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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Quick Guide: Asking for Letters of Recommendation via Email

The Spring semester is prime time for internship applications, which typically means students are requesting letters of recommendation from professors, mentors, and other professional networks. The infographic below from the Claremont McKenna’s Center for Writing and Public Discourse outlines some important steps and reminders when asking a professor for a letter of recommendation via email. These guidelines can help you approach a faculty member and make your request in a direct and mindful manner. (Click image to enlarge.)

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A Quick Guide to the APA Publication Manual 7th Edition

The American Psychological Association recently updated its publication manual for its 7th edition. There are some new and updated content regarding paper elements and format, bias-free language guidelines, in-text citations (including guidelines to avoid over-citation), and more than 100 examples of APA Style references including templates for every reference category. Here’s a quick overview of the changes in the 7th edition. Always check with your instructor about which edition of the manual you will be using in the class. Download the PDF Handout.

ELEMENTS AND FORMAT (Sections 2.3-2.25)

Recommended Fonts: (Use the same font throughout the text of the paper) 11-point Calibri, 11-point Arial, or 10-point Lucida Sans Unicode; 12-point Times New Roman, 11-point Georgia, or normal 10-point Computer Modern (default font for LaTeX).

Header: For student papers, include the short title of the paper in all caps. No “Running head” required.

Student Title Page: Include the title, author names, author affiliation, course number and name, instructor name, assignment due date, and page number.

See sample Student Paper and Professional Paper formats.


Level Format
1 Centered, Bold, Title Case Heading

Text begins as a new paragraph.

2 Flush Left, Bold, Title Case Heading

       Text begins as a new paragraph.

3 Flush Left, Bold Italic, Title Case Heading

       Text begins as a new paragraph.

4        Indented, Bold, Title Case Heading, Ending With a Period. Text begins on the same line and continues as a regular paragraph.
5        Indented, Bold Italic, Title Case Heading, Ending With a Period. Text begins on the same line and continues as a regular paragraph.

WRITING STYLE & GRAMMAR (Pronouns) (Sections 4.16-4.21)

  • The singular “they” is endorsed, consistent with inclusive usage.
  • Always use a person’s self-identified pronoun, including when a person uses the singular “they” as their pronoun.
  • Also use “they” as a generic third-person singular pronoun to refer to a person whose gender is unknown or irrelevant to the context of the usage.
  • Do not use “he” or “she” alone as generic third-person singular pronouns. Use combination forms such as “he or she” and “she or he” only if you know that these pronouns match the people being described.
  • Do not use combination forms such as “(s)he” and “s/he.”
  • If you do not know the pronouns of the person being described, reword the sentence to avoid a pronoun or use the pronoun “they.”

IN-TEXT CITATIONS (Sections 8.10-8.22)

  • For a work with one or two authors, include the author name(s) in every citation.
  • For a work with three or more authors, include the name of only the first author plus “et al.” in every citation (even the first citation).


According to the APA: “Avoid both undercitation and overcitation. Undercitation can lead to plagiarism and/or self-plagiarism. Overcitation can be distracting and is unnecessary. For example, it is considered overcitation to repeat the same citation in every sentence when the source and topic have not changed. Instead, when paraphrasing a key point in more than one sentence within a paragraph, cite the source in the first sentence in which it is relevant and do not repeat the citation in subsequent sentences as long as the source remains clear and unchanged.”

Example of an Appropriate Level of Citation (Figure 8.1 from the Manual)

Humor plays an important role in everyday life, from interacting with strangers to attracting mates (Bressler & Balshine, 2006; Earleywine, 2010; Tornquist & Chiappe, 2015). Some people, however, come up with funny and witty ideas much more easily than do others. In this study, we examined the role of cognitive abilities in humor production, a topic with a long past (e.g., Feingold & Mazzella, 1991; Galloway, 1994) that has recently attracted more attention (Greengross & Miller, 2011; Kellner & Benedek, 2016). Humor production ability is measured with open-ended tasks (Earleywine, 2010), the most common of which involves asking participants to write captions for single-panel cartoons (for review, see Nusbaum & Silvia, 2017).

