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Successfully building collaborative authoring relationships

Developing a collaborative relationship with other authors can be both rewarding and challenging. For many, writing is an individual effort, so how do you determine when it is beneficial to partner with one or more other authors on a manuscript? To learn more about the advantages of author collaboration, we sought the insight of several TAA members who have been successful in developing manuscripts with co-authors.

Q: What are some advantages of finding a collaborator?

A: Drew Curtis, co-author of Abnormal Psychology: Myths of ‘Crazy’“Collaboration offers numerous benefits, which is why most academic disciplines encourage it. A collaborative relationship can advance conceptualization, provide a diverse perspective, assist with division of labor, foster support and encouragement, and promote professional growth. Forming collaborative relationships can increase research publications and strengthen careers (Sternberg, 2017). Within psychological science, collaborative publications are considered more significant and more often cited (Zweigenhaft & Borgida, 2017).”

A: Joan Saslow, co-author of Summit: English for Today’s World (Levels 1 and 2)“A trusted and respected collaborator (coauthor, in my case) provides two positive roles: ‘multiplier’ and ‘subtracter’. When my idea or its execution is good, my coauthor confirms it (usually with suggestions for improvement), and his validation multiplies the quality and productivity of my work. When an idea or its execution is poor or unlikely to succeed, even after several attempts, my coauthor’s thumbs down gives me the confidence to move in another direction, rescuing me from certain failure. (And I hope that I provide the same value to my coauthor as well!)”

A: Frank Carrano, co-author of Data Abstraction & Problem Solving with C++: Walls and Mirrors, identified the following six functions of a collaborator:

  1. Help to keep the material up-to-date.
  2. Add a new perspective to your coverage.
  3. Critique/proofread your writing.
  4. Write new material or revise existing material.
  5. Read page proofs during production.
  6. Prepare supplemental materials.

A: Andrea Honigsfeld, co-author of Co-Teaching for English Learners“As Woodrow Wilson once said, ‘I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.’ Through collaboration, I have found a partner (or partners) who can extend my understanding, challenge my thinking, and help solidify my writing, both the content and the style.”

Q: How can you tell that this partnership will be productive?

A: Curtis: “My experience of collaboration with a textbook has been invaluable. My colleague assisted in the early stages of conceptualization by helping me refine the textbook idea. Partnership has been treasured throughout all stages of textbook development, from conceptualization to discussing royalties and meeting writing deadlines. The process can also be trying at times. One of the most worthwhile aspects of collaboration has been in the support. Writing was fun and deadlines were met with ease with the support of each other.

Collaborations appear to often be stumbled upon rather than deliberately and methodically planned out. It seems that collaborative efforts usually emerge from mutual interests, opportunities discussed with others, and past relationships. The past is usually a good predictor for the future. Thus, if you have a previous relationship with a person and have even worked with that person, then you would mostly know what to expect when pursuing a successful collaboration. I was fortunate to work with a good friend who I met within my doctoral program. Though we had never collaborated in writing, I knew he was very dependable, encouraging, and had expertise related to the textbook. Along with knowing what to expect from our past relationship, it was also very important to discuss my ideas and plans for the textbook. Early discussions of expectations, hopes, and plans are highly important when pursuing any collaborative relationship.”

A: Honigsfeld: “A partnership is productive when the coauthors feel that it is mutually beneficial: there is a give and take and shared ownership of the project; when one does not just lead and the other follows, but when the collaborators help stretch each other’s potentials.”

A: Carrano offered three questions for consideration:

  1. Is your collaborator’s writing compatible with your own?
  2. How do you feel after your first disagreement about what you’ve written?
  3. Does it feel like a partnership that shares the work and the accolades?

A: Saslow offered the following cautionary advice regarding bad partnerships: “A bad partnership can be worse than doing the whole project solo! It’s ideal to have had prior experience with any potential partner. If you have previously collaborated, you probably already know whether that person is creative and qualified and whether you share the same pedagogical approach. You would also probably know whether he or she can take negative feedback objectively (not personally); has an open mind and an ability to implement your suggestions and can likewise provide you with substantive feedback to improve your work. However, as they say in financial sales literature: ‘Past performance in no guarantee of future results.’ Even the most promising partnerships can be disappointing when there is a discrepancy in abilities or previously unrevealed irreconcilable differences. Nevertheless, if you have no prior experience working with someone, the next best prediction strategy for success is to fully explore potential issues, differences, and conflicts before proceeding.”

Final thoughts

Collaboration can take many forms with many people. To illustrate this, Curtis shared the following story:

“About two years ago, my six-year-old son asked me to collaborate on a grand project, he wanted to build a functional jet pack. I had mixed reactions of being impressed that he thought I could do it and scared to let him down, with the pragmatics of constructing jet packs. My son probably asked me to collaborate because he wanted to pursue a project together with me securing the necessary resources. While I was not successful with building a rocket-fueled jet pack, he was happy to make a cardboard one.”

Adding to the advice, Curtis says, “Whether you are working with someone for the first time, have undergone years of doctoral training together, or are spontaneously asked to create a jet pack, open communication will be your best predictor of success.”

Saslow added that if open communication can’t happen before the collaboration begins, it won’t happen during the writing process, so having direct conversations early in the collaborative process will help to identify the future potential of the relationship. For ongoing success once collaboration begins, there must be an open and bi-directional level of communication and feedback between the collaborators.

For more advice on developing successful coauthoring relationships, download a copy of TAA’s free e-book, Tips for Successful Coauthoring, today!


Sternberg, R. J. (2017). Forming collaborations. In Starting your career in academic psychology (pp. 105-116). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association

Zweigenhaft, R. L., & Borgida, E. (2017). Collaboration in psychological science: Behind the scenes. New York, NY, US: Worth Publishers

Eric SchmiederEric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.