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Group project writing: how to plan the work to succeed
Group project writing

Group project writing: how to plan the work to succeed

Feb 04, 2013
Taking part in a group writing project seems to be an inevitable part of organized education. At one point or the other its likely that an instructor will team you up with fellow students to accomplish a common goal. Group work for writing differs from other projects in that as opposed to a more hands-on project, that may involve posterboard, powerpoint and such, writing assignments by nature are very personal and people tend to have their own unique ways of pointing pen to paper, generating ideas, as well as providing a final composition. And because of this it may be hard to initially get things started with students working to produce a collective writing assignment.

So how can you plan your group writing project to have a happy ending?

A good attitude and a thorough plan should be sufficient for you!

Steps to completing a group writing project

Some people work very well in groups while others do not. To avoid a train wreck of sorts its very important to have some sort of game plan to follow before you get started.

1. Review project requirements and brainstorm ideas

During your first meeting read over the assignment and start jotting down ideas as to how to approach your subject matter. Be mindful of everyones ideas and try to be as courteous and supportive as possible. Poor ideas can usually be weeded out at some point so its not necessary to be hard on someone for bringing up a less than promising idea initially.

2. Identify group goals and objectives

Being specific about the goals of the group is very important even if the assignment is crystal clear. The group has to take the information given to them by the instructor and digest and interpret it in such a way that they can develop their own unique goals and objectives that they want to fulfill within the confines of the assignment. In essence, this step actually involves crafting a preliminary research question and thesis statement for the project.

3. Set meeting times and identify means of communication

Meeting times can be one of the hardest things to iron out when working in a group. But its essential because before leaving the first meeting, you need to know where and when you will meet up again! Likewise its a good idea to limit meetings to once a week or a 2-3 times a month depending on the complexity of the project to really permit people with the time they need to complete their portion of research and writing for the assignment.
Secondly, it would be wise for everyone to exchange contact information including electronic mediums; not only email but also forms that allow for direct messaging such as Skype and collaborative editing programs such as Google Docs. These and many other online tools are an invaluable means of providing alternative communication between all group members when in-person meetings are not an option.

4. Discuss what each member has to offer; designate roles based on people's abilities and skill

Instead of picking jobs based on what people want to do or have a desire for its important to work intelligently and designate jobs based on what people are good at (which ultimately should maximize the productivity of all group members). The idea is to think like a business person; maybe one person is an English major and has exceptional editing skills, maybe another person is a manager at a store and would work well as a facilitator, and so on. By honing in on each person's speciality, the hope is a better chance of overall success for the writing project.
When designating these other roles it should be noted that these are usually task that will be done in addition to writing. So depending on the difficulty of the role that one person may have, they may be required to write a smaller section of the paper for example. But as a general precaution, there should be no one person that is doing all of the writing. Instead a collective contribution from all members should be in place to ease any anxieties or feelings of being taken advantage or work not being properly distributed amongst members.
Some suggested roles to implement outside of the general writing obligations are..
Suggested Roles
  • Group Facilitator
  • Lead Editor & Compiler
  • Secondary Editor
  • Citation Expert
  • Fact Checker

5. Break up the assignment and designate writing portions to each member; decide how the writing will be done

Finally considering the goals that have been set, begin to figure how best to accomplish the assignment and how each section or chapter should be divided. Likewise whether or not the team will write collectively or individually should also be determined. For small projects that may only take a few hours of writing, in-person collective writing may work out very well; in this way a lot of issues can be cleared up on the spot which should hopefully make the revision process much smoother. Though obviously for longer assignments this may not be feasible and it may actually be better for each person to write their section individually at their own leisure.

Final tips and advice

The last step mentioned is where the real work begins; actually assigning portions and getting the writing done. And hopefully with proper planning and goal setting the project will turn out to be a true success. A large part of the success factor also has to do with the enthusiasm and attitudes of participants, as well as the execution of proper etiquette and good manners amongst team members. Since editing and criticism is a big part of working collectively, members have to be extra cautious of being helpful and not hurtful when suggesting changes or advocating for a different writing style or approach.
Additionally, other valuable issues to consider when working collectively is to be clear and firm regarding deadlines and attendance. A very responsible choice is actually to agree upon penalties for missed deadlines and meetings which hopefully will encourage full participation and cooperation from every group member. Lastly, a timeline for goals and objectives may also be beneficial as a visual aid to indicate what has been accomplished and what else is left to be done for the assignment.
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