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Technical Writing by Phillip A. Laplante

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205
10
Writing with Collaborators
10.1 Introduction
When writing substantial documents, and sometimes even brief ones, you
will have to work with others. In writing, as in any group endeavor, collabo-
ration can be challenging. These challenges include noticeable and distract-
ing variations in writing style, the mechanics of managing and tracking each
other’s changes, and occasionally negative interpersonal dynamics.
The severity of these problems increases as the team size grows because
the number of interactions between people increases. In fact, the growth of
the number of interactions is exponential. To see this, let n be the number of
people in the group. The number of pairwise interactions is given by
n n
n n
·
( )
=
1
2 2
2
(10.1)
Equation 10.1 can be visualized in Figure10.1.
Of course, any one of these interactions can become toxic. I have experi-
enced collaborative writing projects with one or more co-authors, including
absentee co-authors, and a mix of cooperative, uncooperative, and encour-
aging partners. I have also edited many books, journals, papers, and other
projects involving dozens of contributors at a time. I have learned that the
challenges of large writing projects are manageable if you approach them
with a positive attitude and a willingness to compromise. You will have to
manage egos (including your own) and share credit, even when credit may
not be due.
Tools such as Wikis, a special kind of website with access control mecha-
nisms and version control, may be employed to help manage the group
writing process. But in the end, completing large collaborative writing
projects is not about tools—it is about managing schedules, expectations,
and egos.
206 Technical Writing: A Practical Guide for Engineers and Scientists
10.2 Writing in Different Voices
One of the most common problems in collaborative writing involves a notice-
able difference in writing style (“voice”) from one section of the document
to another. It is preferable that the writing appear to be by the same person
throughout the document.*
Let’s say that you and three co-authors are assigned to draft different
parts of the document. Your plan is to assemble these pieces and make one
or two nal editing passes. But when you and your co-authors deliver your
work and put it together, the result is terrible. Each section clearly looks
like it was written by a different person. Important information is missing
but some ideas appear duplicated in places. I call the problem of differ-
ent voices thewriting homogenization problem. Lets see how you might
solve this problem.
*
An exception is a contributed book with each chapter written by a different expert.
Two people, one interaction ree people, three interactions
Five people, 10 interactions
FIGURE 10.1
The number of pairwise relationships in groups grows exponentially according to Equation
10.1.
Writing with Collaborators 207
10.2.1 Using Metrics to Detect Nonhomogeneous Writing
In Chapter 3 I mentioned the Flesch–Kincaid metrics computed by Microsoft
Word. These metrics can be computed for different sections of a draft docu-
ment to see if a dramatic change in writing style occurs from one section to
the next. If such a noticeable change is identied, then editing efforts can be
directed toward homogenizing the writing.
Here is an example of what I mean. For a section of text I wrote for this
book, Word computed the values for the Flesch–Kincaid statistics shown in
Figure10.2. The gure shows a Flesch Reading Ease of 40.3, and a Flesch–
Kincaid Grade Level indicator of 12.1 (my writing tends to be in the Grade
Level range of 10.5 to 12.5). Suppose another section of text had a Reading
Ease of 25 and a Grade Level of 8. This suggests that the other section was not
written by me and that this writing style difference would be noticeable to a
reader. Therefore, editing of one or both sections is required. After editing, the
reading statistics can be compared again. The cycle continues until the writing
statistics are similar for all text sections, for example, within a 20% difference.
10.2.2 Dealing with Different Voices
Another possible attack on the “writing homogenization” problem is to have
several rounds of circular revision. For example, suppose Fred, Sue, and
FIGURE 10.2
Readability statistics for a draft section of this book.

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