Steve Cooke

measuring the boundaries of our nation by the sun


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On collaborative writing

Yesterday Alasdair Cochrane from Sheffield University came down to work on a paper with me (buy his excellent little book on animals and political theory here). I’m blogging about it because it’s my first foray into co-authoring. Admittedly, when you take into account presentation, feedback, and peer review, most academic writing is collaboratively written to some degree, but this is different. I thought I’d share how we’ve proceeded in case it’s useful to others, and in case anyone out there can offer us advice.

The paper began as a short, targeted paper (3000 words) which had presented to a conference: Alasdair used the paper as a starting point to develop a broader idea. We’ve spent a day thrashing out a structure together, considered our claims and potential counter-claims, identified key areas of the literature, and assigned starting sections for each of us to draft (with deadlines).

I’m keen to make best use of collaborative tools, so we’re going to have a go at using Googledocs for our first draft. Gooledocs is good, because multiple authors can work on a document in real time, and with differing permission levels. Googledocs also has threaded comments features with primitive work-flow management features (you can mark a comment ‘resolved’). It also has revision tracking features, and it’s ‘Research’ tool allows you to search Google Scholar and insert references while you work. There’s even a real-time chat function.

Later, I expect we’ll import the document into a Word or LibreOffice, use some decent reference management software (I use Zotero), and apply an appropriate template to make it all conform to the publishing guidelines of the journal we’re targeting. The last bit requires that we structure our document properly by using the right heading levels and so forth.

So far, the process has been fun and productive – I’m looking forward to continuing the process. Anyone out there care to share experiences of give tips?