Team writing not working? Part 2

Rachael Dullahide Writing process

In part 1 of this article, we shared tips on setting up for team writing —that is, developing a workable document structure, allocating writers based on their skills and knowledge, and establishing ground rules.

But once everyone starts writing, how do you keep the process simmering along nicely? Here are tips on keeping that process tidy and in order:

For each chapter, make one person responsible for both style consistency within the chapter (and with the rest of the report) and version control (see next point).

The upshot: even if a chapter has multiple authors, only one person should have final responsibility for the quality of each draft.

Develop a version control system at the beginning of the project. Each version needs a suffix that includes the version, the date and the author’s initials. The team also needs a common electronic filing system, so writers know where to store drafts and feedback from superiors. Further, the team needs a way of knowing when someone else is working on a file, so two master files are not created.

The upshot: strict version control is a must. You have to avoid the possibility of two people working on the same file at the same time.

Set up a system to block work on a chapter while it is being reviewed by senior staff. During reviews, if a writer wants to write new sections for the chapter, they should create a drafting file and then paste that new material into the master file once it is returned with the manager’s feedback.

The upshot: because only one person should change the master file at any one time, think about how staff can keep working while master files are being reviewed.

A final point: document management is often about managing the egos and sensitivities of individual staff, and recognising everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. Don’t try to upskill staff on key documents: a better outcome results from giving the writing tasks to the team members most capable of doing them. Writing improvement is a goal best left for lower priority or non-outward facing documents.