Team Authoring Strategies

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By Naomi Nemtzow

Scientists, engineers, programmers and business people often write reports and other documents in teams rather than as individual authors, much as you do in EG1003. Such collaborative writing can have many advantages.

There are more people who can contribute ideas and effort. If secondary research is involved (using books or the Internet), members can divide up the research work and share the information found. The members of the team can contribute their particular skills. Each member of the team can provide feedback.

What are the best strategies for writing as a group? How can you divide the work? How can you take advantage of working as a team? What are the advantages or disadvantages of each strategy?

One Team Member Writes the Whole Report for the Group

This is a common approach when one member of the group is a particularly good writer. Ken is an outstanding writer; Elena suggests he prepare the whole report. He wants a good grade and agrees. Taking advantage of one person's skills is not a bad strategy, but having one person do all the work is. Teams that work together are usually more successful. This approach is not unusual in the workplace. The person who does the writing is usually the one whose career advances further, faster.

Divide the Sections

The teammates assign each member to write one or more sections of the report. For example, Elena writes the Abstract, Introduction, and Procedure while Ken writes the Data/Observations, and the Discussion/Conclusions. They combine their computer files before submitting the report. This can be an excellent strategy. To make the report even better, swap files and edit each other's work. This is an effective strategy when both teammates are good writers.

I'll Write – You Edit

Elena writes a rough draft of the report and then e-mails the draft to Ken, who revises the report and submits it for the team. This is not a fair division of labor, but if one person is a good writer and the other a good editor, it can work.

Combination Method

Before leaving the lab on Tuesday, Elena and Ken agree that she will draft certain sections and he will draft the others. They agree to e-mail their sections to each other. If there are inconsistencies between Elena's and Ken's sections of the report (and there often will be when two people write), they can make adjustments. Elena and Ken find it is easier to edit the other person's work than their own work, and so they correct each other's drafts. They clear up any confusion by e-mail, and then Elena puts together a clean revision of the text. Once she has done this, she e-mails the report to Ken. When both partners are satisfied, they hand in the report. This method is optimal. It is the most equitable division of labor and can often produce outstanding reports.

Teamwork skills are important to develop as a student of engineering, but will become even more critical to you in your professional life.

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