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Common Assignments: Collaborative Writing in Business & Management

Basics

Although there may be some differences in writing expectations between disciplines and, sometimes, subdisciplines, all writers of scholarly material are required to follow basic writing standards such as writing clear, concise, and grammatically correct sentences; using proper punctuation; and, in all Walden programs, using APA style. Students in Walden’s business and management programs are, however, also expected to demonstrate critical thinking skills, synthesize data, assess gaps in literature, analyze theories and concepts within the field, communicate results from original research, and through these efforts, advance knowledge in field. In practice, business writers write memos and emails, reports, letters, and so forth, and they are often asked to work together on various projects. Because of the recognition that business people often work in teams, instructors often choose to assign projects that require student collaboration. This document will focus on the benefits and challenges of collaborative writing and offer strategies students can employ for better project outcomes.

Collaborative writing has been defined as “an iterative and social process that involves a team focused on a common objective that negotiates, coordinates, and communicates during the creation of a common document” (Van Waes, 2004, p. 73). The three most often noted strategies for joint authorship are (a) reciprocal, in which authors work on the project simultaneously; (b) sequential, in which one author completes a task before the next is begun by another; and (c) parallel writing, in which authors divide tasks and each works on a specific component of the overall project (Spring, 1997). Some authors may choose to use a combination of these strategies.

In assigning group projects, instructors reason that collaborative writing will foster teamwork (which places the focus on the product rather than on the individual), enable students to benefit from different viewpoints, encourage debate and negotiation, and allow participants to assess how their work compares to that of others (Texas A&M University Writing Center, 2011). For all its benefits, this type of writing can be challenging as teams are required to analyze complex material, synthesize varying analyses, and write a piece that is stylistically consistent. These requirements can be particularly challenging for students who work in an online environment and may not have the benefit of holding regular face-to-face meetings.

According to Spring (1997), among the challenges faced by students engaged in collaborative writing are:

  • Establishing an agenda or goal of the effort.
  • Identifying writing tasks and dividing those tasks among group members.
  • Tracking individual idea generation.
  • Defining rules for document management.
  • Identifying roles for group members.
  • Communicating ideas.
  • Managing conflict. ( para. 2)

To succeed in collaborative projects, it is important that students work out a plan that minimizes the risks associated with the aforementioned challenges. By having a development process that all participants can use and understand, students can clarify expectations and enable team members to come up with a plan to meet project goals (Apple, 2011). Because it is important to develop a cohesive document, clarifying the main idea, breadth, and target audience will enable the team to remain focused and working towards a common goal (Apple, 2011).

Collaborative writing can be particularly challenging in an online environment. In a study of collaborative writing dynamics, Cerrato (as cited in Van Waes, 2004) found that teams that collaborate on writing projects in a virtual environment often spend less time communicating with their teammates than those working face-to-face. Furthermore, Cerrato found that much of the communication between these groups was spent on clarifying the actions of fellow teammates and regulating activities than on content and ideas. Given the additional barriers to clear communication posed by the virtual environment, it is important that teams work on fostering a climate of trust and respect for one another’s ideas, one that will enable the members to receive constructive criticism without becoming defensive (Apple, 2011). One way to foster a climate of trust and avoid frustration is to clarify at the beginning of the project that all documents go through a revision process (Apple, 2011). It is also important for the team to choose a strategy that fits the needs of the group (Spring, 1997). Sequential writing may not be the best strategy for a team that has an impending deadline; reciprocal writing may be more appropriate. For complex projects, it may be beneficial to use a dynamic strategy that allows teams to capitalize on the high energy of the group at the beginning of the project as interest and energy tend to decrease as projects drag on (Kraut et al., as cited in Lowry, Curtis, & Lowry, 2004). Above all, the group will do well if the focus remains on writing a high-quality document.

 

References

Apple, C. (2011). Keys to a successful collaborative writing project. Retrieved February 1, 2011, from http://www.suite101.com/content/keys-to-a-successful-collaborative-writing-project-a329357

Texas A&M University Writing Center. (2011). Collaborative writing. Retrieved February 7, 2011, from http://writingcenter.tamu.edu/teaching-writing/instruction/collaborative-writing/

Lowry, P. B., Curtis, A., & Lowry, M. R. (2004). Building a taxonomy and nomenclature of collaborative writing to improve interdisciplinary research and practice. Journal of Business Communication, 41, 66-99. doi: 10.1177/0021943603259363

Van Waes, L. (2004). Collaborative writing in a digital environment. Information Design Journal, 12, 73-80.