Practical Strategies for Collaborative Writing

American employers routinely report that they want applicants to have strong critical thinking skills, communication skills, and teamwork skills. Educators who want to prepare students for the job market might be interested in a pedagogical approach that combines all three:

Collaborative Writing Pedagogy.

According to Krista Kennedy and Rebecca Moore Howard’s discussion of collaborative writing pedagogy in A Guide to Composition Pedagogies, collaborative learning derives in part from Kenneth Bruffee’s (1984) social constructivist perspective that thought and conversation are deeply connected because thought is basically internalized conversation. Since thought is internalized conversation, writing then externalizes that thought.

In my experience, collaborative pedagogy is a useful way of highlighting the essentially conversational or social nature of knowledge-construction. I first discovered the joy of collaborative writing as a freshman in first-year composition at my alma mater, Randolph-Macon. As I engaged with other students’ writing in peer review groups and as they read and talked to me about my writing, I had the pleasure of having someone respond to my ideas. As a result of peer review, I dramatically changed the way that I write and think. I no longer view my thoughts as fixed but as constantly transforming as I enter new conversations.

Now, as a teacher of writing, I try to apply collaborative pedagogy in my own classroom. Below are a few techniques that Kennedy and Howard suggest.

Strategies for Collaborative Writing

Delay students’ collaborative writing until students get to know each other.

Kennedy and Howard suggest that classes engage in other forms of collaboration, like small group discussions, before being assigned to collaborative writing projects. This way, group dynamics work themselves out.

Design the assignment for a group.

Instead of assigning a project that could just as easily be done individually, assign a project that works best when done collaboratively.

Let students collaborate on individual assignments.

Let students know if individual assignments may also work as collaborative assignments.

Discuss methods and problems of collaborative writing first.

For example, talk to students about some of the techniques that help collaborative writing go well, like assigning roles.

Choose how students will collaborate.

Lunsford and Ede talk about dialogic collaboration, or groups that work together on all elements of the project, and hierarchical collaboration, or groups that break up the work and then tie it together. Either technique can work, and some groups will use both dialogic and hierarchical.

Anticipate problems and student resistance.

Some students resist group work, and it’s okay to let students opt out if the assignment’s objective is to enhance individual writing skills.

Let class decide how groups will form.

Students can choose their own groups or ask the professor to designate groups.

Consider accommodations.

This way, students with disabilities can participate in ways that work for them.

Decide methods and timelines.

Use some class time to have planning discussions in which groups can decide how they’ll manage their project.

Welcome dissent and minority views.

Explicitly tell students that they are allowed to present counter-evidence and minority opinions.

Involve students in grading.

For example, decide with students how students who don’t carry their load will be graded. It may be best to assign one grade for the group rather than individual grades for the project so that the collaborative process is assessed as such.

After considering these tips, I’m left with a few questions:

  • At a practical level, what are some possible writing assignments that are best done collaboratively rather than individually (Wikis come to mind)?
  •  Kennedy and Howard write that writing scholarship about individual-versus-collaborative writing has fallen away, as writing scholars have settled on the view of “collaboration as the natural, unavoidable basis of all textual production” (p. 38). If this is so, then do writing teachers need to explicitly assign collaborative writing assignments or can we assume that any writing assignment is automatically collaborative?


1 thought on “Practical Strategies for Collaborative Writing

  1. writingwithvetter

    I love that second question. I think that we do assume that all writing is social/collaborative, but in the comp. classroom that’s not always true – especially when assessment measures and inexperienced writers lead to more isolated experiences. I do still think we need to explicitly teach collaborative projects – and ask students to work in small groups to produce a single and unified document. It’s messy and problematic, but it’s worth it simply because students need to learn how to collaborate with others.



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