Writing Well: Two's Company, Three's a Crowd— Unless You're Writing

Two's Company, Three's a Crowd— Unless You're Writing

Essay tests are solo events, novels are written in lonely garrets, and we don't want to get into poetry and pain. When you write across the curriculum, however, you're likely to be called upon to do some collaborative writing.

Collaborative writing involves several people working together to create a document. The participants may be working in the same place, different places, at the same time, or at different times. Increasingly, collaborative writing is being done electronically, through e-mail.

You'll most likely be asked to write collaboratively in situations such as these:

  • You're conducting a scientific experiment in a class or laboratory.
  • A grant application has to be completed.
  • On the job, the writing task is too big, important, or complex for one person to complete alone. This is true with government bids, for example.
  • It is important to reach consensus and have a group viewpoint.
  • You're a government official, lawyer, or physician preparing a document for publication.

It's plain to see that group writing is here to stay. Even if you haven't been involved in this method of composition yet, I guarantee that it's on your horizon.


Writing in groups has its advantages and disadvantages. Here are the two sides in a nutshell:

  • Pro: Many hands make light work.
  • Con: Too many cooks spoil the broth.
  • Pro: Two heads are better than one.
  • Con: A camel was a horse designed by a committee.

As these clichs show, some people think collaborative writing is the greatest thing since sliced bread; others consider it in the same class as spiders, sky-diving, and snarling dogs. Even if you're a member of the latter group, remember that even the finest writers can benefit from some judicious editing.

Write Angles

People write well in groups when they are flexible, respect others, confident, able to accept criticism, and deal well with conflict.

Group writing can also help relieve some of the tension you may have about writing, since it takes part of the burden from your shoulders by spreading the task. Writing with a partner or in a group also helps you …

  • Consider the issue from different sides.
  • Appeal to a wider audience.
  • Complete the task more quickly.
  • Pick up writing tips from others.
  • Experiment with different styles.

All Together, Now

Author! Author!

Close to 90 percent of all business executives write in teams at least some of the time. About half of those surveyed found collaborative writing productive. Since half of the executives did not find group writing worth the time or trouble, you can tell that collaborative writing isn't everyone's cup of tea. However, when it comes to writing many kinds of documents across the curriculum, you may have to share your toys.

Try these suggestions to make collaborative writing as successful and painless as possible.

  1. Start by defining the task clearly.
  2. Identify the audience and purpose from the outset.
  3. Set a timetable.
  4. Always build in extra time. A few extra days can make the difference between a merely acceptable document and a superb one—as well as between failure and success.
  5. Try to allocate tasks as fairly as possible: Don't let anyone be a martyr or a shirker.
  6. Don't assume that everyone knows what you mean or how you feel. State your points clearly and if necessary, in writing.
  7. Keep the meetings brief and on task.
  8. Try to be flexible.
  9. Make the time to build group cohesion and loyalty. Group members will work harder and better if they're united and feel invested in the project.
  10. Have one group member proofread the entire document for errors in spelling, grammar, mechanics, and usage.
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.