PRP team writing strategies
and software tools
the problems with writing long
• Coordination: Getting everyone pointed in
the same direction -- in terms of objectives,
responsibilities, and effort.
• Cooperation: Making sure everyone stays
pointed in the same direction.
• Coherence: Producing an argument that
the five-paragraph essay
• Introduction. Thesis sentence,
• Point 1. Claim and evidence.
• Point 2. Claim and evidence.
• Point 3. Claim and evidence.
• Conclusion. Restate thesis,
but the five-paragraph essay
• This organization works fine for short,
constrained arguments (composition
assignments, letters of application), but not
for longer arguments. It doesn’t scale well.
• It leads to fragmented arguments.
• It provides no support for group
• It provides no support for complex
the research report
• Introduction. Thesis and forecasting.
• Situation and Objectives. What’s wrong,
and what does this report do about it?
• Methods. How was the situation
• Results. What did you find?
• Discussion (recommendations). What does
it mean (to us)?
but the research report by
itself is only a marginal
• It sharply divides functions in the sections.
• In group projects, those divisions often mirror
divisions of labor and chronology.
• Those divisions lead to silos: the parts don’t
“talk” to each other.
• Coordination, cooperation, and coherence
issues are dealt with intuitively.
approaches to pulling together
a collaborative report
This problem is typically handled through ad
• designating a chief editor,
• subordinating work to a chief
• committing to multiple rounds of global
• simply hoping for the best.
Hope is not a strategy.
pulling together a collaborative
writing project takes work at
• Strategic. Managerial; involves
initiation and planning of projects.
• Tactical. Project leadership; involves
planning and executing milestones.
• Operational. Team members; involves
controlling, executing, and closing
the strategic level (p1)
• Set objectives, the concrete aims the project
will accomplish -- not just as a policy
argument, but also as a policy document.
(Audience, framing, limiting of claims and
• Set themes, the common threads that will
bind together the different parts of the
argument. (Objectives, assumptions, desired
the strategic level (p2)
• Set standards of evidence, the standards
that will govern what you can use to underpin
your arguments. (Audience, disciplinary
• Determine the overall argument, based on
the above. This argument may shift tactically
during the process, but will strategically
remain the same.
the tactical level (p1)
• Adopt an organizational structure that will
afford maximum flexibility and mutual
oversight. Decentralize and core-dump.
• Set milestones that will move you to the
strategic objective, working backward from
the delivery date. Word these as concrete
actions that move your team toward the
objective. Make sure internal milestones lead
• Delegate milestones to team members
during planning. These include both
investigation and writing.
the tactical level (p2)
• Maintain accountability by surfacing
milestone status, progress, and concerns.
Reevaluate progress periodically.
• Split and consolidate milestones when
necessary. Retain tactical flexibility.
• Draft sections early, drawing from team
interactions. (In early stages, writing is a
byproduct of the investigatory work, not a
separate set of tasks.)
• Work themes into the draft sections,
monitoring conflicts and drifts.
the operational level (p1)
• Establish and publicize style guidelines
early by adopting a style manual, guide, or
• Establish and publicize organizational
guidelines early by agreeing on paragraph-
level organization (inductive, deductive) and
chunking (long paragraphs vs. headings and
the operational level (p2)
• Establish editorial responsibility
(style, mechanics, organization) and
aids (grammar checkers, checklists).
• Establish backup responsibility in
case emergency strikes (e.g., someone
gets hit by a bus).
software for successful
• Collaborative project management
(Basecamp, Zoho Projects, Wrike,
• Collaborative document editing
(Google Docs, Zoho Office Suite,
ThinkFree Online, Ajax13)
project management software
• Collaborative: Everyone should see the
emerging shape of the project.
• Central yet distributed: This should
constitute a central “core dump” of the
group’s work, one that distributes the work
and makes it “bus-proof.” Make sure to back it
• STO: All group members should be able to
review the project at strategic, tactical, and
operational levels, anytime.
• Collaborative: Allows all team members to
access each document, anytime.
• Versioned: Tracks changes and allows
reversion to previous versions. (Email ping-
pong creates versioning issues.)
• Commented: Allows all team members to
insert comments, either in-line or attached.
• Collaborative writing is not the same as
single-author writing. Early agreement,
deliberation, coordination, and mutual
accountability are critical.
• Collaborative writing is the byproduct of
the project. These projects are less about
the writing (putting text on the page) and
more about the policy objectives that are
established and met in related efforts and