Managing Group Writing Projects

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Tackling group writing projects can be among the most challenging of assignments for both students and their instructors. This workshop presents students with strategies for successfully preparing, developing, and completing writing with a group. It offers strategies such as establishing a timeline, selecting member roles, and following a writing process.

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  • If possible, have the groups sit in their assigned groups for this presentation.

    In this presentation, we will help you achieve success by providing you with a roadmap for effective group writing projects.
  • Ah…the dreaded group writing assignment. “What do I do now??”

    Before you begin your group project, here are a few key ideas you must remember:

    This is a group assignment, so everyone needs to be involved
    Many people find group projects to be frustrating and difficult, but you can begin by keeping a good attitude and remembering that open communication is key.
    There are many ways to work in a group and many ways to succeed, but it may take some time for your group to find what works for you—so the sooner you get started, the smoother your project will go. Even if the project isn’t due for a while—get started now!

  • Meetings are an essential aspect of any group work, so here are some general pieces of advice to keep in mind when working on a group project.

    Having pre-set guidelines for group meetings can help ensure that progress is made. Each member should be expected to come prepared and ready to update the group on individual progress. Agendas can help focus the meeting and keep everyone on track.

    Detailed notes are important to have so that group members can look back on what was accomplished in the meeting and see what is expected of them for the future meeting. Good records can also come in handy in case there is a dispute or a persistently absent group member.

    The last general piece of advice is to respect deadlines. If for some reason you cannot met a team or class deadline, be sure to COMMUNICATE that to your group. If you tell someone in time, it might not be a big deal; if you wait until the night before the project is due, the whole group will suffer.

    More guidelines: See the handout. Suggest they use this or a modified version.
  • Refer them to the included handout of the “roadmap.”

    Some of these steps may seem rather obvious, but getting them out there will hopefully help to keep you on track. If everyone follows the same guidelines, the overall project will run much more smoothly.
  • If the class has time, go ahead and have the groups exchange contact information now. Give them a few minutes to set up a first meeting.

    Here are a few tips in order to get to know your team:
    Exchange contact information – (i.e. create a group for your team on Facebook; exchange email addresses and phone numbers)
    Become acquainted with everyone – be sure to set aside time to speak with each individual member within your team
    Set up your first meeting
  • In the first meeting, you’ll want to review the assignment together and design a general schedule. Generally a group will need an initial planning meeting, a second meeting to review the first draft, a third meeting to review and edit the second draft, and a fourth meeting to proofread—four total. Of course, the size of the project, the number of group members, and group efficiency may all affect the timeline.

    When deciding on a meeting place, think about the following questions: Will everyone need computers? Do they want to have access to food? Will all members feel safe and comfortable with the meeting place? Can all members find transportation there?

    Roles are extremely important to the success of the group. Clearly define roles at the very beginning so everyone shares expectations. Roles could include Project Manager/Team Leader, Secretary, Editor, Stylist (if you need certain citation styles), etc. Be honest when deciding on roles—if you don’t have good time management skills, don’t volunteer to schedule or host the meetings. If you hate proofreading, don’t volunteer to be the editor. If you are taking 21 other hours of class, don’t volunteer to be the Project Manager. It’s important to set realistic goals and find a role that fits each member of the group.

    Below are some roles usually suggested and the tasks associated with them. You can ask the students to think of these rather than just tell them.
    Have them ask questions like these: Who will create agendas? take notes, keep time, assign tasks? What will each role entail?

    Project manager (best for really large tasks): someone who delegates and who has ultimate authority in case of disputes.
    Chief Editor: someone who takes the individual contributions and puts them into a single, coherent, consistent document—also may make editorial decisions, like how to handle the comma in a series or how to label figures.
    Secretary: works with the project manager or alone to set the agenda for each meeting and to take notes; may also remind members to attend or may keep time.
    Timekeeper: keeps time at group meetings and makes sure agenda is followed
    Recorder: Keeps track of editorial decisions or takes notes at meetings
  • Just as it’s important to establish roles, it’s important to establish rules for the group to follow in each of the meetings. Here are some things to think about: What will happen if a group member falls behind? How will potential conflicts be resolved? How long can meetings last? Who will be responsible for communicating with the professor, if necessary? If materials must be purchased, who will do that and how will everyone contribute?

    Oftentimes, we are just too busy to set very regular meeting times. Encourage students to consider using technology to make progress between physical meetings. (For example: GoogleDocs is a good way to edit group papers on the cloud; SurveyMonkey can be used to anonymously gather ideas for brainstorming; Doodle can be used to schedule meetings.)
  • Set up a timeline for your group in order to provide guidance for the rest of the project. Thinking ahead helps everyone get on the same page about the project and understand expectations. It also helps to develop group accountability.
  • It’s important to review the assignment and agree on audience and purpose because it will affect the voice, the approach, the length, and the style.

    NOTE: We are using the word “brainstorm” here to mean pre-writing because more people understand and relate to it.

    Other methods of brainstorming: individual listing or have one member (or small group) just decide for the group and assign

  • NOTE: We are using the word “brainstorm” here to mean pre-writing because more people understand and relate to it. In this section, stress that they should not be judgmental—any idea, no matter how wacky, could turn out to be useful. You can ask students how they might share—will they take turns? Call out ideas and then let others call out related ideas?

    Other methods of brainstorming: Individual listing or have one member (or small group) just decide for the group and assign

    Suggest tools like http://www.mindmeister.com/ to help with the brainstorming process if a physical meeting isn’t a possibility.
  • After brainstorming, your group should develop a topic, a working thesis, and sub-points. Together, come up with a general outline and divide the work into sections based on your group members’ interests and strengths. Each member of the group should have a copy of the complete outline to avoid repetition of subtopics or points.

