Collaborative Writing Process
Almost all scientific papers now involve multiple authors. Therefore having processes to engage all authors and solicit feedback in ways that improve the project, support the collaborators, and minimize wasted time are important. Instead of working on it a manuscript on our own until you have a full draft, actively engaging collaborators early and often can lead better papers with less pain, by ensureing that everyone is on board with the underlying questions, methodological decisions, visualization and other aspects of the project.
Collaborative writing guidelines
Check with your adviser and collaborators to see if they agree that a set of analyses has reached that poitn that it should be written up as a paper.
Define the knowledge gap that the paper will fill and the 2 or 3 key points that you want to communicate with the readers. This step helps engage collaborators in identifying why and where your work is providing a better understanding/improvement of existing knowledge gaps. Write up the knowledge gap(s) and key points as bullet points and send them to your collaborators/adviser for feedback. Lead a discussion to reach consensus on these ideas.
Write a rough draft of a title and produce drafts of the key figures you envision including in the manuscript. Send these to your collaborators/adviser and lead a discussion to reach consensus on the title and figures to be included. This helps further define the paper and helps address any issues with analyses including identifying additional analyses that need to be conducted.
Draft the Methods section and send it to your collaborators/adviser for feedback. While everyone often thinks they know what has been done methodologically in a collaboration, writing it down can reveal differences in understanding about what exactly was done. Writing and discussing this section first helps identify any analysis changes that need to be made before a lot of time is invested in understanding the results (which could change if the analysis changes).
Write an outline. Once everybody is on board, write an outline of the paper with each section of the paper including roughly one bullet points per paragraph.
- Send these to your collaborators/adviser and lead a discussion to reach consensus on the outline. At this point everyone will have had several opportunities to engage and come to consensus about what should be included in the paper.
Step 5b (optional)
At this point you can optionally expand each paragraph to sentence level bullet points, e.g., 3-4 words per bulletpoint. This can be very helpful and save lots of time for folks still learning to write scientific papers, because the next step then involves only expanding each bullet point into a sentence.
Write a rough draft of the manuscript and send it to collaboratators for “big picture” feedback. You can either do this a section at a time or draft the full manuscript and then send it to everyone. Collaborators should be encouraged to read the draft and provide big picture suggestions identifying things that are missing, any additional work that needs to be added, and areas that need major improvement in communication. They should not provide detailed editorial feedback at this stage. Ideally this phase should be focused on the writing, but it also serves as a last chance to identify important analyses that are missing or need to be changed.
Incorporate collaborator feedback and revise the paper into a polished draft. Send the manuscript to co-authors for feedback communicating what you expect from collaborators at this point is mainly editorial work and signoffs on the manuscript. The goal of the previous steps is to ensure that no changes to the methods, figures, and questions needs to be made at this stage. However, if something critical is identified at this stage that could influence the conclusions of the paper, then it is still important to address it.