Collaborative Writing Strategies that Work

 So far in this series, we’ve been talking about why group writing makes sense.  Just to recap—conversations with other writers enable us to be more profound.  Experience is exponential.  And interaction leads to inspiration. 

On a more practical level, many writing projects in today’s professional environments are simply too complex for one person to tackle alone.  The expertise of many brains and the finesse of many voices are necessary to create a product that’s complete, clear, and comprehensible. 

And even though team work can be challenging, the results are worthwhile.  Because writing collaboratively streamlines an otherwise lengthy process of review and revision.  And collaborative writing projects create organic training opportunities for both new and senior staff members.

But this can only happen when the project is well managed from the outset.  So today let’s talk about a few ways we can ensure success.  First, it must be clear to everyone involved that the project will be collaborative.  Otherwise, you run the risk of hurting someone’s feeling.  We tend to invest ourselves in the process of writing a little more deeply and with more emotion than we do in other projects.  That can be a strength, but also a weakness.  So make sure everyone knows from the beginning that this will be a team effort.

Start with a brainstorming meeting that involves the entire team, especially those at the top of the chain.  If the project is a decision-making document, get buy-in early on for the final decision, and work backwards through the arguments that lead to that conclusion. 

After the logical chain has been established, make a schedule and assign tasks.  This should be in the form of a massive spreadsheet listing everyone’s specific responsibility from the researching phase all the way through the copyediting and document formatting.  That way, everyone can see how others are dependent upon them to get their job done. 

Consider whether research and writing can be done most effectively alone or together.  Introverts on the project may prefer working in solitude.  But extroverts might like having lab space with multiple computer stations, a large whiteboard, and easels.  There, ideas can be bounced around before being committed to paper.  Just remember to capture those conversations, through audio, or video, or by assigning a dedicated note taker to the group. 

Even if team members choose to work alone, the team can schedule dedicated writing times when everyone retires to their office to work on the project.  Hold word count competitions.  Use social media to record and celebrate your progress.  Schedule live or virtual coffee breaks.  And chat often about your accomplishments and your frustrations.

During the revision stages, switch first with peers before handing documents off to reviewers.  That will help to streamline the chain of review, and you’ll find yourself capturing vital information and writing to a wider array of perspectives than usual. 

Reviewers may need to become more open about looking at a document before it’s finished.  They need to accept a certain level of roughness if a writer really needs feedback on a certain line of argument.  But there’s a fine line there, because a reviewer’s time is valuable, and writers can become blocked from getting too much feedback.  So reviewers also need to know when to say enough’s enough. 

Finally, when a technical document is ready for a detailed copy edit, get three sets of people to divvy up the work.  One group can handle the prose sections, divided either by word count or page count.  Another set should review the tables and figures.  And one person alone should be responsible for the literature referenced.  One single person should also be in charge of the document management at this stage to make sure final copies and working copies stay separated and to merge the master files with the edits. 

As you can imagine, the manager has a tough task staying on top of all of this.  The good news is that the manager should be involved as little as possible.  In the next post we’ll talk about how to do that.  For now, I’d love to hear about your experiences with collaborative writing.  What has worked for you?  What has bombed?  Leave your comments here.  Or email me,

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