Last year 22 of us from 15 of South Africa’s 26 universities collaborated on a joint paper about the pandemic in South African universities, from an equity and inequality perspective. Many of us had never met one another but we all agreed that it was a serious issue which we could all contribute to from a range of context-specific experiences and varied perspectives. We think the paper was richer because of the multiple voices.
It was my wild idea but of course nothing would have happened without everyone’s enthusiastic participation. One of the co-authors, Matete Madiba, suggested we talk with her and colleagues at her university about collaborative writing. For us this was a positive experience, which is not automatically the case. These are the thoughts I shared….
Why write collaboratively?
Of course, there are different kinds of collaborative writing.
In the first case, there is a shared issue which will be grappled with; the explicit aim is for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. There is a shared problem, probably with multiple sites. This works best when there is no intention to resolve the issue in the sense of coming up with a single solution, but to demonstrate complexity. In the case of our paper, it was consciously a process of collective meaning making.
In the second case, there is a skeleton developed and a division of labour where different authors write different sections.
A variant of this second option might involve an expert brought in to write specific sections.
Some principles . Let’s not pretend. Collaborative writing is not a walk in the park. It makes a difference if there is a shared understanding. Here are some principles we have found useful.
Image: Faelle @deviantart CC 3.0
I am a professor at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, interested in the digitally-mediated changes in society and specifically in higher education, largely through an inequality lens