REFERENCES (Sections 9.1-9.2; 9.16; 9.23-9.37)

  • DOIs and URLs should be hyperlinks. The label “DOI:” is no longer used.
  • The words “Retrieved from” are only used when a retrieval date is also needed.
  • For online sources, include the URL at the end of the reference. Do not use “Retrieved from”
  • Resources obtained from most academic research databases (EBSCO, CINAHL, Films on Demand): Do not include a database name and do not include a url. Do include a DOI if there is one.
    • Include database information for works of limited circulation, such as dissertations and theses published in ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global, works in a university archive, works posted in an institutional or government repository, monographs published in ERIC or primary sources published in JSTOR (see Chapter 10, example 74).
  • Individual Author Names: Provide last names and initials for up to and including 20 authors. When there are two to 20 authors, use an ampersand before the final author’s name.
  • Group Author Names: When numerous layers of government agencies are listed as the author of a work, use the most specific agency as the author in the reference. The names of parent agencies appear after the title as the publisher.

Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. (2019, January 8). Heart failure fact sheet. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Centers for Disease Control.

  • Publisher location is no longer included in book citations.

See common reference examples here.

To see samples and templates, visit APA Style:

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Changes to Appointment System Starting Spring 2019

Starting Spring 2019, requests for appointments with the Graduate Writing Coach will be switching from Doodle to Google Calendar. This will allow students to more clearly see the available appointment times and allow for instant confirmation of requests and/or cancellations.

How to request an appointment (click on images for better quality. Links will open in a new tab):

  1. The new appointment system will require you to sign in to your myUSC account to view available appointment times. Open appointment slots will say “Write Your Name Here.” You will not be able to select times that are not offered as appointment slots. If you need alternative meeting times, email me directly.
  2. To select an appointment slot, click on the time and date of your choice and type your name into the “What” field. In the description, you’ll see the details of your appointment. If you prefer to meet online, write “ONLINE” next to your name.
  3. Click “Save” to set your appointment and the appointment date and time will sync to your USC Google Calendar. 
  4. New appointment option: Online Express Appointments. In addition to in-person and online appointments, starting in Spring 2019, online express appointments will be offered. These express appointments will be held via Google Meet (meeting links will be on the appointment details when you book your appointment. See screenshot below). Each express appointment will be 30-minutes and no more than 3 pages of text will be discussed. These are ideal for students who are seeking for a last-minute appointment and/or for those who do not need a full 45-minute appointment.
  5. As always, Pre-Session Forms must be completed at least 24 hours before your appointment.
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Writing the Literature Review

Writing the Literature Review (LR) can take different paths, but strong LRs show the reader from what previous knowledge the research questions emerge, what current scholars have found related to your RQ, and how existing literature informs the theoretical framework and/or methodology of the present study.

Remember that writing is recursive and you might revisit these steps throughout your drafting and revising processes!

Additional Resources

Boston College Libraries. “Writing the Literature Review.”

Feak, C. & J. Swales. (2012). Telling a Research Story: Writing a Literature Review. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

USC Library Guide. The literature review. Organizing your social sciences research paper

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Starting the Literature Review

Here is a handy infographic on how to start the literature review research process.

Recommended Sources

USC Library Guide. The literature review. Organizing your social sciences research paper

Feak, C. & J. Swales. (2012). Telling a Research Story: Writing a Literature Review. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Golash-Boza, T. (2015, July 2). Writing a literature review: six steps to get you from start to finish. The Wiley Network. 

Pautasso, M. (2013). Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review. PLoS Comput Biol 9(7): e1003149.

UC Santa Cruz University Library. (n.d.). Write a literature review.


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Missing info for your APA reference? Here’s a guide for what to do!