    Make sure your group divides the work equally! Each member of the group needs to contribute.
  • Here is another good place to stress the importance of developing that group outline. Doing so makes the initial composition much easier on an individual level.

    Also you might want to remind them that the editor needs time to work—they should get their drafts in even in they are a bit rough, so the group can see how the document is shaping up.

    Clarify that the “editor” is not the only one to edit! He or she is just the one who will piece it all together and make some smoothing choices.
  • The editor can use track changes and comment functions of Microsoft Word to help with this portion. Print out copies for each member of the group and go over the edits together.

    It’s very important that the group take the time to read the paper as a whole. This will make sure that each section flows naturally into the next and that each group member has adequately addressed his or her section of the outline. If you don’t read the paper together, important content may be left out and no one would even notice!
  • Talk about the importance of consistency of voice/tone. When a paper is pieced together, sometimes it is really obvious that many people worked on it. It looks like a patchwork rather than a contiguous unit. These kinds of assignments should be more like the latter. Working on that voice is the main reason for the suggestion of one or a smaller group performing final smoothing editing to the paper.

    Turnitin.com is a great reference to make sure that your sources are properly cited. Because plagiarism is such a hot-button item, it is VERY important to verify correct usage of sources.
  • Tell this story from Valerie: An Engineering professor was so annoyed with a group project that he deducted major points from all members. The reason? In their paper about radio frequencies, they had used the word “rabies” instead of “radio.” Not once, but at least 35 times, throughout the whole paper. The students tried to explain away the error as a Spell Check goof, but the professor was unimpressed. As he put it: none of you five even read the final, printed draft? (This is a true story!)

    Plagiarism notes (be sure to emphasize the importance of this): If one member of the team makes a mistake and cites a source incorrectly, ALL members may be charged with plagiarism. So all members should verify sources and proper citation.
  • Once you’ve finished the paper you’re working on, take some time to reflect on your experiences. What worked well for you? What didn’t you like? How do you think you could have improved? Was the group’s communication sufficient? Did you plan for enough time to complete the project? Was work divided efficiently?

    If you make note of these issues while the project is still fresh in your mind, you can use this experience to improve your next group writing project.
  • The Writing Center offers help with group writing assignments at any stage in the process. It’s most helpful if all members of the group can come in and meet together with a consultant.
  • Managing Group Writing Projects

    1. 1. Managing Group Writing Projects 2
    2. 2. Where Do I Start? This is a group assignment. Get everyone involved. Keep a good attitude and open communication. Start now! 3 Remember…
    3. 3. Guidance for Group Meetings Come prepared. Use agendas to stay on topic. Keep track of time and honor established limits. Take detailed notes. Respect team and class deadlines. 4
    4. 4. Creating a Successful Collaborative Writing Project 1. Know your team. 2. Plan the timeline. 3. Brainstorm and outline. 4. Compose a first draft. 5. Compose a second draft. 6. Prepare a final version. 7. Proofread. 8. Revel in success. 5
    5. 5. Step 1: Know Your Team Exchange contact information. Become acquainted with everyone. Set up your first meeting. 6
    6. 6. Your First Meeting Review the assignment together. Ask questions and set general expectations for success. Compare schedules and set a regular meeting time and place. Define and delegate roles. Be honest about strengths, experience, and prior time commitment when deciding on roles. 7
    7. 7. 8 Agree upon rules for future meetings. Decide how potential conflicts will be resolved. Think about using technology to make progress between meetings. • GoogleDocs • SurveyMonkey • Doodle Your First Meeting
    8. 8. Step 2: Plan the Timeline At your first meeting, create a basic plan for the whole project, including individual and group deadlines. Establish expectations for the next step: brainstorming and outlining. 9
    9. 9. Step 3: Brainstorm and Outline There are many ways to generate ideas, but we will focus on the group brainstorming session. Choose a method and commit to it. Start by identifying the type of writing, the audience, and the purpose of the document. 10
    10. 10. Brainstorming Techniques Share your ideas with the group. Don’t hold back, and don’t be judgmental. Pick the strongest ideas, and then discuss them further. Decide on your main points. 11
    11. 11. Once you have your main points, develop sub-points for each topic. Create a group outline to give to each member. Divide the work into sections based on interests and strengths. Make sure to divide the work equitably! Group Outlining 12
    12. 12. Step 4: Compose a First Draft Members should individually compose their sections based on the group outline. Once finished, send the sections to an editor who will combine them into one document. 13
    13. 13. Step 5: Compose a Second Draft Once the editor puts the document together, meet again to read the whole paper together and revise. Discuss the edits and revamp the outline. Group members should improve their sections based on the new outline and re-submit them to the editor. 14
    14. 14. Step 6: Prepare a Final Version The editor should combine revised sections to create a final polished product. The editor should develop a consistent voice, formatting and style. Consider submitting the paper to turnitin.com. 15
    15. 15. Everyone must check the final printed copy. All members should look for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Carefully check the paper for proper documentation and citation. Discuss and agree upon final edits. Step 7: Proofread 16
    16. 16. Step 8: You’re Done! Once the group has proofed the final version and the editor has made the last changes, you’re done! Reflect on what you have learned about your strengths and weaknesses and how this will affect future group work. 17
    17. 17. For More Help… Schedule a group appointment with the UWC. We can help you at any stage! 18

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