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Undergraduate Writing: Collaborative Assignments

Introduction

In Walden courses, students may be asked to complete collaborative assignments. Working with others requires skills above and beyond that of writing alone: time management, delegation, and respectful communication, among others. This page provides tips for two popular collaborative assignments: group papers and peer review.

Group Papers

Group assignments can be particularly challenging in an online environment. Therefore, it is important to have a plan in place so that the work goes smoothly and is completed on time.

In the initial planning session for your group paper, consider these actions:

1. Define roles. Who will perform what aspects of the writing process? These roles will change depending on the size of the group and the particular assignment. As an example: With a group of five, you might choose one overall manager, a researcher, several writers, and an editor. These roles will change depending on the size of the group and the particular assignment. Check with your instructor about whether the assignment already includes predetermined roles.

2. Establish deadlines. Be aware of the assignment's due date and set some mini-deadlines leading up to it. Creating these deadlines along the way will prevent the group from scrambling at the last minute and submitting a less-than-polished draft. 

3. Set communication rules. How will group members communicate? Perhaps the instructor will set up a private Blackboard discussion space for you. If not, determine whether you will communicate by e-mail, phone, instant messaging, Skype, or some other method. As an example: To exchange drafts and materials, you could use e-mail, Google Drive, or Dropbox. Be sure to get contact information so that if a group member is not participating, you can reach out to him or her.

4. Brainstorm and outline. For a successful group paper, all members must be invested in the topic. Together, brainstorm ideas for approaching the assignment, allowing each member to share his or her perspective. Based on these ideas, come to a consensus on the overall argument or purpose that will guide the paper. Collaborate on an outline that covers all required areas of the assignment and that supports your argument.


As you work together, follow these tips:

1. Read each other's work. Believe it or not, many groups never actually read the entire paper as a whole. If each member is only interested in his or her contribution, the paper will not flow well. It will read like many different voices rather than one strong, unified voice. The group should make sure that the paper is focused, that the parts fit together and that the tone remains formal. As an example: Does the body of the paper do what the introduction says it will? Does each paragraph build on the previous one?

2. Let the instructor know. If someone is not participating according to the group rules and you have attempted communication with no answer, contact your course instructor for guidance and resolution.

3. Proofread. With a lot of different hands on a document, things like punctuation, spelling, and grammar can get forgotten. Most importantly, make sure phrases taken directly from a source are enclosed in quotation marks to avoid plagiarism. See our Proofreading and Revising page for more specific techniques.

4. Ask the Writing Center. Getting feedback is always important, but it can be especially useful for group writing. Propose to the student responsible for editing the paper that he or she make an appointment with the Writing Center for feedback. That way, someone outside of the group can offer suggestions. The Writing Center is a great resource for resolving questions about the writing aspect of group work too. As an example: If you and your group members disagree on a grammar, APA, or writing rule, e-mail writingsupport@waldenu.edu.

Peer Review

Occasionally, you may be paired up with another student to exchange drafts of a paper. The point of this assignment is to practice giving and receiving constructive feedback. With this feedback, the writer can then revise for a stronger final submission. Reading someone else's rough draft is a big responsibility--but it is also an opportunity to trust others and show respect. In approaching a peer review,

Be specific. In order to understand and improve, fellow students need specific (rather than general) feedback.

  • Instead of: Nice job! or I liked it!
  • Use: You supported your points well with government statistics and information from the course textbook, particularly in the paragraph on the effects of lung cancer. I really believed what you were saying about treatment because of that information.

In the second example, the writer's strength is clearly expressed. The exact paragraph is even mentioned, so that the writer can examine that paragraph and use it as a model for others.

Remove judgment and emotion. In the online environment, we sometimes forget we are conversing with actual people (rather than computers). While giving feedback, make sure you are being respectful and neutral, even if you disagree with what a classmate has written.

  • Instead of: Your paper had absolutely no introduction, so I was completely lost. On top of that, the grammar was atrocious!
  • Use: It would really help to have an introductory paragraph to provide background and focus. Then the reader would know overall what the paper was about. Also, I was sort of confused when the verbs switched from present to future tense. Was there a reason or was that just a mistake?

Notice how the judgmental language has been removed from the second example and the tone is more friendly and helpful.

Find a balance. If you find yourself responding only negatively or only positively, take a pause and view the paper from the other perspective. While areas for improvement might be easier to identify, positive feedback is just as important in underscoring your peers' strengths. You might also use positive feedback as a way to suggest improvements in other parts of the paper

  • Use: Your thesis statement in the first paragraph was very easy to identify and understand.
  • Use: This paragraph's topic sentence is helpful in telling me the focus of the paragraph as a whole. I noticed that you don't always include a topic sentence in all your paragraphs (like paragraph 3). I'd suggest using this topic sentence as an example for adding similar topic sentences to other paragraphs.

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