Writing in Collaboration

Writing in Collaboration


We all know that building an effective team is often difficult and time-consuming.  Why then, is there so much emphasis on teams in the workplace?  Why do University instructors put so many group projects in their courses?  Here are a few answers.

Because the reader. . . Because each reader has a unique perspective on the organization and its culture,

Because readers in organizations need more data more quickly than one person can amass and assemble it,

Because the reader needs a coherent document and teamwork is a fact of corporate life,

the writer. . .the writer must understand and incorporate as many perspectives as feasible to be sure he/she reaches all readers.

the writer needs to collaborate with colleagues in solving problems, both organization problems and writing problems.

the writer must understand team building and effective processes for collaborative writing.

Or, as Joe Paterno, the head football coach at Penn State University once put it: “When a team outgrows individual performance and learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality.”

Excellence is our goal.

For any group or team to work together effectively, the following roles must be played.  Often people shift their roles according to what their task is on the team or how far along the team is in its project.  Our class project is too short for real team-building.  Nonetheless, it is a collaboration and as such it will need group members to act in ways that have been proven to make small groups really work.

Supporting, elaborating

helps to form cohesion and team spirit by supporting both individuals and the group or team’s goals; also builds on suggestions by others.
Sample comment: “Bob’s suggestion for the instructions topic sounds good to me.  It’s an idea we could accomplish in excellent form by the deadline time.  I also think it would make a great booklet for some company like Home Depot or Lowe’s to distribute.”

Gatekeeping, clarifying

keeps the group from wandering off task or one person from monopolizing the discussion; moves group to next step by reminding team of who has spoken and where the group really is in its deliberations; a kind of facilitator role.
Sample comment: “Now that we seem to have reached a consensus about the topic and our time is getting short, I think it might be a good idea to talk about how we will tackle the actual writing.”

Confronting, testing

keeps team on task by confronting inappropriate behavior, bringing up unfinished business, questioning if group is ready to decide.
Sample comment: “Joe, I know that exam was problematic for several of you, but going over that again just seems to be taking us off task. We still need to decide how we want to join the parts of the instructions.  Renee suggested we get together in a lab and one of us types while the others keep track of inconsistencies and style problems.  Ralph also volunteered to join them all himself and bring them back next time.  Any other suggestions?  Or can we decide now?”

Harmonizing, mediating

helps the group when conflicts have solidified so that the group is stuck; intervenes to bring about resolution, often with synergistic, rather than either/or suggestions
Sample Comment: “We have gone over these two alternatives several times and don’t seem able to decide.  I wonder if we could combine the two options.  Could we let Ralph join all the files and email us the results.  Then we could get together in the lab  the way that Renee suggested, and bring our ideas and comments. That way we all have time to review the document.”

Note: conflict is natural in group work, even healthy and creative,

  • IF it centers on ideas, not people,
  • WHEN group members learn to resolve conflicts so that the group can move forward


keeps the group on target and assures everyone knows what has been accomplished by reviewing, questioning, pulling the discussion together, stating implications and action items.
Sample Comment:  “We just have five minutes left to the class and we need to have our instructions ready for peer review next class.  Do we all agree that Cathy will put the graphics in tonight, and we meet at the library tomorrow to go over the draft with pictures?  Then I’ll be responsible for making any changes and bring two copies to the next class. Anything else we need to do?”

Employing these kinds of strategies can keep the group enjoying the work, as well as accomplishing the task!

The next step is examining the possibilities for team writing.

  Collaborative Writing: Processes and Possibilities