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There is a common idea that writing is a “talent” that you either have or you don’t, but this is false. Anyone can be a good writer with practice and a process. The idea of the author who sits alone with beautiful words pouring forth onto the page is a myth. Even the best authors, including your favorite authors, have a time-tested process. Here are some suggestions.
The Group Writing Process
The group writing process is similar to the individual writing process in that it takes writers from the initial draft stages to revisions to proofreading the final document prior to submission. Individual components within the process, however, can differ between individual and group writing tasks. Consider the following steps as you prepare for a collaborative writing task:
1. Identify the goal of the paper: All group members must discuss the goal of the paper. Do you have a writing prompt?
2. Start early: Although this is a common piece of advice for writing, in group writing, this is especially important. Starting early will allow time to make revisions, to accommodate group members’ schedules, to adjust research and writing approaches if necessary, etc. Expect your paper to go through multiple iterations to ensure a unified and consistent piece of writing.
3. Brainstorm: In Chapter 2, you learned about brainstorming ideas using mind and concept maps. The same strategy can apply to the group writing process, but here, all group members should contribute ideas. You and your peers should generate as many ideas as possible, and each idea should be equally valued at this point. No suggestions should be eliminated. If you do not already know your topic, you will likely settle on one during this brainstorming stage. Have you identified a problem that requires a solution?
4. Outline: Use an outline to structure the ideas from your brainstorming session. In other words, you should have a clear focus and points to be developed. The items you put in the outline should address the goals of your paper. This outline could serve as the framework for your paper. You can outline as a group to ensure that everyone is on the same page in terms of goals and outcomes. Have you developed a potential thesis statement from the research/knowledge you already have?
5. Research: You learned about gathering research in Chapter 2. In this step, it will likely benefit your group to divide the work. If you have completed the outline stage, then you will likely see natural points of division for the research step. Can you narrow your thesis statement at this point? Are you able to articulate the purpose for your paper?
6. Discuss progress: This a step that you do not generally have a chance to engage with during individual writing tasks unless you discuss your progress with a peer, a writing centre professional, a professor, or others. This is an essential part of the writing process for group writing. In this step, you should meet with your group to discuss your individual research finding. Think about the following questions:
a. How will the individual research contribute to the goals of the assignment?
b. How will the individual research be integrated? Organized into sections?
c. Do any revisions need to be done to the outline?
d. Does the overall structure of the paper need to be altered at this point to integrate the expected – or new – research findings?
Remember that the writing process is ‘recursive and sloppy, full of loops that can take the writer back to previous locations (the library, the thesis) …, including dead ends’ (Speck, 2002, pp. 40-1). It’s okay if you and your group members feel like things are not linear or completely clear at this point in your writing process.
7. Write: Write the essay/report/draft together. One way to do this is via an online/shared platform such as Google Docs or a shared file in Dropbox or Outlook. By using an online, shared platform, all members of the group can contribute to the document’s various sections at any time while other members can view the changes as they’re made.1 Using a shared platform also assists during times when groups cannot meet to discuss progress in person. Since each member is responsible for the paper, not just their initial sections or research, a shared platform can provide the place for individuals to contribute to the overall document.
8. Read: Each member is responsible for the final product; as such, each member should read the entire draft throughout the writing process and especially towards the end of the process. Think about the following:
a. Does the paper achieve the goals of the assignment?
b. Are there sections that need more work (e.g., more research, reworking of ideas,
elimination of unnecessary info)?
c. Are there clear transitions between sections and ideas?
d. Is the format and writing style consistent throughout the document?
9. Revise: Meet with your group members – preferably in person or via conference call – to discuss the paper’s strengths and weaknesses. Each person should come to the meeting having read the full document and with notes about their individual assessment of the document. Discuss issues that stand out in terms of content, organization, style, voice and tone (see Chapter 5 for a review of voice and tone) and come to conclusions about these items so that everyone in the group is working towards the common goal(s). When there is a difference in ideas, discuss the pros and cons to try to achieve group agreement. Repeat this process until all group members are satisfied with the paper (Duke University, 2013).
Duke University. (2013). Group essays. Retrieved from https://twp.duke.edu/sites/twp.duke.edu/files/file-attachments/ws-group-essays-handout.original.pdf
Speck, B. W. (2002). Facilitating students’ collaborative writing. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/ERIC-ED466716/pdf/ERIC-ED466716.pdf
1. In writing this book, in fact, we used Google Docs in a shared Google Drive to organize our individual and collaborative writing tasks. While each of us took the lead on writing a chapter, we made revisions, provided feedback through comments, and offered suggestions so that we were better reaching the goals we set for this book.