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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 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.
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.
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? 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 and comments. That can interrupt the collective train of thought and lead to misunderstandings. How can you avoid this?
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 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. 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