Writing together

Finishing well
Writing together
Presenting together
Completing self-and-peer-assessment
Learning from experience

Writing as a group is more complex than writing a report by yourself. Careful planning can help to create a coherent report that appears to the reader to have logical development and consistent presentation.

A rushed and unplanned piece of group-writing can appear to the reader to be an unconnected set of ideas that has neither consistent writing style nor format.

When preparing a jointly written report you need to plan three important aspects before starting to write:

  1. The structure of the report
  2. A strategy (who writes which bits)
  3. Sharing responsibility for the different roles (writer, editor, proof reader, publisher)

These three points are detailed in the following sections, and can be downloaded in the joint report checklist .

1. The structure of the report

Consider:

  • Who is the audience for the report
  • What is the medium for your report (printed document, hypertext, website)?
  • What sections should it have?
  • Roughly, what should go in each section?
  • What is the function behind each section?
  • What diagrams and/or illustrations would help convey your meaning?

Plan:

  • An outline of the whole report.
  • The writing style of the report (business, technical, first/third person, etc)
  • A strategy for keeping track of references and sources of information.
  • Word limits for the whole report, and each section.
  • The formatting of the document (font, size, heading styles, header/footer, etc).
  • A schedule for writing, proof-reading, editing, publishing.

2. A strategy (who writes which bits)

There are three approaches to consider.

a. Everybody writes a section

ProsCons
  • Fairer distribution of work.
  • Easy to write one small section each.
  • Everyone is able to present their section in a presentation.
  • Faster than one person trying to write it all.
  • Team members can write the bits they know the most about, that they have researched.
  • Some bits may be harder than others.
  • Harder to make the coherent whole from the sections.
  • Potential delays if everyone doesn't keep to a schedule.
  • You don't know much about anything except your section (unless you make an effort).
  • Unlikely to be the best report the group can produce.

b. One person writes the lot

ProsCons
  • You can choose the best writer in your group.
  • Most of the team get off lightly.
  • No problems in fitting the ideas together at the end.
  • The rest of the team don't learn to write together.
  • One person has an unfair burden.
  • Narrower range of ideas used.
  • Takes longer for one person to do.
  • Poor preparation for a group presentation.
  • Unlikely to be the best report the group can produce

c. Writing co-operatively as a team

ProsCons
  • A more equal sharing of the work.
  • Incorporates a variety of ideas, and one person's ideas can inspire ideas from others.
  • Everybody learns about all aspects of the task and report.
  • Can produce a coherent, flowing, well-structured report.
  • Can result in a coherent and well-rounded presentation.
  • Better prepared for future related assessments. e.g. exam question
  • Can be a messy, evolving, multistage process of noting, expanding, drafting, reviewing and rewriting.
  • Can involve a number of meetings.
  • Requires cooperation and commitment from all group members.
  • Requires careful planning and management.
  • Sharing responsibility for the different roles (writer, editor, proof reader, publisher).

3. Sharing responsibility for the different roles (writer, editor, proof reader, publisher)

Create a plan for the different roles each person will play in the production of the report.

Roles that can be incorporated into a writing plan:

  • Writer - to create the written material via a series of drafts, keeping in mind the information or argument to be conveyed to the reader.
  • Reviewer - to read the writer's drafts and provide positive criticism about the quality of the writing in conveying information or argument to the reader.
  • Proof reader - to check with great care for spelling errors, section numbering, references, etc.
  • Editor - to improve style, impose uniformity across a whole document, correct grammatical errors and check for plagiarism (refer to the Blackboard Academic Honesty site).
  • Publisher - to make the finished report look attractive and consistent in layout.  Print and bind the final product.

A basic plan could be:

Section
Writer
Reviewer
Proofreader
1
Person APerson B
Person C
2
Person B
Person C
Person D
3
Person C
Person D
Person A
4
Person D
Person A
Person B
Reading the final document
everybody ... Person A, Person B, Person C AND Person D

The plan can be extended to incorporate other roles, like editor and publisher, and include deadlines for the different stages of the writing.

Remember that by placing your name on the final submission you have responsibility to read it in its entirety and you are responsible for its content.

(Adapted from: Gibbs, G. (1994) Learning in Teams: A Student Manual. Great Britain, the Oxford Centre for Staff Development. pp 53-55)

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