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The term collaborative writing refers to projects where written works are created by multiple people together (collaboratively) rather than individually. Some projects are overseen by an editor or editorial team, but many grow without any oversight. Collaborative writing is also an approach for teaching novice authors to write.
In a true collaborative environment, each contributor has an almost equal ability to add, edit, and remove text. The writing process becomes a recursive task, where each change prompts others to make more changes. It is easier to do if the group has a specific end goal in mind and harder if a goal is absent or vague.
Using collaborative writing tools can provide substantial advantages to projects ranging from increased user commitment to easier, more effective and efficient work processes.
It is often the case that when users can directly contribute to an effort and feel that they've made a difference, they become more involved with and attached to the outcome of the project. The users then feel more comfortable contributing time, effort, and personal pride into the final product, resulting in a better final outcome.
In addition, collaborative writing tools have made it easier to design better work processes. These tools provide ways to monitor what users are contributing and when they contribute so managers can quickly verify that assigned work is being completed. Since these tools typically provide revision tracking, it has also made data sharing simpler. Users won't have to keep track of what version is the current working revision since the software has automated that.
Furthermore, because this software typically provides ways for users to chat in real time, projects can be completed faster because users don't have to wait for other users to respond by asynchronous means like email.
Others advantage is that since this software makes it easy for users to contribute from anywhere in the world, projects can benefit from the inclusion of perspectives from people all around the world.
Collaborative writing strategies
Collaborative writing has been the subject of academic research and business for over two decades. A number of authors have written on the subject, and each have slightly different views on the strategies for collaborative writing.
According to Lowry et al., there are five collaborative writing strategies:
- Single-author writing occurs when one team member writes as a representative for the entire team. Single-author writing usually occurs when the writing task is simple.
- Sequential single writing. In sequential single-author writing, one group member writes at a time. Each group member is assigned a portion of the document, writes his or her portion and then passes the document onto the next group member.
- Parallel writing is the type of collaborative writing that occurs when a group divides the assignment or document into separate parts and all members work on their assigned part at the same time. There are two types of parallel writing: horizontal division parallel writing occurs when group members divide the task into sections, each member being responsible for the development of his or her assigned section; stratified division parallel writing occurs when group members divide responsibility of the creation of the product by assigning different members different roles. Some examples of roles that a member could be assigned are: author, editor, facilitator, or team leader.
- Reactive writing occurs when team members collaborate synchronously to develop their product. Team members react to and adjust each other's contributions as they are made.
- Mixed mode. This term describes a form of writing that mixes two or more of the collaborative writing strategies described above.
Onrubia and Engel also proposed five main strategies for collaborative elaboration of written products:
- Parallel construction—‘cut and paste’. Each group member contributes with a different part of the completed task and the final document is constructed through a juxtapositioning of these different parts without the contribution of other co-authors. "Divide and conquer"
- Parallel construction—‘puzzle’. Each group member contributes with an initial document with the entirely or partially completed task, and the final document is constructed through the juxtapositioning of small extracted parts of the initial contributions of other coauthors.
- Sequential summative construction. One group member presents a document that constitutes an initial, partial or complete, proposal for the task resolution, and the rest of the participants successively add their contributions to this initial document, without modifying what has been previously written, hence, systematically accepting what is added by other co-authors.
- Sequential integrating construction. One group member presents a document that constitutes an initial, partial or complete task proposal, and the other group members successively contribute to this initial document, proposing justified modifications or discussing whether they agree with what has been previously written or not.
- Integrating construction. The writing of the document is based on synchronic discussion through the chat, with repeated revisions, where all group members react to the comments, the changes and the additions made by other participants.
Ritchie and Rigano described three types of co-authoring used in the academic setting:
- Turn writing. In this form of writing, which is more cooperative than collaborative, authors contribute different sections of a text which are then merged and harmonized by a lead author.
- Lead writing. One person drafts the text, which is amended by the others.
- Writing together side-by-side. A text is composed by two or more persons who think aloud together, negotiating and refining the content. One of the authors serves as scribe and possibly also as "gatekeeper of text composition".
