Collaborative Writing - From Novice to Expert - Writing as Professional Development

Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016

Collaborative Writing
From Novice to Expert
Writing as Professional Development

When we connect with someone else’s writing, we hear them out and give them our full attention. When we interact with other writers and writing as individuals, we use language as a tool for social interaction (Kimble, Hildreth, & Bourdon, 2006). Yet the way that authors define collaboration can vary considerably. Some authors sit side-by-side and compose text simultaneously, others pass works-in-progress back and forth electronically—for example, using Googledocs or a wiki (Wright, Burnham, & Hooper, 2012), and still others wait until the work is nearly finished and review each other’s manuscripts using the “track changes” feature of Word. For some authors, collaboration is a preferred work style, almost irrespective of the project (Cantwell & Scevak, 2010). Many graduate students and less experienced faculty members find that collaborating with senior faculty members can be a way to inaugurate their scholarly writing and publication. Even for vastly experienced academic authors, collaboration often constitutes a contribution to the next generation of scholars and a sense that the field will be in capable hands in the future. Collaboration also has intuitive appeal because it can make an otherwise daunting writing project more manageable. Despite these potential advantages of coauthorship, many scholarly authors make errors in establishing and managing these important professional relationships (Moxley & Taylor, 1997). Making good decisions is every bit as essential in interrelationships between authors as it is in other interpersonal relationships. In many ways, writing together is a marriage of the minds, professional goals, and work habits of collaborators.

As a first step, consider the contributions people in the process could ideally make as well as the potential for disaster (Table 13.4).

Table 13.4

Collaborative professional writing: perquisites and caveats



Reciprocal trust/respect, colleagueship/friendship with a kindred spirit that may not be available elsewhere

Disagreements may surface about credit for authorship, contracts, or when the work is “ready” for submission

Complementary areas of expertise that enrich and enlarge perspectives

Distinctive styles (e.g., a linear thinker and a creative thinker) make it difficult to write in a consistent voice

Accomplishment of more ambitious projects through division of labor

Co-authors may slow—or even ruin—a project when they do not fulfill their commitments for various reasons

Rapid peer review of work and ongoing feedback as the manuscript is developed

A vision for the work endorsed by one collaborator may be the very thing that is most criticized by reviewers

Mutual encouragement can build motivation to persist, despite difficulties

One collaborator’s decision to postpone or abandon the project can result in disputes over intellectual property or loss of work

More rapid completion of the project and publication in a timely fashion

The timetable for completion may differ; for instance, if one author is on sabbatical leave while another is working full time

Authors can depend upon one another to sustain momentum and build confidence in attaining project goals

The relative importance of the project to authors may differ considerably; for example, one author may desperately “need” a publication while another does not

Affiliation with a prolific author can elevate the status of the novice

A co-author may exploit the work of the novice and fail to give appropriate credit

A satisfying and enduring writing relationship can be negotiated and confirmed contractually

Conflicts over appropriate credit for authorship and contractual terms may surface as writing relationships change

Activity 13.5: Forging a Writing Relationship

Writing relationships should not be entered into lightly. You are, in effect living with another author when you agree to collaborate, so choose co-authors as carefully as a roommate. Using Table 13.4 as a guide, evaluate some individuals you are considering as collaborators.

Collaboration with other authors—as with other relationships, ranging from domestic to business partners—is a joy when it works and a torment when it does not. Once, after investing many, many hours on a manuscript co-authored with a doctoral student, a commercial publisher selected it for a book that was published as a collection of readings. Shortly afterwards, the professor received an accusatory letter from the student, demanding to know the “financial arrangements” and why she had not been consulted first. The truth was that the professor was just as surprised as she was. Neither author had been consulted because the copyright was transferred to a professional organization when the article was first published in the journal. The “payment” for the article was exactly zero. The professor was deeply offended by the letter and regretted having invested so much time and energy in helping this student to get published. So, even though the article produced through collaborative work was successful, the collaboration was not.

Online Tool

Check to see if your institution has a site license with the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) If so, complete the Authorship module that discusses ethical issues in intellectual property.