Writing as a Team

To effectively write as a team, it is critical that you communicate with one another during all phases of the composing process: invention, information gathering, drafting/revision, and editing/proofreading. Your team should alternate as much as possible between performing these tasks individually and working with the entire team or other team members.

Invention

Review the writing task as a team to ensure everyone has a consistent understanding— including the purpose, audience, and medium (if specified). The group should then brainstorm those areas not specified in the assignment such as topic, sub-topics, approach, medium, etc. During the brainstorming process, make sure each team member shares their interests and expertise, and take notes so ideas and information are not lost.

Information Gathering

Once your team has agreed on its writing task, you should establish research objectives, and brainstorm research strategies and potential information sources. Depending on time constraints, team members can work together or independently research and gather information. If you divvy up responsibilities make sure you agree on deadlines and deliverables (who will have what finished by when). It’s important for the group to meet after individual members have gathered information, but before they start writing. Each member should report the information she or he found because this may affect what another person writes. The group as a whole should evaluate the quality of the information, its reliability, objectivity, applicability, and so on.

Drafting/Revision

Out of necessity, most writing teams require that different people write different sections. At this point, don’t assign the overview, recommendations, or executive summary (if required). Those sections should be written at the end of the process. To ensure consistency between sections, be sure you agree about the formality, directness, and other style issues in advance. Again, establish deadlines and deliverables. As each section gets drafted, it should be read by at least one pre-assigned member other than the author. This “reviewer” should offer the author comments primarily about the substance of the section:

  1. What questions remain unanswered?
  2. What assertions are insufficiently supported?
  3. What connections are unclear?
  4. What material seems irrelevant?

The reviewer should imagine herself/himself as the intended audience—focusing on what the audience will look for. The reviewer should discuss the piece with the author noting both strengths and weaknesses and writing down specific suggestions for improvement. At this point, reviewers should focus on substance, not surface features such as spelling and grammar. After these initial reviews and writers have revised their sections at least once, everyone should distribute copies of their sections to all team members in advance of the next meeting--giving everyone time to read everything before the team meets. At this meeting, the group should discuss the work in progress, section-by-section, offering final suggestions to each writer about the second to the last revision. After this section-by-section review, the group should also consider what the piece as a whole looks like:

  1. Has the organization remained firm and logical?
  2. Are connections clear?
  3. Should any material be cut? (Remember, material is only important insofar as it supports the overall purpose.)

At this point, your team should be ready to discuss the overview, recommendations, and/or executive summary. Begin by coming to a consensus about what you conclude or recommend on the basis of your information. You need not limit yourself to one conclusion or recommendation. Indeed, a major conclusion is usually comprised of several minor conclusions. Since different team members are more familiar with different sections, it’s essential for the team to derive conclusions and recommendations as a team. With regards to a summary, team members can also come to agreement about key points for each section. Your team will also want to discuss how you want to introduce the paper—foregrounding your conclusions/recommendations. Once the team has identified the content for these sections, assign the strongest writers to draft them. The team should decide how they want to handle reviews for these sections. Once all final revisions are made, authors should read their individual sections one last time.

Editing/Proofreading

For final editing, team members should trade sections including the introduction and conclusion with at least one other team member, who should perform one reading dedicated to correcting surface details (grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation). During the editing stage, you will also want to cut unnecessary words, fill in missing words, clear up ambiguities. Reading aloud is one of the best techniques for proofreading. Once authors have made all edits, it’s simply a matter of compiling the final product and celebrating.

Responding to Other Writers

  1. Develop a schedule based on the final deadline. Set deadlines for drafts; schedule team meetings.
  2. Develop, as a team a series of questions for each reader to ask about other writer’s drafts; determine what you will be looking for in each writer’s drafts.
  3. Before distributing drafts to other team members, each writer should discuss or attach a cover memo explaining what he or she tried to accomplish and directing reviewers to specific areas where the writer has questions or wants suggestions.
  4. Reviewers should respond to the writer’s questions, and pose some of their own questions based on their reading of the section. Comments should be descriptive, point to particular sections or sentences, provide specific suggestions for improvement.

Howe Writing Initiative ‧ Farmer School of Business ‧ Miami University

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