Collaborative writing refers to the process of more than one author producing text with the goal of creating a text that all the individuals involved in the collaboration could call their own. Writing, whether it takes place individually or with others, involves not only the technical text production but, first and foremost, a reflective negotiation process which results in a completed text.
Collaborative writing is an increasingly popular method for producing text both in the classroom and in working life. Various projects and group assignments require collaborative writing skills. Writing collaboratively with others is, at its best, an interesting and rewarding activity which combines the various perspectives and competences of the writers. One of the positive features of collaborative writing is that students and experts in different fields are able to come together to produce diversified, multidisciplinary information, sharing expertise and distributing responsibility among many authors.
At Diak, the parties writing collaboratively include students, teachers, project staff and Diak-external working life representatives. The potential combinations of authors may be very different: students with their peers; student(s) with a teacher; students, teachers and project staff; student(s) teachers and working life representatives.
The feature common to all these combinations is that the writers must find the writing practices that work well for them specifically. This is easier if you understand your personal way of producing text as well as that of the others, and if you all share an understanding of the writing process and enter into conscious agreements about it.
The initial phase of a writing process lays the foundation for successful work. Because there are many different tools available for collaborative writers, tool selection may seem a key issue. At length, it is not essential whether the tool selected is Google Docs, Microsoft 365 or Dropbox. It is more important to openly discuss everyone's way of writing, their strengths, possible challenges, hindrances and fears so that everyone knows from the very beginning what type of writers are present in the group and how all the writers may use their personal strengths to support the writing of the others.
Matters relating to commitment should be discussed in the initial phase. What possibilities and limitations do people have regarding their time allocation? What issues need to be paid attention to regarding work, studies and private lives? How do these issues impact the common project and how can they be anticipated?
It is useful to agree on writing practices. How is the writing to be carried out: will someone write a complete first version for others to add on? Will others add on to a mere beginning composed by a group member? Will the subject matter be subdivided so that each writer gets one part? Will there be an editor to revise and finalise the text? Will it be allowed to edit someone else's text, and under what conditions?
Everyone's share needs to be mutually agreed on. Is it the idea that the actual writing is evenly distributed, or will some group members, for example, search for information and acquire data and materials? Is someone's share larger because that person is a better expert in the subject? What expertise does each writer actually have in the subject?
Responsibilities can be distributed in different ways in the different phases of the process. Some group members may assume the responsibility for producing the first version of the text while others assume it for revising and finalising the text.
Before the writing begins, everyone must be aware of the shared goal. What are the purpose and the goal of the text? What are the key contents? For whom is the text meant? What does it aim to accomplish? Will the writing consist of reporting in order to show how an assignment has been completed or how a problem has been solved? Will the text need to evidence competence, primarily? Is the idea to use the text to influence and convince? Will the text be used for teaching and guiding? What will the text type be and how will the text be structured? It is important to decide what is essential in the subject. How extensive will the text be?
A writers' collaboration agreement is a good tool for arranging these issues.
The actual writing phase starts with the drafting of the tentative structural outline for the contents of the paper (disposition). This outline may change during the writing process, but without an outline, the common understanding of the goals, purpose and contents of the text may become blurred.
No text can come about through the writers merely planning it and talking about it. So – get to it! In the writing phase, the writers do what they in the initial phase agreed to do. If it was agreed that certain individuals produce the first version, then these individuals must proceed to write it. If the subject area was subdivided into separate topics for the different writers, then each writer must proceed to do his or her part. It is no use waiting for inspiration but instead, start writing as soon as possible.
The attitude when starting writing should be that the text is unsettled and constantly developing as long as it is being written and revised. Do not demand of yourself or anyone else that the text be ready right away, acceptable and faultless. The most important issue is to formulate your ideas into a textual form first in order to produce something that can be developed further.
Changes to responsibilities and other critical process events must be carried out swiftly. Often, schedules do not allow the process to stay at a standstill for very long. If you cannot do your share in the agreed time, you must let others know. Contacting the other writers may, in the best case, solve many of your writing problems. If your writing is at a standstill, you may gain new momentum with the help of others.
Always show respect towards the writing and any outputs of the others. Appreciation and thanks prevent neither the revising of the text to improve it nor the changing of it to better present your views.
When the text is being revised, the writers work on its coherence in terms of structures and formulations. Do the paragraphs and chapters interconnect in a natural manner? Does the theme progress properly through them? Are there points of discontinuity that prevent the reader from seeing the interrelations of the items? Is something missing? Is something too much?
To be able to see the text as an outside reader would see it, you need to create some distance between yourself and the text. It may help to read the text in different media, perhaps printed on paper.
The styles and writing skills of the different writers may differ a great deal. In the finalising phase, it is necessary to attend to the coherence of the text's linguistic expressions and formulations. It is good if the writer with the best awareness of proper grammar carries out the final touches. This person should also check that all concepts and names that appear in the text are written in the same way throughout the text.
Mika Alavaikko, Hanna Hovila and Anna Liisa Karjalainen (2018, 2020)