily. This approach is often used by prominent people (such as politicians) who hire "ghost writers" to interview them and write their thoughts down for publication.

  • This approach needs a reporter who is knowledgeable in the subject matter. He or she needs to know what subjects to include, whom to interview, and the right questions to ask.
  • Although the reporter is a skilled writer, this approach still needs a significant amount of time before the manuscript is completed. It must be double-checked with the sources to ensure that the reporter has not made any errors.


An organization (usually a university, research institute or professional association) hosts a conference and invites specialists in the subject area to present papers. The specialists write their manuscripts, bring them to the conference and present them. There may be time for a few questions or comments from the audience, allowing some peer review of each manuscript.

Sometimes an editor may be present during the conference and can discuss the manuscripts with the authors. The editor then edits the manuscripts and contacts the authors again to check any questions that arise. The editor then puts these manuscripts into a conference proceedings.

Convening a conference is relatively expensive because of the airfares, board and lodging and (sometimes) per diem expenses.
The manuscripts are not uniform; the quality and topics may vary considerably.
Because of the difficulty in contacting authors afterwards, the editing process can take a long time.


A writeshop is a very intensive process aimed at bringing together authors, editors, artists and desktop publishing specialists to produce a publication in a very short time. The subject area must be divided into topics and assigned to individual participants. Each participant prepares a manuscript according to guidelines, and brings this to the writeshop.

The participants present their manuscripts in turn. The manuscripts are critiqued by the other participants and revised by the author together with a team of editors. An artist draws pictures to illustrate the manuscript, and it is then desktop published to produce a second draft.

The process is then repeated with the second draft: presentation, editing, artwork revision, and desktop publishing. In a 2-week writeshop, it is possible to produce near-camera-ready material for a 200-page extension manual containing up to 100 separate topics.

  • Writeshops are suitable where a large number of people know a little, but no-one knows a lot about the subject.
  • They are suitable for preparing illustrated materials that present relevant, practical information in simple language — such as extension materials.
  • The writeshop process is flexible; it can be modified and adapted to suit individual situations.
  • Materials can be produced in a very short time. With suitable preparation and for some subjects, it is possible to produce material ready for the printer within a few days after the end of the writeshop itself.
  • The writeshop brings together different groups — scientists, extension personnel, NGO staff, policymakers, farmers — to develop and produce a common set of materials. The participants benefit from the discussions and networking that result.
  • The process enables comments and revisions from other participants (analogous to the peer review in conferences). Several authors can contribute to each section of the materials.
  • If members of the intended audience (farmers, extensionists...) are present, the writeshop allows them to contribute to the preparation of the materials. The workshop itself enables a certain amount of pre-testing of the materials.
  • However, the writeshop process is relatively expensive (since the host must cover food and board, airfares, staffing and possibly per diems).
  • The process is very intensive; the time is sometimes not sufficient, and the process places a high demand on the abilities of the editors and other staff. A few participants may complain that their manuscripts have been revised too much.
  • Writeshops are not useful for lengthy literature reviews or the presentation of detailed information.

Writeshops have been used to generate a wide range of information materials in various countries. Click here for more details on the writeshop process.

Short, 1-4 day writeshops can be used to develop first drafts of information materials. The participants need to bring information and ideas with them, but do not have to do any writing beforehand. At the writeshop, a team of editors guides the participants through the writing process. Artists draw illustrations for each manuscript. After the writeshop, the editor edits the manuscripts (and incorporates the artwork) and contacts authors to check any questions.

  • Such writeshops are best suited for subjects where each participant has information on a separate, specific topic. They are less appropriate where there authors have a large degree of overlap and need to confer intensively with one another.
  • The topics must be fairly similar in structure and treatment; this allows the editor to guide many people through the writing process at the same time.
  • In a short writeshop, most participants can write only a few pages. Longer, more complex topics have to be divided into smaller parts, or a group can draft a manuscript that can be edited later into a publishable form.
]]> (Administrator) Writeshops Tue, 11 Feb 2014 17:50:39 +0000
The writeshop process


Before the writeshop, a steering committee lists potential topics and invites resource persons to develop first drafts on each topic, using guidelines provided. These participants bring the drafts and various reference materials with them to the writeshop.

Draft 1

During the writeshop itself, each participant presents his or her draft paper, using overhead transparencies of each page. Copies of each draft are also given to all other participants, who critique the draft and suggest revisions.

