How to Write in a Group
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There are many ways you can approach the task of writing in a group. Whatever your past experiences and approaches may be, taking the time to implement these four simple steps will go a long way in helping you not only have a successful writing product, but also an enjoyable writing experience:

  1. Get to know each other
  2. Organize the work
  3. Accomplish the work
  4. Review the work

Get to Know Each Other

Sometimes you will enter a group already knowing all of its members. Other times, you will be asked to complete a project with group members you hardly know at all. If the latter is the case, you will want to take the time to get to know each other a little better. As mentioned in the lesson called Introduction to Writing in a Group, group writing can sometimes be a challenging experience. That experience can be made even more challenging when all members of the group are unaware of the unique talents and skill-sets other group members are bringing to the table, much less their differing personalities and life experiences.

A simple way to combat this problem is to take just a few minutes to get to know your group members. Set aside some time to talk together and break the ice with a few simple questions. They needn’t be complex or overly deep, but rather just enough to ease some of the tension while providing a bit of background information on the members of your group. According to the employment search website, here are a few simple questions you could start with:

  • What is your work or educational background?
  • What has been your favorite thing about going back to school?
  • Who inspires you?
  • What kind of music do you like?
  • What’s the best place you’ve traveled to?
  • What’s something you’re proud of?
  • What is one thing you’re really good at?

(see "55 Top 'Get to Know You' Questions for the Workplace" by Indeed Editorial Team, August 25, 2023.)

Ponder and Record

  • What other questions could you ask to get to know your group members better?
  • Are there any questions you could ask your group members that might help you organize the work of your group better?

Organize the Work

Once you have taken the time to get to know your group members a little better, your next step should be organizing the work. Organizing the work essentially has three steps:

  1. Plan the work
  2. Make assignments
  3. Create a schedule

Step 1: Plan the Work

According to the University of Wisconsin Writing Center, “Planning includes everything that is done before writing. In collaborative writing, this is a particularly important step since it’s crucial that all members of a team agree about the basic elements of the project and the logistics that will govern the project’s completion” (see "Collaborative and Group Writing" on The Writing Center website by University of Wisconsin-Madison). One of the easiest ways to check understanding and ensure that all group members are in agreement on the basic elements of the project is to actually review the official assignment together. Read it through line-by-line and check occasionally for understanding amongst all group members. Take notes, if you need to, and start to identify the main parts of the assignment so smaller, individual assignments can be made later on.

One way you can really start to plan your work is by asking and answering the following questions in your group:

  • What should the finished product look like?
  • What is its purpose?
  • Who is the intended audience for this product and what are their likely expectations?

Step 2: Make Assignments

Once you have fully examined the work that needs to be done and checked for understanding amongst your group members, your next step should be making assignments. As you worked your way through Step 1: Plan the Work, you likely noticed that there are some specific tasks that need to be completed in order for the project as a whole to be completed. Some of these tasks are likely smaller pieces of the project— pieces that could potentially be completed by an individual or smaller group and then brought back to the larger group for later discussion, revision, and integration into the final product.

If you find you have limited time to collaborate and write in a larger-group setting, breaking up the project into smaller pieces like this is a great approach to take. Not only will it reduce the amount of live seat time, it will also give all group members a highly specific way to contribute to the final product so no one person is carrying all the weight.

If you choose to make individual and small-group assignments, be very specific about what those assignments are and who those tasks are assigned to. Check for understanding of assignments from all group members before moving onto the next step.

Ponder and Record

Take a moment to review your group assignment and then consider the following questions:

  • What parts can your group assignment be broken up into?
  • Which group member(s) would be the best fit for each part of the assignment?

Step 3: Create a Schedule

Every assignment has a due date—a deadline for when the finished product is delivered to the intended audience. Group work is no different. A sure way to underdeliver on a group assignment is to fail to understand and meet important deadlines. Before any group meeting adjourns, it is vital that all group members understand not only their individual assignments, but also the due date of their individual assignments.

The due date for individual assignments should always be before the due date for the group assignment. This will give the group adequate time to come together again before that group assignment is due so the individually-completed work can be combined, reviewed, and refined to the larger group’s liking.

