Team Writing

Working in teams can be stressful, and when an assignment involves writing, a group needs to be as cohesive as possible. Sometimes, navigating group dynamics is tricky for a number of reasons. Members can potentially feel as if their efforts are not recognized or rewarded, which can result in a struggle to continue putting forth effort. With an understanding of team collaboration methods, members can learn how to better cope with common group dynamic concerns. 

When the meaning is unclear there is no meaning.

Marty Rubin

Overview of steps of the collaborative process 

Here we outline the steps of the collaborative process. You can use these questions to focus your thinking at each stage. 

 

Pre-writing Process 

  • Share ideas and brainstorm together. 
  • Formulate a draft thesis or argument. 
  • Think about your assignment and the final product. What should it look like? What is its purpose? Who is the intended audience? 

 

Planning and Logistics

  • Decide together who will write which parts of the paper/project. 
  • What will the final product look like? 
  • Arrange meetings: How often will the group or subsets of the group meet? When and where will the group meet? If the group does not meet in person, how will information be shared? 
  • Scheduling: What is the deadline for the final product? What are the deadlines for drafts? 

 

Research/Data Collection 

  • How will the group find appropriate sources (books, journal articles, newspaper articles, visual media, trustworthy websites, and interviews)? If the group will be creating data by conducting research, how will that process work? 
  • Who will read and process the information found? This task again may be done by all members or divided up amongst members so that each person becomes the expert in one area and then teaches the rest of the group. 
  • Think critically about the sources and their contributions to your topic. Which evidence should you include or exclude? Do you need more sources? 
  • Analyze the data. How will you interpret your findings? What is the best way to present any relevant information to your readers-should you include pictures, graphs, tables, and charts, or just written text? 

 

Drafting/Writing 

  • Separately (each group member has his/her own portion of writing to do) 
  • Note that brainstorming the main points of your paper, as a group is helpful, even if separate parts of the writing are assigned to individuals. You will want to be sure that everyone agrees on the central ideas. 
  • Where does your individual writing fit into the whole document? 
  • Together (the group actually meets to compose text collaboratively) 
  • Writing together may not be feasible for longer assignments or papers with coauthors at different universities, and it can be time-consuming. However, writing together does ensure that the finished document has one cohesive voice. 
  • Talk about how the writing session should go BEFORE you get started. What goals do you have? How will you approach the writing task? 
  • Many people find it helpful to get all of the ideas down on paper in a rough form before discussing exact phrasing. 
  • Remember that everyone has a different writing style! The most important thing is that your sentences be clear to readers. 

 

Revising, Editing, and Proofreading 

  • If your group has drafted parts of the document separately, merge your ideas together into a single document first, then focus on meshing the styles. The first concern is to create a coherent product with a logical flow of ideas. Then the stylistic differences of the individual portions must be smoothed over. 
  • Revise the ideas and structure of the paper before worrying about smaller, sentence-level errors (like problems with punctuation, grammar, or word choice). Is the argument clear? Is the evidence presented in a logical order? Do the transitions connect the ideas effectively? 
  • Proofreading: Check for typos, spelling errors, punctuation problems, formatting issues, and grammatical mistakes. Reading the paper aloud is a very helpful strategy at this point. 

 

Attention to Group Dynamics while doing Group Work: 

Although it may be frustrating, certain techniques can make the dreaded group project assignments easier. Good communication is the key to a successful project. All group members should make sure that they have a clear grasp of what the assignment entails and what is needed from each person.  

  1. There are three types of collaborative tasks that should be included in group projects: Higher order thinking – Group members must define, discuss, and debate to solve complex problems. 
  2. Division of labor - Very large jobs that cannot be completed by an individual within a limited time frame must be divided. 
  3. Specialist or expertise-based tasks - Each collaborator has a different area of expertise to contribute (Lunsford, 1991, p.6). 

One way to assure that everyone plays a part in the project is to assign tasks to each person. Tasks should be rotated so that each person has an opportunity to provide feedback in every area. The tasks should be divided into essential positions: 

  • Drafter – This person sits at the computer or with the paper and pen and does the primary writing. 
  • Reviewer – This person will read what the other person has written to identify and examine paragraph focus, idea arrangement, and development. This is done best when the reviewer reads aloud to the group! 
  • Editor – This person will do grammar check, formatting, and review source integration. 

Dividing the work up in such a way benefits the entire group without putting too much strain on any one person. To further alleviate stress, make sure to complete assignments in a timely manner. 

Procrastination is common among students; however, it is not conducive to success in the best of circumstances. It can be especially detrimental for group projects. To make the most of your time, try to set goals for each meeting. It may help to have some sort of written agenda that sets your plan for the meeting. By the end of each session, you should have some aspect or step of your project completed and possibly even have independent tasks set for each member to complete before the next meeting. 

Also, remember to have specific roles assigned for each group member. Assigning roles is much more effective than dividing up parts to write; roles allow the group to put forth a more collaborative effort. Be sure that each member understands what their role will require and when they should have it completed. Once again, time is an important factor in the success of any group project. 

Technology is an often-overlooked tool for collaborative writing, but it can be very useful. Meeting often is sometimes inconvenient. It may even cause problems for the group effort. If one group member is unable to meet, he or she may be left behind without being able to contribute to the project. 

Here are some of the technologies that you may utilize: 

  • Chats and instant messaging – These are handy for discussion when all members cannot attend. They can be used to preserve the discussion transcript for later reflection or integration. 
  • E-mail drafts to each other - The comments feature in Microsoft Word allows you to insert your own responses to the ideas, arguments, and support provided in the text. 
  • Discussion boards – Each member can post or contribute when they are able. 
  • If you cannot attend, call in, or e-mail your comments ahead of time. 

It is important for the group to stay on task and consider every aspect of the project. Brainstorming is a key process for this. As you brainstorm and begin planning your paper, keep these strategies in mind: 

  • Have two or more note-takers keep track of what is said and compare notes after the fact. These notes can be used to draft, revise, and edit the paper. 
  • Write your thesis together and develop an organization or outline for the whole paper together. 
  • Write the document together. This ensures that it does not adopt one person’s voice, or multiple voices. A good strategy for drafting the paper together is to select your best typist or two to be the primary drafters. Then, everyone else can sit around the drafter and “feed” the person sentences. Write the document together so that it does not adopt one person’s voice or switch between multiple voices. 
  • Revise and edit together. These steps in the writing process determine what your final product will be. This makes it imperative for each group member to have an opportunity to make changes to the final draft. 
  • Read the paper aloud and discuss whether or not each idea, sentence, and paragraph connects to the ones around it. 

If the paper has been cooperatively written, group members should trade sections and read them as if the topic is entirely new. Ask open-ended questions, especially “how?” “why?” and “what is the connection?” This will help you see how to tie sections together. 

As a whole, the group should edit for content. Make sure that all relevant information is included and presented in a comprehensible manner. All irrelevant information should be deleted. Check the flow of the paper to make sure that it is not disjointed. Your audience should never be able to tell that different people contributed different parts of the paper. 

 

References

Cross, Geoffrey A. Collaboration and conflict: a contextual exploration of group writing and positive emphasis. Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press, 1994. 

Ede, Lisa and Andrea Lunsford. Singular Texts/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing. Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. 

Speck, Bruce W. “Facilitating Students’ Collaborative Writing.” ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report 28(6). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass A Wiley Company 2002.