Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Technology

Developing a manuscript using Google Docs

Lisa Lebduska recently co-authored a book project using a combination of Google Docs, Word, and the good ol'-fashioned telephone.

She shared the experience at a Tech'n'Talk presentation, and offered the following advice on using Google Docs for collaborative scholarship:

Google Docs vs. Face to Face contact

Google Docs complements rather than replaces face-to-face scholarly collaborations. Before you use Google Docs, consider meeting in person to discuss the following:

  1. Determine the purpose of your collaboration, beyond producing the actual product.
    Is it to take a position on an issue? To present findings? To explore an idea? To share research? Some combination of purposes?
  2. Consider the mutability of your positions.
    To what extent are your stances on the subjects presented fixed, and to what extent do you expect your positions to change as your research unfolds?
  3. Discuss your individual research and writing processes.
    Do you tend to work from outlines or drafts or both? Do you revise as you write or do you produce an entire and loose draft and revise from there? How do you feel about having someone else revise your writing?
  4. Establish your process for using Google Docs.
    Will individuals be expected to write over an original draft or simply comment on the original? Alternatively will certain kinds of rewrites be allowed (i.e., to correct errors of fact or typos) and others (such as changes in interpretations or stances) simply flagged, using Insert Comment feature, for example?
  5. Timelines.
    Who will be responsible for what and by what day and time? To what extent does the group agree that these deadlines are firm? What happens when a deadline is missed?

What Google Docs is Good For

  1. Posting Minutes/notes of group discussions
  2. Sharing bibliographies and annotations to the bibliographies
  3. Sharing data and commentary and questions about those data
  4. Posting schedules and/or contact information
  5. Sharing outlines
  6. Sharing drafts in progress and commentaries on those drafts
  7. Tracking revisions. (Look under "file" to see which collaborators made which changes.) This feature also allows you to return to earlier versions of the work in progress.

What Google Docs is Not So Good For

  1. Collaborations among more than 3 writers
    Following and adjudicating among too many collaborators can be confusing and unproductive.
  2. Formatting
    Endnotes and footnotes, for example, do not always transfer accurately from MS Word into Google Docs. While drafting and using Google Docs you might consider using something other than an automated footnote/endnote feature.
  3. Producing a final draft
    At some point in your collaboration, you'll want to shift to a sequential rather than simultaneous drafting process. When moving to sequence, determine the order of writers as well as the deadlines for each. (For example, "Mary will have chapter 1 to Tom by Dec. 2.")
  4. Working out disagreements, competing visions, etc.
    This work, as ever, is best left for face-to-face conversations.

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