Collaborating across differences: Keep writing communication simple with the 5Ps

In the two previous newsletter pieces in this series, we learned how non-binding co-author agreements and reflective conversations can build trust and understanding among collaborators. In this piece, we will consider how developing a shared vocabulary about a writing project can support writing partners or teams.

A campus partner and I are at the end of a three-year study of collaborative writers in which we work with faculty and graduate students who co-author manuscripts for publication or proposals for funding. One of our important, preliminary insights is that many writers share the concern about miscommunicating in ways that interfere with next steps, recommended revisions, and co-author contributions.

Collaborating across differences: Reflect on writing habits in co-author processes

Most research and academic writers today produce publications within co-author relationships—making collaborative writing a key feature of our professional lives. In their recent study of team science, Barry Bozeman and Jan Youtie determined that more than 90% of sciences, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) publications are co-authored (Strength in Numbers 2020). Even in historically single-author fields like mine, writing studies, co-authorship is on the rise.

This revolution in co-production of publications means that individual writers must both learn the craft of writing but also the art of writing in relationship with others.

Collaborating across differences: Build writing relationships with co-author agreements

I had a conversation with a senior colleague recently about the purpose and value of co-author agreements in collaborative writing projects. He and I talk regularly about research and writing but had not touched on the nature of “agreements” in collaborations. He has built his career in a scientific field where co-authors are the norm, and the majority of his publications included graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, or government agency researchers as collaborators.