Not sure who wrote the report you found on a government website or corporate webpage? Missing dates of publication or other important information? Here’s a guide to adapting the information you do have to APA citation style from the APA Style Blog written by Chelsea Lee, Missing Pieces: How to Write an APA Style Reference Even Without All the Information.

From the article: 
Title Variations

As shown in the table, the title of a document is only sometimes italicized, depending on the independence of the source. That is, do italicize the title of a document that stands alone (books, reports, etc.), but do not italicize the title of a document that is part of a greater whole (chapters, articles, etc., which are part of edited books or journals, respectively). Also do not italicize the titles of software, instruments, and apparatus (see §7.08 in the Publication Manual). If you have trouble determining whether something stands alone (such as for a document on a website), choose not to italicize. For examples and more explanation, see the blog post on capitalization and formatting of reference titles in the reference list.

Creating In-Text Citations

Create an in-text citation for any reference by using the pieces from Positions A and B in the table above. For most references, this will be the author and date (Author, date). For titles in Position A, use italics for works that stand alone (Title of Document, date) and quotation marks for works that are part of a greater whole (“Title of Document,” date). Retain square brackets for descriptions of documents in Position A ([Description of document], date). For examples and more explanation, see our post on formatting and capitalization of titles in the text.

Read the article in its entirety for more guidelines.

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Writer’s Block and Writing Anxiety

Startup Stock Photos

For many students, writing assignments and projects can be intimidating and frustrating. “Writer’s block” or “writing anxiety” are phrases typically used to describe one’s nervousness or pessimistic feeling about writing. As Keith Hjortshoj (2001) finds, writing blocks and writing anxieties are situational. This means these feelings of pessimism and apprehension come up when writers experience negativity or difficulties with writing.

There are many reasons why a person might feel anxious or blocked when writing. The UNC at Chapel Hill Writing Center lists the following experiences that might cause negative feelings about writing to arise:

  • adjusting to a new form of writing—for example, first-year college writing, papers in a new field of study, or longer forms than you are used to (a long research paper, a senior thesis, a master’s thesis, a dissertation) (Hjortshoj 56-76).
  • writing for a reader or readers who have been overly critical or demanding in the past.
  • remembering negative criticism received in the past—even if the reader who criticized your work won’t be reading your writing this time.
  • working with limited time or with a lot of unstructured time.
  • responding to an assignment that seems unrelated to academic or life goals.
  • dealing with troubling events outside of school.

Handling Writer’s Block and Writing Anxiety

Because most writing blocks or anxiety are situational, there are several practical techniques you can do to handle these feelings that hamper your writing process:

  • Find and build a support system. Having a writing buddy or an accountability buddy whom you trust can help encourage you to write. It can be a classmate, a mentor, a close friend, or a tutor or Writing Coach. The goal is to have someone to talk to about your ideas, your worries, and your successes. It also helps to share your writing with your writing buddy for feedback, support, praise, and constructive criticism.
  • Identify your strengths. Writers are often the harshest critics of their own work, which might be distorted or far from what’s really working (or not) in a piece of writing. Make a list of the things you do well. Ask a friend or a colleague to help you list your strengths. Some examples might be “I have strong opinions” or “I am critical of what I read.” It can even be something not writing-related per se, but thinking or speaking-related such as “I listen well” or “I explain things well to people.” Change negative sentence constructions such as “I can’t write” to “I am a writer who can untangle a complex idea into smaller, simpler concepts.”
  • Remember that writing is complex and takes time. Many people think that people who confidently say they are writers can start and finish a writing project quickly. This is far from what actually happens. Strong and effective writers recognize that writing takes time and that it isn’t always a linear process.
  • Think like an apprentice and learn skills. We all have a writing life and, sometimes, changes in format, length, new audiences, and new subjects can cause anxiety and blocks. Identify what has changed in your writing life that might be causing you apprehension and think of yourself as an apprentice of writing. This puts you in the position of a learner, not an expert, which means that you’re gaining new skills in new areas.
  • Ask questions, especially of people who are more experienced with the kind of writing you’re expected to do. Professors, colleagues who might have taken the course or have more experience writing, and the Writing Coach are all viable resources.
  • Figure out your writing habits and try different tactics. Writing isn’t linear–it’s a cyclical process that changes in different stages. Figure out what your writing process is and which stages of writing present you the most trouble (brainstorming, researching, editing, etc.). Determine if it is just taking time or if you are experiencing blocks or anxiety. Some stages take longer than others so the feeling of being “stuck” might just be the process playing itself out. When you figure it out, try some different tactics such as talking to your writing buddy (see above) and reading about new approaches (reverse outlining, brainstorming, revisions).
    • Build a writing routine. This can be particularly useful if you have long writing projects such as dissertations, master’s theses, articles for publication, and others. Even establishing 15- to 20-minute writing blocks regularly throughout the week can help encourage and maintain productivity, while also alleviating guilty and anxious feelings about the process. This also ensures that you’re never too far away from the last time you wrote, which can sometimes cause anxiety about being “behind” on your writing.

