Building and implementing a successful collaborative writing strategy

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As the world has become increasingly interconnected through technology, talent teams have simultaneously grown more geographically dispersed. This is by no means a bad thing – historically, relying on location-based teams limited the opportunity to synthesize insights by lacking a diversity of experience and talent.

“Talent teams have grown more geographically dispersed.”

With new collaborative documentation tools, the ability to remotely create, manage and track changes to documents brings unfettered accessibility, but also creates a creative engineering challenge. How can a team of individuals, all armed with unique insight and talents, come together to create a single document that is greater than the sum of its authors?

Virtual collaboration requires more than just an efficient, dynamic content management platform – it requires talent management in the form of delegation, structuring of responsibility and team accountability, and strategy.

Collaboration versus individualism
According to Rebekka Andersen and Charlotte Robidoux in Center for Information-Development Management, collaboration often runs counter to modern corporate culture. Team members have their value appraised individually by management, with isolated metrics that do not account for their role in the larger group. This in turn leads to a separate set of targets that each team member has on their mind, even when collaborating.

“For technical writers, the individual focus is hard to avoid since the practice of writing is normally a solitary activity,” Andersen and Robidoux wrote. “But when writing practices are automated, writers must transcend the inclination to work alone and own whole documents. Yet if the management framework in which they work does not endorse a collaborative culture, writers will have little reason to change their writing behavior.”

Key to addressing this failure of culture is the ability to provide transparency and accountability through collaboration tools. The act of technical writing no longer needs to be solitary: Tracking changes, annotation and interdocument communications all function by not only serving the final product, but creating a narrative and commentary to explain why changes were made.

Delegation and roles
Another way to avoid the pitfalls of poor collaboration is to establish clear roles with all collaborators, going so far as to have delegated editing privileges that match roles. A simple workflow with designated roles might include:

  • subject-matter expert, a collaborator whose job is to aggregate and sort data to form the document’s foundation.
  • A drafter, who is tasked with creating the initial content that conforms to the chosen information model.
  • A reviewer, who works through the drafted documents and makes broad edits related to improving clarity, focus and coherence.
  • An editor, who focuses on copyediting and verifying data and sourcing.

While each role can likely be performed by multiple team members, having a more narrow focus of expectation can be helpful to ensure maximum efficiency. This can be particularly useful when it comes to expertise-based tasks within technical documentation.

A unified vision
Beyond organization and delegation, a successful collaboration strategy often includes an element of inspiration. A team of technical writers should not be treated as cogs in the machine, with their eyes fixed solely on their one prerogative, ignoring everything else around them. This can lead to a disjointed quality of the writing, redundancies and inefficiencies, as well as a lack of morale.

It falls to organizers to be able to clearly and concisely articulate the vision and purpose of the larger document. Your team needs to be more than just interconnected – they must be working toward a singular goal, with a clear sense of the importance of their work. By talking about the value their work brings to the enterprise, it emphasizes the importance of teamwork and collaboration.

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