Best Practices for Group Writing

Image of brown and tan vertical lines serving as a border on the top and bottom of the page. Text in the middle reads Best Practices for Group or Collaborative Writing for in-person and virtual groups. Graduate Writing Coach. Annenberg School of Communication.

Writing with a group can be challenging. How do you create a document or project that takes into account everyone’s ideas, reconciles what could be different “writerly voices,” and evenly distributes the work of researching, drafting, and editing? Though there are no easy fixes or formulas for group or collaborative writing, a few guidelines can help ensure your collective writing and research experience goes smoothly.

  • Decide on the big ideas as a group. Everyone should be clear about the main ideas and purpose of the project. Each member should have a clear sense of how the different parts of the paper/project work together to form a complete thought or argument.
  • Don’t divide the work too soon. It can be tempting to delegate parts of a project immediately to each group member, but effective groups first address the big ideas for the project before breaking it into smaller units. Doing this first can prevent misunderstandings (which might lead to massive rewrites) about the content, structure, and tone of the written project.
  • Write together, if possible. Though it can be challenging to coordinate, writing together as a group allows everyone to 1) get a sense of the tone and “voice” so the writing appears as a coherent document; and 2) address ideas that might contradict or confuse the main point of the project. If it’s not possible to write together, consider working on a collaborative document like Google Docs that allows you to edit in real-time that everyone in the group can access.
  • Address big issues when revising and editing before smaller concerns. Big issues include content development, argumentation, logical order of ideas, and evidence. Smaller concerns include transitional phrases, coherence, formatting, grammatical errors, and citation formats.

Doing this remotely and online?

Working with groups remotely and virtually can be challenging, especially if you’re not used to this modality for collaboration. Writing as a group can even be more challenging as different writers have various styles, approaches, and work habits that can make remote and virtual collaboration challenging. Here are a few strategies for managing virtual and remote collaborative writing projects.

  • Use online meeting platforms like Zoom or Google Meet/Hangouts to regularly meet with your team members. Read this list of conferencing options available to USC students.
  • Use a shared calendar to keep everyone informed of deadlines, both internal and external, to help everyone keep track. (Google Calendar and iCal have options for sharing. USC students have access to Google applications, which ensures everyone has the same accessibility)
  • Consider making a task or project list with all the steps necessary to complete the project. This can help you track your progress and helps everyone stay on the same page. Doing this in the beginning of the project as a group can also help everyone grasp the scope of the project, which might help minimize writing anxiety and procrastination. 
  • Maintain a consistent, but sustainable, writing/working hours. It can be difficult to set boundaries around your time when you’re staying at home and working remotely, which can lead to burnout. Hold yourself and your team to a consistent, but sustainable, work schedule. This can help group members manage their own schedules while still prioritizing the group’s deadlines.
    • For example, keep (as much as possible) the same meeting day and time for the group every week that works for every member. Much like attending an in-person class, setting a consistent meeting time ensures that you prioritize the group project as opposed to “finding time” to do it. This also helps the group guarantee a minimum amount of time has been spent working on the project. In short, it helps the group keep a consistent schedule and gain momentum.
  • Be flexible. Part of the beauty of remote and virtual work is the relative flexibility it provides to teams. Adjust your group’s work structure and commitments as you see fit. What might have worked at the earlier stages of the project might not work for the final stages, so be open to modifying your group’s process. The writing process is iterative–meaning it doesn’t always go in a linear path–but as long as you have a clear shared goals and approaches, collaborative writing can be manageable and even enjoyable.

More guidelines and tips are found in this PDF: Group Writing.

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