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Colorado State University offers excellent suggestions for collaborative writing. In the past, I’ve written collaboratively in several ways, including Divide The Writing Tasks and Gather to Write Together. These strategies work well, as long as you’re informed regarding the pitfalls of each type. What follows is a brief peek behind the scenes of each strategy.

Among professional writers, the strategy of dividing the writing tasks is the most common. This is an example of how it works:

  • Usually, the group meets together and brainstorms what needs to be written for a document, with the understanding that each group member will be prepared for this meeting, i.e., has considered what needs to be accomplished before sitting down at the table.
  • The work is then divided, hopefully with an equal distribution. Note well, it might not appear equal, but as we all know, some tasks require more research, writing and designing than others. This is usually decided by the skills at the table and who volunteers for what section. For instance, if goals need to be written for incorporating graphic design into course goals, the person who has a clear understanding about what that entails and what is achievable in the context where the goals will be implemented should write this section. The strategy relies heavily on group members drawing upon and sharing their individual talents.
  • At an agreed upon time, each individual provides copies of his/her writing to each of the group members, or posts it to the site or wiki.
  • The group discusses the writing, and revisions are suggested. The revisions might be decided and written into the wiki or hard copy immediately.
  • One person might volunteer to place all of the parts together in the document, butif it was created on a wiki, there would probably not be a need for this.
  • Once all of the parts are in place, all of the group members should review the finished document and suggest further revisions or editing. At this time, the conclusion and possibly also the introduction might be written together as well, or an individual might volunteer.
  • Final reviews are provided by all of the members.

Clearly, there are pitfalls associated with this collaborative strategy. You’re depending on each person to share his/her talents and do so by deadlines.

When professionals gather to write collaboratively on the spot, the writers need to be comfortable with each other. In other words, I wouldn’t want to sit down and do this with someone I didn’t know. I have in the past and was successful, but this strategy requires a level of sophistication in group dynamics. Writers tend to choose this option when there isn’t a great deal of time, or the synergy of the writing is at a premium.

Here’s how it works:

  • Before meeting, each writer conducts research, makes notes, and fully understands the end goal–a memo, a report, or whatever deliverable needs to be produced.
  • Writers review and discuss the notes, and in the process, one of the group will be creating a written document of the discussion. This is generally notes of some type, without worrying about grammar or sentence structure. An example of this can be seen at Dissertation Blues; however, since this is a wiki, each person typed in his/her own comments.
  • This happens very quickly but does not result in an immediate draft. The strategy requires time.
  • One of the members will take the notes and smooth them into a coherent shape, revising and editing as needed. (If a wiki is used, this can happen on line with several members smoothing certain sections).
  • Each member then reviews the writing, makes suggestions or changes wording or ideas directly. The writing is then reviewed again before publication.

Clearly, most documents aren’t entirely created through group writing, and the divide and conquer approach also requires some group discussion and writing as well. Each new collaborative writing opportunity requires you to determine the appropriate strategy.

One common element does run through both of the strategies: something, at some time, will go wrong. It’s impossible to predict beforehand what it will be, but you can save yourself and your group members a few tears by backing up your work and coming prepared to each meeting.

Also, it might be difficult at first not to take corrections personally. Writing is personal. Think of collaborative writing as a learning opportunity rather than an attack on your writing, and the uncomfotable feelings should die a natural death.

On the lighter side, it helps to remember to Walk Like a Man and Big Girls Don’t Cry.

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