After the presentation, an editor helps the author revise and edit the draft. An artist draws illustrations to accompany the text. The edited draft and artwork are then desktop-published to produce a second draft. Meanwhile, other participants also present papers they have prepared. Each, in turn, works with the team of editors and artists to revise and illustrate the materials.

Draft 2

Each participant then presents his or her revised second draft to the group a second time, also using transparencies. Again, the audience critiques it and suggests revisions. After the presentation, the editor and artist again help revise it and develop a third draft.

Draft 3

Towards the end of the writeshop, the third draft is made available to participants for final comments and revisions.


The final version can be completed, printed and distributed soon after the writeshop.

Adapting the process

The writeshop process is very flexible.

  • Output types. It can be used to produce many different types of information materials: a bound book, a set of leaflets, posters, press releases, radio scripts, training materials or curricula, research articles, and so on.
  • Topics. It can produce materials on many different topics. Writeshops so far have covered topics ranging from agroforestry to veterinary medicine.
  • Length. Depending on the type of output, the writeshop can last anything from a day or so to 2 weeks.
  • Writing and editing. Again depending on the circumstances, participants can bring manuscripts that are revised and edited during the writeshop, or they can write the manuscripts from scratch during the writeshop itself.
]]> (Administrator) Writeshops Tue, 11 Feb 2014 17:32:40 +0000
Producing information materials through participatory writeshops

workshop2Producing information materials can take a long time - you have to write the drafts, edit the text, prepare illustrations and lay out the publication. The resulting prototype is then reviewed by specialists in the subject matter, before final revisions are made. Manuscripts get lost, authors and reviewers may disagree, and people cannot be contacted easily. The process can seem never-ending.

There are several ways of producing information materials. One of these is through writeshops (intensive workshops to write information materials). These are especially useful because they speed up the production and make it far more efficient. The aim is to develop the materials, revise and put them into final form as quickly as possible, taking full advantage of the expertise of the various writeshop participants.

The writeshop process was pioneered at the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction in the Philippines. Writeshops have been used to produce many information materials on various topics relating to various topics related to development.

Writeshop advantagesworkshopgroup

Writeshop participants may include scientists, researchers, government personnel, teachers, NGO staff, extension agents, farmers and other local people. The diversity of skills, organizations and backgrounds of participants is key to ensuring that numerous ideas are represented in the materials produced. Members of the intended audience (e.g., teachers, farmers and extension personnel) can help pre-test the text and illustrations during the writeshop.

The writeshop process is very different from the scientific conferences familiar to many participants. It is an extremely flexible process. The repeated presentations, critiquing and revision of drafts allow for papers to be reviewed and revised substantially, new topics to be developed during the writeshop and topics to be combined, dropped or split into parts.

Early in the writeshop, the participants brainstorm ideas for new topics (other than those already prepared) that should be part of the publication. These new topics are assigned to knowledgeable participants for development and presentation during the writeshop.

mastitisThe writeshop allows inputs from all participants to be incorporated, taking advantage of the diverse experience and expertise of all present. It allows ideas to be validated by a range of experts in the field. The concentration of resource persons, editors, artists and desktop-publishing resources at one time and place enables materials to be produced far more quickly than is typical for similar publications. And the sharing of experiences among participants develops networks that continue to be fruitful long after the writeshop itself.

The publication

The publication resulting from the writeshop can be in any of a range of formats: loose-leaf, a set of pocket-sized booklets, or a bound book. The format and design can be set beforehand - or decided by the participants during the writeshop itself.

The broad theme is divided into smaller topics, each of which is based on a manuscript prepared by a writeshop participant. Some examples:

  • Storing seeds (in a booklet on agroforestry)
  • Wounds and burns (in a book on traditional veterinary medicine in Kenya)
  • Growing cardamom (one of a series of extension leaflets on upland agriculture in Vietnam).

Each topic contains line drawings or photographs to illustrate key points. The illustrations are drawn during the writeshop itself, and participants are asked to check the drawings for accuracy and ease of understanding. Participants bring photographs with them to select during the writeshop itself.

The publication contains only relevant and practical information. It is not a vehicle for lengthy literature reviews or for presentation of unnecessarily detailed data. Whenever possible, it provides technological options that show more than one way of doing the same thing.wound

More information

]]> (Administrator) Writeshops Mon, 10 Feb 2014 18:51:04 +0000