Collaborative writing patterns
There are several of degrees of collaboration in authoring. At one end of the range is a single author who through discussion with and review by colleagues produces a document. The other end of the spectrum is a group of writers who jointly author a document. The article by Lowry et al. identified five coordination strategies for group writing: single-author writing, sequential single writing, parallel writing, reactive writing and mixed mode. Each strategy has inherent advantages and disadvantages. For each methodology, the key issue is how the work is divided.
Based on the results of the study conducted by Ede and Lunsford, there are seven organizational patterns for collaborative authoring:
- The team plans and outlines the task, each writer prepares his or her part, and the group compiles the individual parts and revises the whole document as needed;
- The team plans and outlines the writing task, one member prepares a draft, and the team edits and revises the draft;
- One member of the team plans and writes a draft, then the group revises the draft;
- One person plans and writes the draft, then one or more members revise the draft without consulting the original authors;
- The group plans and writes the draft, one or more members revise the draft without consulting the original authors;
- One person assigns the tasks, each member completes the individual task, and one person compiles and revises the document;
- One dictates, another transcribes and edits.
Results from the study indicated that the percentage of writing groups that use these methods often or very often ranges from 3% (method 5) to 31%. Ede and Lunsford also examined the level of satisfaction of authors participating in the group writing process, finding that satisfaction is influenced by eight items:
- The degree to which goals are articulated and shared;
- The degree of openness and mutual respect;
- The degree of control the writers have over the text;
- The degree to which writers can respond to others who modify the text;
- The way in which credit (directly or indirectly) is acknowledged;
- The presence of an agreed upon procedure for managing conflicts and resolving disputes;
- The number and types of (bureaucratic) constraints imposed on the authors (e.g. deadlines, technical-legal requirements); and
- The status of the project within the organization.
Collaborative writing as an educational tool
Collaborative writing is used by educators to teach novice authors, of all ages and educational levels, to write.
A collaborative approach to demonstrate the basics of writing to children was developed in the 1980s and 1990s for use in early literacy programs. In what is called shared writing, a teacher acts as the scribe while children think aloud each sentence; this allows them to focus on generating ideas without the burden of writing. As the children become familiar with the writing process, they pass to interactive writing where they write under the guidance of the teacher.
More recently, shared and interactive writing approaches have been applied in adult literacy programs, doctoral research writing groups and academic co-authoring, especially when participants differ in status or experience (e.g. professors and students). It is also used as a didactic form of developmental editing in support of non-native English speaking scientists who need to write in English but at the same time are novice authors (in any language). In such cases, a writing mentor (e.g. a teacher of academic writing or an authors' editor) uses guided discussions (thinking aloud) to help the researchers express their ideas and organize them according to the research paper genre; the goal is to quickly train such novice researcher-authors to become independent writers.
- Project management
- Document management system
- Revision control
- collaborative editing
- collaborative fiction
- collaborative learning
- mass collaboration
- online word processors
- Content management system (CMS)
- Lowry, Paul Benjamin; Curtis, Aaron; Lowry, Michelle René (2004). "Building a taxonomy and nomenclature of collaborative writing to improve interdisciplinary research and practice" (PDF). Journal of Business Communication 41: 66. doi:10.1177/0021943603259363.
- Onrubia, Javier; Engle, Anna (2009). "Strategies for collaborative writing and phases of knowledge construction in CSCL environments". Computers & Education 53 (4): 1256–1265. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2009.06.008.
- Ritchie, Stephen M.; Rigano, Donna L. (2007). "Writing together metaphorically and bodily side-by-side: an inquiry into collaborative academic writing" (PDF). Reflective Practice 8 (1): 123–135. doi:10.1080/14623940601139087.
- Ede, L.; Lunsford, A. (1990). Singular Text/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Authoring. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.
- Button, Kathryn; Johnson, M.J.; Furgerson, P. (1996). "Interactive writing in a primary classroom" (PDF). The Reading Teacher 49 (6): 446–454.
- Lassig, Carly J.; et al. (2009). "Writing together, learning together: the value and effectiveness of a research writing group for doctoral students" (PDF). Australian Association for Research in Education 2009 International Research Conference.
- Matarese, Valerie (2013). "Collaborative research writing: developmental editing with an underlying educational vein". In Matarese, V. Supporting research writing: roles and challenges in multilingual settings. Oxford: Chandos. pp. 221–235. ISBN 1 84334 666 4.