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If you ever had to co-produce written work, you will know on how many levels this can be difficult. Waiting for your writing partner(s) or fixing conflicting versions of a document should be the least of your worries. After all, the Internet makes collaborative writing a breeze.

After writing a 100 page thesis in a team of three, using Google Drive, I knew this was true. Yet, I just recently failed to push Google Drive for completing a less than 10 page document in a team of five. We ended up sending Word documents back and forth, which nearly drove me crazy. Help your team avoid the following issues, by going with a real-time collaborative writing tool Word Processing In Google Docs? 5 Important Tips To Keep In Mind Word Processing In Google Docs? 5 Important Tips To Keep In Mind For the majority of my life, Microsoft Word was the word processing tool to use if you were going to do any serious work. Sure, there were alternatives like Corel WordPerfect and later on OpenOffice,... Read More from the start.

Waiting On Each Other

What happens when you don’t use a tool that supports real-time collaborative writing?

You end up waiting on each other. Only one person will be able to write or edit the document, before the next person can continue. When you’re chasing a deadline, this will cost you valuable time.

Man Waiting

For efficient collaboration, team members need unrestricted access to the document you’re all working on. This will allow everyone to write or edit at their leisure. You will find that nothing is more powerful than spending time writing together in real-time on a single document, especially if you’re not in the same room.

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Paired with poor communication and working remotely, waiting on each other cost my team weeks. Fortunately, we didn’t have to meet a hard deadline. But that isn’t the worst issue you can expect when working in a remote team.

Messing Up The Formatting Of Each Other’s Versions

Chances are, not all of you are using the same operating system, the same word processor, or the same software version. This can mess things up and waste hours of your work.

You can avoid formatting issues by providing everyone with the exact same tool. The easiest way to do this is for everyone to work in the exact same document on one OS neutral platform, such as an online word processor.

Man Waiting

On our team, I was to blame for this issue because I’m not using Microsoft Office. Why would I pay for Word, if I usually just need it to open documents and if there are many great free Office alternatives 9 of the Best Free & Low-Cost Alternatives to Microsoft Office 9 of the Best Free & Low-Cost Alternatives to Microsoft Office Microsoft Office has dominated the market of text documents, spreadsheets and slide shows for years, and for good reason – it’s one of the very best. However, there’s one drawback and that is the price.... Read More ? Unfortunately, I went with an alternative — LibreOffice — which doesn’t play well with Word.

Creating Conflicting Documents & Losing Tracked Changes

When people can’t wait on each other because the deadline is drawing closer, you’ll end up with various versions of the document. In the end, someone has to sit down and merge the different versions into one document. That’s not only a waste of time, but also a source for errors.

Moreover, when you re-sync conflicting versions into a single document, you’ll also end up losing at least some of the tracked changes How To Collaborate With Track Changes In Microsoft Word How To Collaborate With Track Changes In Microsoft Word Read More and comments. That can interrupt the collective train of thought and lead to misunderstandings. How can you avoid this?

Record Changes

In my experience, none of this happens when you’re using a collaborative writing tool. In our team, people got impatient and the final round of feedback and editing was done at the same time. This meant one person had to merge all the documents, which almost led to an embarrassing mistake.

Advantages Of Collaborative Writing Beyond Avoiding Issues

Collaborative writing tools can be safer than transferring files over the Internet.

Due to security concerns (NSA et al.), many institutions have restricted the use of tools like Dropbox. While Dropbox is not ideal in the first place, it does avoid one particularly ill practice: sending back and forth documents via email.

Generally, email is not very secure 7 Important Email Security Tips You Should Know About 7 Important Email Security Tips You Should Know About Internet security is a topic that we all know to be important, but it often sits way back in the recesses of our minds, fooling ourselves into believing that "it won’t happen to me". Whether... Read More for sharing documents. Not only is email easy to intercept, you can also forget to include someone or accidentally select a wrong recipient. Enter collaborative writing platforms, which can solve all those issues.

If you don’t want to go with services from major corporations, like Google Drive or SkyDrive (soon to be OneDrive), choose from many alternative online word processors 5 Great Alternatives To Google Docs You Should Consider 5 Great Alternatives To Google Docs You Should Consider Read More . Serious about security? Use a tool like EtherPad to set up your own, self-hosted, private, and cloud-based collaborative writing platform.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, it is a real rush working on a document while observing the creative inputs from others at the same time. That’s when you enter the terrain of true co-creation and that’s where team spirit is born.

How do you collaborate on documents and what tricks or tools have helped to keep you sane?

Image Credits: Man Waiting via Shutterstock

  1. Bob
    May 16, 2014 at 6:33 am

    There are various services like Dbook ( dbook.biz ) out there that supports a real great way of brainstorming/ structure the content, writing more efficient using markdown and easily work as a team.
    After i started using Markdown started to dislike the boring formatting based office tools too.

  2. Matthew H
    February 21, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Awesome article Tina. I actually use Git and Vim for my collaborative writing workflow. Conflicts are easily resolved, and we can easily revert to an earlier revision if things go wrong. :)

    • Saikat B
      February 23, 2014 at 3:16 pm

      Isn't it more collaborative coding in your own case,Matt? :)

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