Individual vs. Collaborative Writing
Much writing done outside of the classroom is done collaboratively, or with a group of people. In particular, organizations rely upon collaborative writing to ensure that their external communications are coordinated, correct, and quickly compiled.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to become self-supporting poets can continue to write individually. Most of us, however, will have to write as part of a team. The team might be an informal group of co-workers or a structured writer-editor partnership. By studying and practicing collaborative writing in the classroom, we can develop attitudes and skills that will assist us with later professional writing projects.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Collaborative Writing
Although not exhaustive, the list below lists some of the advantages and disadvantages of colloborative writing:
- Advantage-Diversity of Opinion. With more minds at work on the project there are more ideas and a variety of perspectives. Also, it’s highly unlikely that the group will get writer’s block as a whole.
- Disadvantage-Conflict. With more minds, however, conflict, over either the substance or the process of the writing, becomes more likely. Yet when carefully managed, this conflict can produce better writing. Groups must also be careful not to let internal politics impede the project’s progress.
- Advantage-Division of Labor. A group of writers can break a large project down either by tasks (research, drafting, documenting, editing) or sections. It’s important, however, that work is equally distributed and individual members are held accountable for their contributions.
- Disadvantage-Differences in Style. A collaborative writing project may display an unwanted variation in writing style if not carefully edited. Also, team members might have different working styles: some might be get-it-done pragmatists while others might be procrastinating perfectionists.
- Advantage-Multiple Proofreaders. As long as there are no disagreements over grammar, it helps to have a number of people edit a writing project.
- Disadvantage-Peer Pressure. If a team member is very quiet or unassertive, he or she will have a hard time being heard in the group setting. Collaborative writing projects, however, can be a good means by which shy people can learn to better interact with others.
Approaching a Collaborative Writing Project
Many students dislike working with other students. However, collaborative learning has not only proved to be effective, but also prepares students for later work with organizations. Therefore, it is likely to remain a part of the college curriculum. With planning and attention, collaborative projects can be productive and enjoyable. Listed below are suggested steps for approaching a collaborative project:
- Select your teammates carefully. Students who have similar study habits and goals will work better together. If you are an A student, you will be frustrated working with a group of students who just want to get the assignment done.
- Discuss each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Communication is the key to a successful collaborative writing project. Time spent getting to know about the people on the team will produce better results.
- Decide upon an organizational structure and create a contact list. Some groups appoint a formal leader; other groups work by consensus. Decide which method your group will use. Be sure to gather and distribute contact information for all group members.
- Develop a project plan. A project plan lists the different tasks associated with the project, who each task is assigned to, and when the task is supposed to be completed.
- Plan for quality assurance and contingencies. Individual group members often fail to deliver work that is in finished form. They think that someone else on the team will fix it up. Or some group members may not produce writing that is of the quality the team expects. For these reasons, it is advisable to have a quality assurance procedure–either an individual or process–that ensures the writing is coherent and scholarly. It is also advisable to have contingency or backup plans. What if the group member with the final product does not come to class on the day the project is due? How would you contact him or her and get the finished project?