Collaborative writing involves two or more persons working together to produce a written document. Also called group writing, it is a significant component of work in the business world, and many forms of business writing and technical writing depend on the efforts of collaborative writing teams.
Professional interest in collaborative writing, now an important subfield of composition studies, was spurred by the publication in 1990 of Singular Texts/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing by Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford.
“Collaboration not only draws on the expertise and energy of different people but can also create an outcome that is greater than the sum of its parts.” -Rise B. Axelrod and Charles R. Cooper
Guidelines for Successful Collaborative Writing
Following the ten guidelines below will increase your chances of success when you write in a group.
- Know the individuals in your group. Establish rapport with your team.
- Do not regard one person on the team as more important than another.
- Set up a preliminary meeting to establish guidelines.
- Agree on the group’s organization.
- Identify each member’s responsibilities, but allow for individual talents and skills.
- Establish the time, places, and length of group meetings.
- Follow an agreed-on timetable, but leave room for flexibility.
- Provide clear and precise feedback to members.
- Be an active listener.
- Use a standard reference guide for matters of style, documentation, and format.
“For collaborative writing, there are various tools which you can use, notably the wiki which provides an online shared environment in which you can write, comment or amend the work of others…If you are required to contribute to a wiki, take every opportunity to meet regularly with your collaborators: the more you know the people you collaborate with, the easier it is to work with them…
“You will also need to discuss how you are going to work as a group. Divide up the jobs…Some individuals could be responsible for drafting, others for commenting, others for seeking relevant resources.” -Janet MacDonald and Linda Creanor
Different Definitions of Collaborative Writing
“The meaning of the terms collaboration and collaborative writing are being debated, expanded, and refined; no final decision is in sight. For some critics, such as Stillinger, Ede and Lunsford, and Laird, collaboration is a form of ‘writing together’ or ‘multiple authorship’ and refers to acts of writing in which two or more individuals consciously work together to produce a common text…Even if only one person literally ‘writes’ the text, another person contributing ideas has an effect on the final text that justifies calling both the relationship and the text it produces collaborative. For other critics, such as Masten, London, and myself, collaboration includes these situations and also expands to include acts of writing in which one or even all of the writing subjects may not be aware of other writers, being separated by distance, era, or even death.” -Linda K. Karrell
Andrea Lunsford on the Benefits of Collaboration
“[T]he data I amassed mirrored what my students had been telling me for years: . . . their work in groups, their collaboration, was the most important and helpful part of their school experience. Briefly, the data I found all support the following claims:
- Collaboration aids in problem finding as well as problem-solving.
- Collaboration aids in learning abstractions.
- Collaboration aids in transfer and assimilation; it fosters interdisciplinary thinking.
- Collaboration leads not only to sharper, more critical thinking (students must explain, defend, adapt) but to a deeper understanding of others.
- Collaboration leads to higher achievement in general.
- Collaboration promotes excellence. In this regard, I am fond of quoting Hannah Arendt: ‘For excellence, the presence of others is always required.’
- Collaboration engages the whole student and encourages active learning; it combines reading, talking, writing, thinking; it provides practice in both synthetic and analytic skills.”
Feminist Pedagogy and Collaborative Writing
“As a pedagogical foundation, collaborative writing was, for the early advocates of feminist pedagogy, a kind of respite from the strictures of the traditional, phallogocentric, authoritarian approaches to teaching…The underlying assumption in collaborative theory is that each individual within the group has an equal opportunity to negotiate a position, but while there is an appearance of equity, the truth is, as David Smit notes, collaborative methods can, in fact, be construed as authoritarian and do not reflect conditions outside the parameters of the controlled environment of the classroom.” -Andrea Greenbaum
Also Known As: group writing, collaborative authoring
- Andrea Greenbaum, Emancipatory Movements in Composition: The Rhetoric of Possibility. SUNY Press, 2002
- Andrea Lunsford, “Collaboration, Control, and the Idea of a Writing Center.” The Writing Center Journal, 1991
- Linda K. Karell, Writing Together, Writing Apart: Collaboration in Western American Literature. Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2002
- Janet MacDonald and Linda Creanor, Learning With Online and Mobile Technologies: A Student Survival Guide. Gower, 2010
- Philip C. Kolin, Successful Writing at Work, 8th ed. Houghton Mifflin, 2007
- Rise B. Axelrod and Charles R. Cooper, The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing, 9th ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010