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Collaborative Authorship November 1, 2008

Posted by stewsutton in Knowledge Management.
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What is an efficient way to have several contributors work together to co-author a publication?  Now by publication, I really mean “something written to be shared with others.”  For those that have tried it, Google Docs provides a very effective way for parallel editing of content by multiple participants.

But just like a tight jazz ensemble, a collaborative authoring “group” needs to follow an agreed protocol.  It does not have to be as restrictive as “you do chapter 1 and I’ll do chapter 2” (although that is a pretty good way to keep contributors from editing the same sentence at the same time).  The real trick is to monitor what is being edited by those that are editing the document in parallel.  This can be assisted by simple and rapid “instant messages” (also using Gtalk) to coordinate multiple small additions, modifications, and reformating of the content.

We have sucessfully used this technique to co-author a chapter in a book and while I’ve been struggling to show the benefits of this collaborative authoring technique to my teenage daughter (to give her study group an edge in production skill), I have not been successful to date in that quest.

Collaborative authorship is also a principal skill needed to address the corporate stewardship of a “CORPedia” style wiki within the organizational intranet.  As pages get crafted on a corporate wiki, the simple edits are those done by the recognized subject matter experts.  The more difficult edits are on topics (and related pages within the wiki) that cross organizational boundaries and fields of interest.

So having the skill of collaborative authoring is a mix of humility, topic competency, writing competency, and some basic typing skills.  Go ahead and give it a try.  I think you will like it.