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Digital natives co-author articles, theses, and books online and in real-time. If you’re still sending back and forth emails with file attachments to collaborate on a document, you’re doing it wrong. Unless you share the same office, online collaborative writing How Collaborative Writing Tools Make Your Life Easier How Collaborative Writing Tools Make Your Life Easier Thanks to the Internet, collaborating on a writing project should be a breeze. If you have ever co-produced one, you know this can be difficult. It shouldn't be with the right tool. Read More is generally safer, more reliable, and more efficient than emails. On top of that it’s fun and easy. Let me help you get started.

The Team

Working remotely is tough. Thus it’s all the more important to get everyone on the same page and build the team. We have  covered how team spirit trumps technology Team Spirit Trumps Technology: How To Master Remote Collaboration For Online Teams Team Spirit Trumps Technology: How To Master Remote Collaboration For Online Teams Collaborating doesn't get easier if you have to work together remotely and only share the Internet as a common connection. Technology can help navigate the chaos. But it is only the icing. Read More before. Members of the team need to learn about each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The team needs a common goal and a roadmap with individual goals and responsibilities. Everyone needs to feel comfortable with the tools they are using, and at least one person needs to keep the team organized.

Tip 1: Never forget the importance of an inclusive team that engages all of its members.

Virtual Collaboration

The Tools

Real time collaborative writing or editing can be done in a number of ways. Browser-based tools include Google Drive or OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive). On the software side, Microsoft Office supports collaborative editing with SharePoint or OneDrive. If you’re using an older version of Word (2007 or 2010), you can install the CodoxWord add-on to enable collaborative writing. The free, cross-platform and open source word processor Abiword - The Best Free Lightweight Word Processor Abiword - The Best Free Lightweight Word Processor Get a lightweight but not underpowered word processor. If you need a program compatible with a wide variety of file formats, Abiword might be the right fit for you. It's not as powerful as Microsoft... Read More AbiWord also includes a collaboration plugin, to enable simultaneous document editing via AbiCollab.net. If privacy is an issue, you can set up a self-hosted open source and free online text editor with Etherpad.

Tip 2: Pick a tool based on your project’s needs and your team’s capacities or preferences.

Google Doc

Tools are supposed to ease your workflow. If individual team members are unable to use a particular software or platform, the progress of your project will suffer. Here are some points to consider:

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  • What operating systems are the members of your team on?
  • Which tools are they using now?
  • Which tools do they have experience with?

Likewise, if a tool lacks necessary features, achieving the desired result will be tough. Collectively prepare a list of must-have and nice-to-have features. Consider the following:

  • real time collaborative writing
  • comments
  • sidebar chat
  • notifications
  • file management
  • revision history
  • version control
  • markdown support
  • import & export
  • mobile support

This list and awareness of your team’s prerequisites will help you pick one or more suitable tools.

Tip 3: Help every member set up the tool/s you decided on and — where needed — provide them with an introduction to the features they will need.

The Process

At the onset of the writing project, gather an overview of the different tasks and topics to cover and distribute responsibilities. The team needs to draft an outline, find experts for different sections, pick a copy editor to correct spelling, grammar, and the writing style. Put an executive editor in charge of the content, and nominate someone to manage data or design figures and tables.

Tip 4: Each member of your team has different skills. An efficient process will be based on people’s strengths. Assign responsibilities accordingly.

Tip 5: When it comes to execution, engage the team. People should periodically swap roles and proofread each other’s work to cover different perspectives.

Writing is a creative process and a passion many people.

Tip 6: If you have people on your team who hate having their writing changed by someone else, editors can work with comments and suggestions instead.

Tip 7: Agree on commenting conventions, a nomenclature, and how comments will be processed.

Google Doc Comments

In the end, the success of your document depends on the content.

Tip 8: Let people write what they are enthusiastic about, even if their writing sucks. Their ideas might be brilliant and you can always fix the writing style.

Tip 9: Respect the idea! When you edit someone else’s writing, make sure the idea they express is preserved.

All the while, one person needs to organize the team, manage expectations, and keep the time frame in mind.

Tip 10: Frequently communicate with your teammates. Update them on the overall progress, highlight gaps, and remind them of responsibilities and deadlines. Praise individual efforts, and encourage them to share their own progress, insights, and challenges.

The Finished Project

A team that approaches a writing or any other project with enthusiasm and the collaborative spirit — willing to give their best, support their team mates, and make compromises — will always produce better results than individuals. The whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. Give into it and and I promise it will be the most rewarding experience of your life. It definitely has been mine.

What lessons have you learned while working with virtual teams?

Image Credit: Ed Yourdon via Flickr, Virtual Collaboration via Shutterstock

  1. J. Simon van der Walkt
    March 8, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I'm curious: markdown support? What online collaborative word processor has this? Would be cool…

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