Coauthoring and Collaborative Writing

Coauthoring and Collaborative Writing

May 6, 2020

Coauthoring or collaboratively writing with another person can be a real joy. They bring a fresh perspective and new expertise, and having someone to share the workload means you don’t have to feel you’re going it alone. But successful coauthoring or collaborative writing doesn’t happen by magic—it takes work.

Choose a collaborator you trust and value

Picking who to collaborate or coauthor with is the most important part of the process. Trust is paramount here as you’re going to be working with and have your name attached to this person for quite awhile (even if it is for a short piece).

Look for someone whose personality, work habits, values, and expertise you trust. This isn’t the time to hook up with the biggest rockstar in your field just to get some star power next to your name. Instead, do your due diligence and find someone who will stick it out and treat you well—and make sure you have evidence to back up that trust. For instance, consider who you have had positive working relationships with in the past or who you’ve seen be good writing partners to others you know.

Discuss credit up front

Don’t leave this to the end. Instead, before you’ve written a word or even agreed on a topic, discuss how credit sharing will work in your coauthoring relationship. If you are in a field that values author order, who will be first author?

Take into consideration both of your situations when doing this and be as honest and generous as possible. For junior scholars needing publications for tenure, don’t be intimidated if you’re partnering with a more senior scholar—explain the stakes of having your name as first author. For more senior scholars or those for whom credit is less important, be generous and signal boost your partner if they need credit more than you do.

Discuss work and communication styles honestly

Everyone works differently, and coauthoring or collaborative writing is no different in this sense than any other kind of writing. Be up front with your writing partner about how you prefer to write, revise, and research.

Are you a morning writer who diligently gets up at the same time each day and bangs out 500 words before breakfast? Are you someone who needs large chunks of time to write or someone who can squeeze out a few words in between other tasks? Do you prefer to have a full draft before editing or do you like to edit along the way? However you normally write is perfectly fine (so long as it works for you), but make sure you communicate that clearly and honestly to your coauthor.

Anticipate disagreements

You will disagree with your writing partner. This is true for any coauthoring or collaborative writing practice. Sometimes those disagreements will be small, like those over word choices or which examples to include. And sometimes they will be big, like over who is first author or who has final say on whether the piece is finished.

Anticipate these and plan for them up front. Decide how you will handle conflict and set aside time to discuss it.

It’s also a good idea to make a plan ahead of time for what will happen if one person wants to leave the project. This doesn’t mean the project has to end, as you can decide together whether the remaining person can finish up the project alone and whose name should be on the final product. Keep in mind that leaving doesn’t have to be dramatic or terrible—one of you might need to leave because your priorities shift or there’s an unanticipated change to your schedule. That’s totally fine, and having a plan ahead of time means you can support each other in those situations.

Set clear tasks and deadlines

Get out your calendars and decide when the various parts of your coauthored project will be due and who is responsible for completing those tasks. Make sure each of you have those deadlines in whatever calendar or project management systems you use. This ensures accountability. Meeting your deadlines demonstrates respect for your coauthor’s time and is crucial for a solid working relationship.

Learn from each other

The whole point of coauthoring or collaboratively writing is to learn from another person—otherwise, you could just write the thing yourself. Take time to actually listen to your partner’s ideas and perspectives, especially when yours are different. Try to see where they’re coming from and how their view might be helpful. If they have different expertise than you do, the interdisciplinary collaboration can produce better thinking and foregrounding this in your work can enable you to make new contributions you can’t do individually.

And finally, enjoy the process! Coauthoring or collaborative writing is a wonderful way to build strong relationships with fellow authors. It also allows you interdisciplinary opportunities and lets you grow in your own work as well. So be open and honest with your writing partner and embrace the learning potential of the process.

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