How far in advance that individual due date needs to be depends upon the size of the project and how soon the due date is. As a general rule though, try to give the larger group at least a few days to combine and refine the work. You may find that some individuals don’t always complete their work on time. You may also find that others don’t produce the quality of work that you were hoping for. Giving the group the buffer of a few days to work on the finished product will help the group to remain calm and unrushed, thereby leading to higher-quality writing in the end.

Ponder and Record

Take a moment to review your group’s assignment and consider the following questions:

  • How big is this assignment?
  • When is its due date?
  • What would be a reasonable and safe due date for individual assignments that are made?

Accomplish the Work

Once you have taken the time to get to know one another and also organized your group work through planning, making assignments, and creating clear due dates, your next step should be to actually accomplish the work.

If you followed the steps above for organizing the work, you likely received an individual or small group writing assignment—something that is a much smaller piece of the larger group assignment you will be turning in. As you begin to work on this part of the assignment, it is vital that you keep the larger, group assignment in your mind at all times. You can do this by continually asking yourself a few basic questions throughout your writing process:

  • What is it I am supposed to accomplish with my writing in this section I am working on?
  • What comes before my section?
  • What comes after it?
  • Where and how does my writing fit into the larger assignment?

Continually returning to these four questions throughout your writing process will ensure that your writing doesn’t veer too far off the path that the other writers in your group are likely taking. It will also save the group a considerable amount of time later on when all the individual work of the group members gets combined. The more focused and contextualized your writing (and the writing of your other group members) remains, the easier it will be to combine and shape later in preparation for submitting the finished product.

Review the Work

The final and perhaps most important step to successful group writing is taking the time to review the work before it is submitted. This step usually goes beyond simple line-edits. As the University of Wisconsin Writing Center explains, “All [group members will] need to agree on the changes made...Revising together can spark debates and conversation that may [actually] strengthen the final paper. [For this reason], revising...will need to go beyond making line-edits that revise at the sentence-level. Instead, you’ll want to thoroughly consider all aspects of the draft in order to create a version that satisfies each member of the team” (see "Collaborative and Group Writing" on The Writing Center website by University of Wisconsin-Madison). There are many ways you can approach this task, but in general, following these four basic steps will help ensure a much better finished product:

  1. Combine the work
  2. Review the work
  3. Revise the work - Part 1
  4. Revise the work - Part 2

Step 1: Combine the Work

A good first step you can take to start this process of reviewing and editing is to combine all the individual work on a single document. Perhaps when you organized the work, you already considered this and had every group member complete his/her work on a single document. If not though, make this a top priority going into your final meeting.

Step 2: Review the Work

A good second step you can take to continue this process of reviewing and editing is to invite the members of your group to review that single document either before or at the beginning of your final meeting so you can collect thoughts about the initial draft. Many of those thoughts will likely focus on the varying thoughts, ideas, and even writing styles present on the draft. This observation is to be expected in group writing situations since the various parts likely had different authors. Part of the revision process should include fixing/creating a logical flow of ideas within and between the different sections and also correcting any major stylistic differences between those same sections.

Step 3: Revise the Work - Part 1

As you begin to make revisions, a good third step you can take is to focus your revisions on the larger, global issues first instead of the pesky sentence-level errors you might be seeing. Questions you could ask to easily discover these larger, more global issues might include the following:

  • As we return to the original assignment description, what does it appear the overall purpose of this product should be?
  • Is that purpose currently being fulfilled? If not, why, and how can we fix it?
  • Who is our intended audience and what are their likely expectations?
  • Are those expectations currently being met? If not, why, and how can we fix it?
  • What should the finished product look like and does the product currently resemble it?
  • If not, why, and how could we fix it?

Step 4: Revise the Work - Part 2

Once you have addressed these questions and revised the document to better align with them, your fourth and final step should be to take care of those pesky sentence-level errors. A simple way you can do this is by assigning your most skilled writer/editor to do one final read over of the document to correct these more minor issues. Allowing one person to review the document and make the simple final edits is a great way to polish and better unify a group writing product so it feels like a cohesive piece of writing with one voice/author instead of many.

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