How Collaborative Writing Tools Make Your Life Easier

Tina Sieber 21-02-2014

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 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.


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 The 7 Best Free Microsoft Office Alternatives Microsoft Office is the king of office suites, but that doesn't mean it's the right one for you. Here are some other office suites you might like better! 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 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 8 Essential Email Security Tips You Should Know by Now Everyone should know these essential email security tips and put them in practice to protect their most important accounts. 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 The 7 Best Google Docs Alternatives for Online Word Processing Google Docs has its shortcomings. Check out these excellent Google Docs alternatives when you need different features. 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

Related topics: Collaboration Tools, Google Drive, Writing Tips.

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

    There are various services like Dbook ( ) 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? :)