Collaborative Writing

Co-Writing and Collaborative Writing 

As explained by The Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Scientific Writing, a significant portion of technical and scientific writing is done not by individuals but by various types of groups. Collaborative writing, like most group activities, has both benefits and pitfalls. A group can possess a wide range of skills impossible to find in a single individual. In addition, a group can become greater than the sum of its parts; interaction among members of a writing group often stimulates creativity and scientific insight.

Collaborative writing, however, also has its dangers. In any group activity, there are problems of scheduling, communication, and conflicts. To write effectively, collaborative writers may need to incorporate the following steps into the process of writing their document.

  1. List all research and writing tasks necessary for completing the project.
  2. Determine which tasks depend on the completion of other tasks.
  3. Establish a realistic schedule for completing the document.
  4. Assign tasks to individual members of the group.
  5. Develop a style guide for distribution to ensure a consistent format and style.
  6. Determine procedures and responsibilities for the document's production and final electronic form.
  7. Assign someone to manage the document's production.
  8. Establish procedures for reviewing each other's sections as they are written.
  9. Assign someone to be responsible for consistency and accuracy in style.
  10. Assign someone to be responsible for technical accuracy.
  11. Develop procedures for resolving possible conflicts.

These procedures are often incorporated in a document plan.

While group writing can produce a richer, more comprehensive product, it can also be much more difficult to ensure smooth flow and continuity of ideas. The following strategies from New Century College Online Writing Guide highlight suggestions to enhance the co-writing process:

  • Be sure all group members understand the assignment.
  • Decide on the major components of the project.
  • Agree on the writing objectives. Discuss matters of style, including documentation.
  • Divide up the tasks among group members. Each member, however, shares responsibility for the whole product. Be prepared to take over some portion of the work if a group member is unable to do so.
  • Set up schedules for updates and revising drafts.
  • Double check all information from sources to be sure all source material is cited and cited correctly. 
  • Integrate the components of your project so that it reads like a coherent whole. Allow extra time to assemble and integrate the components.
  • Give credit to all members of the group who participate, but do not credit individuals who do not. 

View the video "Collaborative Writing" for tips and suggestions on effective collaborative writing. Scroll down to the selected video title and click on the VoD icon to view.

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