Find and Get Support

Writing doesn’t have to be a terrible experience. It can be managed, and effective writing habits can be learned and cultivated. There are many professional resources for you on campus from professors, staff, counselors, advisors, and, of course, the Writing Coach. The Writing Coach can help with various stages of writing and can help you establish sustainable writing habits to help alleviate writing anxiety and writer’s block.

Works Consulted

Hjortshoj, Keith. 2001. Understanding Writing Blocks. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Material from this post is adapted from “Writing Anxiety” from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center.

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Writing Bootcamp for PhD Students

Writing Bootcamp is a writing-intensive, distraction-free, one-day event intended for writers who need the final push to complete a long-term writing project. The Writing Bootcamp is an intentional, goal-oriented event that requires writers to establish goals in the beginning of Bootcamp and participate in a lunch discussion to discuss progress and challenges. There will be four 90-minute writing blocks, two 30-minute stretch breaks, and a one-hour “working lunch.”

Writing Bootcamp is best suited for students who need a final push or are near the final drafting or revision stages of their writing projects. Because the schedule is writing-intensive, it is not recommended for writers in the brainstorming stage, research stage, or revision stage, even if they will be writing. Bootcamp is not intended for group or individual tutoring sessions with the Coach, though the Coach will be available for questions. Lunch will be provided. Space is limited to 6 people per bootcamp day.

Bootcamp Dates & Times:

Saturday, June 24, 2017 8:15 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday, July 29, 2017 8:15 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Interested? Click here to RSVP.

Your RSVP is your commitment to attend the full day, including the lunch discussion.

Got additional questions? Contact Francesca Gacho, the Graduate Writing Coach: [email protected]

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PhD Writing Groups starting June 20th

Working on a long paper such as a proposal, dissertation, or an article for publication or conference? Planning to use the summer to start/work on/complete major writing projects? Sign up for a monthly summer writing group. Francesca Gacho, the School of Communication Graduate Writing Coach, will be available to guide the writing session, provide tips for best practices, and provide brief one-on-one consultations as needed.

Writing groups are comprised of 4-6 people who meet regularly to write and establish sustainable writing habits. The group meets once a month for 3.5 hours (two 1-hour writing blocks with two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute peer review/check-in). Students will receive training in best practices for running a successful writing group and additional support from the Graduate Writing Coach. Writing groups work best for students who are starting to write or in the process of writing long-term projects.

The group will meet on the following proposed dates June 20 (Tuesday), July 20 (Thursday), and August 10 (Thursday). Times are TBD.

Joining a writing group is a great way to establish a writing schedule, gain a sense of your own work/writing habits, and manage writing projects in a practical and efficient way. The Writing Group is not intended for group or individual tutoring sessions with the Coach, though the Coach will be available for questions. The Writing Coach will also assist in securing a classroom for the group. Snacks and refreshments will be provided. Interested? Click here to sign up. Open to Annenberg Communication PhD students only.

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