A recipe for collaborative writing

Preparing a document with multiple authors can be tricky when each author is responsible for specific bits that need to be tied together seamlessly.

For such situations, here’s a recipe.

  1. Authors discuss and settle on the overall flow of content and the corresponding structure of the document. Specifically, group the information to be presented in the document into sections (chapters) and identify the order of the sections (chapters).
  2. One of the author sketches (preferably, the first author) out the document with this structure. This sketch should contain each section in order with its title and a prologue paragraph and an optional epilogue paragraph. The prologue of the section should introduce or clue in the reader to the content to be presented in the section. If the content of the section needs to be summarized, then include an epilogue that summarizes the content. 
    This sketch helps first time authors (e.g., grad students) as it provides guides/scaffolding to steer their writing.
  3. Sections are assigned to various authors and each author fleshes out their assigned sections. Authors may tweak the prologue or the epilogue of their assigned sections without changing the delivered message.
    If possible, enable each author to work on his/her section without incidental/implicit interference from other authors. For example, use different files for each section (e.g., different .tex file if you are using Latex) or use a software that allows authors to lock specific sections of the document (e.g., Microsoft Word).
  4. After the first draft of each section, each author edits his/her sections to align with the content of the sections that his/her sections depends on. To avoid dependence on stale content, authors of related sections should discuss the planned changes and tweak them to ensure the sections will be aligned after making the changes.
  5. Each author takes turn to review and edit the entire document. 
    To reduce effects of familiarity with content, it is best to review the document in sequence (on author at a time) as opposed in parallel.
  6. Publish the document.

That’s it! Try it, tweak it, and let me know what you think :)