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Chapter 5. Collaborative Writing and the... > Pointers for Successful Collaboratio...

Pointers for Successful Collaboration

Regardless of how technology is used to support the team's efforts, adequate attention to the following factors will help make the group successful:

  • Manage the project.

    • Appoint or elect an individual to monitor the status of the project and to coordinate efforts among team members.

    • Ensure that everyone knows what he or she is supposed to do and when the assignment is due.

    • Create interim milestones for drafts and/or subportions of the document that are due before the “final drafts” are due. This step encourages people to begin working early and provides the project manager with a means of assessing progress.

    • Do not allow long periods to go by without communicating about the project. If project status meetings are not feasible, the project manager should frequently check in with team members to find out how their writing is progressing.

  • Allow enough time for proper revision and editing.

    • Deadlines for drafts must be set early enough so that final revisions and formatting can take place. This procedure often takes longer than planned, since creating a cohesive document from parts generated by writers with different writing styles can be an arduous process.

    • Encourage everyone to get her or his part done by the deadlines, but realize that deadlines may be missed. If the final product has a deadline that simply cannot be missed, set deadlines for drafts to be completed earlier than absolutely needed. This step will provide some cushion if some parts are finished late.

  • Have the right people involved, but not too many.

    • Too few people, or not having the people with the required expertise, will slow down the process and reduce the quality of the final product.

    • Realize that the more people there are involved, the more time is spent coordinating the efforts of the group.

    • Avoid adding people to the writing team late in the process, even if the project is running late. New members do not have a solid understanding of all the issues discussed by the group at the beginning of the process (e.g., the analysis of the audience and the purpose of the document), and if it is very late in the process, they will have missed other important discussions. Therefore, others in the group must either take the time to acquaint the new members with all previous discussions and decisions, or else risk not getting useful material from them.

  • Use the team members' strengths.

    • Early in the process, find out what strengths everyone in the group has, and then assign roles and tasks on the basis of these strengths.

  • Ensure that goals are articulated and shared.

    • Take enough time at the beginning of the process to ensure that everyone truly understands what the group is trying to accomplish.

    • Reinforce the purpose of the document during the collaborative process. For example, when distributing a draft of a portion of the document to the rest of the team, include a statement of the agreed-upon purpose of the document, and then ask the team members to assess the document using the statement of purpose as a guide.

  • Create a work environment of open communication and mutual respect.

    • A cohesive group is likely to be a more effective group. Provide opportunities early in the project for team members to get to know each other.

    • Encourage frequent communication that includes all group members. If group members do not work in the same location, use e-mail and conference calls to keep everyone in contact.

    • Establish group norms that encourage critical consideration of each other's work, without the criticism's becoming a criticism of the other person.

  • Allow writers to respond to others who modify the text.

    • Because writing takes tremendous effort, it is common for people to have a lot invested in their writing efforts. If someone else is allowed to alter a document, allow the original author to respond and/or disagree with the changes. Writers feel much better about collaborating with others if they continue to have input into the final form and content of their efforts.

  • Have one person do a final edit to make the writing style consistent.

    • One team member should be tasked with ensuring that the document is consistent, in both content and style. This person should make sure that there are no contradicting statements. Although it may be difficult completely to eliminate differences in writing styles, the document should at least be internally consistent with regard to verb tense and pronoun use (i.e., first, second, or third person).

  • Agree on a document control procedure.

    • Whether documents are distributed via e-mail, stored in a shared directory, or managed by a document control system, everyone must understand how the group will know which version of the document is the most recent, who is currently editing it, and so on.

  • Use technology to increase communication and productivity.

    • Face-to-face meetings are excellent for helping the group come to a shared understanding of what is to be accomplished and for gaining agreement on difficult issues. However, in today's professional work environment, people's busy schedules or their geographic separation makes it difficult for everyone to get together on a frequent basis. Voice messaging and e-mail provide excellent means of communication that remove barriers of time and space.

    • Modern word processors have available numerous features to improve collaboration, including the ability to embed comments and to track revisions. These features can greatly improve the effectiveness of the group, particularly when the documents can be easily shared with others through e-mail.



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