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WRITING COLLABORATIVELYENGL3359: Technical WritingMartin (Adopted from Spinuzzi, 2012)
THE PROBLEM WITH WRITING LONG DOCUMENTS
Coordination: Getting everyone point in the same direction — in terms of objectives, responsibilities, and effort
Cooperation: Making sure everyone stays pointed in the same direction
Coherence: Producing an argument that hangs together
THE FIVE PARAGRAPH ESSAY
Introduction: Thesis sentence, forecasting
Point 1: Claim and evidence
Point 2: Claim and evidence
Point 3: Claim and evidence
Conclusion: Restate thesis, summarize
BUT THE FIVE PARAGRAPH ESSAY WON’T HELP:
This organization works fine for short, constrained arguments (composition assignments, letters of application), but not for longer arguments. It does not scale well.
It leads to fragmented arguments
It provides no support for group argumentation
It provides no support for complex argumentation
THE RESEARCH REPORT
Introduction: Thesis and forecasting
Situation and Objectives: What’s wrong, and what does this report do about it?
Methods: How was the situation investigated?
Results: What did you find?
Discussion (recommendations): What does it mean (to us)?
BUT THE RESEARCH REPORT BY ITSELF IS ONLY A MARGINAL IMPROVEMENT
It sharply divides functions in the sections
In group projects, those divisions often mirror divisions of labor and chronology
Those divisions lead to silos: the parts don’t “talk” to each other
Coordination, cooperation, and coherence issues are dealt with intuitively
APPROACHES TO PULLING TOGETHER A COLLABORATIVE REPORT
This problem is typically handled through ad hoc means:
designating a chief editor
subordinating work to a chief author/architect
committing to multiple rounds of global revisions, or
simply hoping for the best
HOPE IS NOT A STRATEGY.
PULLING TOGETHER A COLLABORATIVE WRITING PROJECT TAKES WORK AT THREE LEVELS
Strategic: Managerial; involves initiation and planning of projects
Tactical: Project leadership; involves planning and executing milestones
Operational: Team members; involves controlling, executing, and closing steps
THE STRATEGIC LEVEL (PART 1)
Set objectives, the concrete aims the project will accomplish — not just as a policy argument, but also as a policy document. (Audience, framing, limiting, of claims and argument).
Set themes, the common threads that will bind together to different parts of the argument. (Objectives, assumptions, desired results).
THE STRATEGIC LEVEL (PART 2)
Set standards of evidence, the standards that will govern what you can use to underpin your arguments. (Audience, disciplinary standards, assumptions).
Determine the overall argument, based on the above. This argument may shift tactically during the process, but will strategically remain the same.
THE TACTICAL LEVEL (PART 1)
Adopt an organizational structure that will afford maximum flexibility and mutual oversight. Decentralize and core-dump.
Set milestones that will move you to the strategic objective, working backward from the delivery date. Word these as concrete actions that move your team toward the objective. Make sure internal milestones lead external ones.
Delegate milestones to team members during planning. These include both investigation and writing.
THE TACTICAL LEVEL (PART 2)
Maintain accountability by surfacing milestone status, progress, and concerns. Reevaluate progress periodically.
Split and consolidate milestones when necessary. Retain tactical flexibility.
Draft sections early, drawing from team interactions. (In early stages, writing is not a byproduct of the investigatory work, not a separate set of tasks.)
Work themes into the draft sections, monitoring conflicts and drifts.
THE OPERATIONAL LEVEL (PART 1)
Establish and publicize style guidelines early by adopting a style manual, guide, or sheet.
Establish and publicize organizational guidelines early by agreeing on paragraph-level organization (inductive, deductive) and chunking (long paragraphs vs. headings and bullets)
THE OPERATIONAL LEVEL (PART 2)
Establish editorial responsibility (style, mechanics, organization) and aids (grammar checkers, checklists).
Establish backup responsibility in case emergency strikes (e.g. someone gets hit by a bus).
SOFTWARE FOR SUCCESSFUL COLLABORATION
Collaborative project management (Basecamp, Zoho Projects, Wrike, PBWiki *my favorite*, or a simple spreadsheet).
Collaborative document editing (Google Docs *my favorite*, Zoho Office Suite, PBWiki).
PROJECT MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE
Collaborative: Everyone should see the emerging shape of the project
Central yet distributed: This should constitute a central “core dump” of the group’s work, one that distributes the work and makes it “bus-proof.” Make sure to back it up.
STO: All group members should be able to review the project at strategic, tactical, and operational (STO) levels, anytime.
Collaborative: Allows all team members to access each document, anytime.
Versioned: Tracks changes and allows reversion to previous versions. (Email ping-pong creates versioning issues).
Commented: Allows all team members to insert comments, either in-line or attached.
Collaborative writing is not the same as single-author writing. Early agreement, deliberation, coordination, and mutual accountability are critical.
Collaborative writing is the byproduct of the project. These projects are less about the writing (putting text on the page) and more about the policy objectives that are established and met in related efforts and media.