Logo for Dr Anna Clemens PhD who teaches scientific writing courses for researchers
Logo for Dr Anna Clemens PhD who teaches scientific writing courses for researchers

Collaborative Writing: How to Write a Scientific Paper with Collaborators & Co-Authors

Collaborative Writing: How to Write a Scientific Paper with Collaborators & Co-Authors

Are you dreading writing that research paper with your scientific collaborators? Have you had awful experiences with authorship disputes or endless rounds of revising a manuscript? Here’s a system to make the collaborative writing process enjoyable and efficient for everyone.

If you have published a scientific paper, chances are you weren’t the only author. Research is no longer done by lone wolves but rather a collaborative effort. You might have co-authored a piece with your supervisor, your PhD or undergraduate students, a PostDoc or whole groups of collaborators. Whether your research collaboration is overseas or across the corridor, you’ve probably felt the challenges of working on a manuscript with a group of people.

In this blog post, I’m sharing collaborative writing strategies with you that make sure your collaborative paper a) gets written efficiently, b) won’t make you hate your collaborators and c) becomes that stellar piece you had in mind when you set up the scientific collaboration. Here’s what we will cover:

  • The collaborative writing process (3 crucial steps and questions to discuss with your co-authors)
  • Collaborative writing strategies
  • Case studies illustrating what collaborative writing can feel like when done right
  • Conclusions on this article on collaborative writing and what to do next

Let’s go!

The collaborative writing process

There are three crucial checkpoints at which you should have a discussion with the members of your research collaboration: At the start of the collaboration, before you start writing the paper and after the first paper draft is completed.

I will walk you through what to discuss at each checkpoint below so that your collaborative writing goes smoothly.

Here is an overview what the ideal collaborative writing process looks like:

  1. Step: Set the premises for your research collaboration
  2. Step: Plan the collaborative paper writing
  3. Step: Revise the co-written scientific paper

Let’s look at each point specifically.

1. STEP: Set the premises for your research collaboration

There are some things you best discuss way before you are writing up the findings of your research collaboration. Ideally, you and your collaborators should have a meeting at the very start of your project and agree on these crucial points:

  1. Who owns the collaborative writing project?
  2. What is every co-author’s responsibility?
  3. What is the timeline for the paper?
  4. How will your research collaboration communicate?

Here’s what to discuss for each point in detail:

Who owns the collaborative writing project?

The owner of the project is the one who is responsible for keeping the project on track, following up with the members of the collaboration, arranging meetings… They will likely be the corresponding (and/or first or last) author of the manuscript. This role does not need to be a principal investigator (PI) – in fact, most early-career researchers will probably appreciate the role and get lots of valuable project management experience out of it.

What is every co-author’s responsibility?

Every member of the research collaboration should have a specific task they can be held accountable for. This could be a certain part of the lab work, supervision of a certain task etc.

What is the timeline for the paper?

The timeline of the project is best discussed from the start. When should the compound be synthesised and when are the simulation results due? Make sure every collaborator has enough available time in their schedule to complete their task. It surely is hard to estimate when the whole project will be finished or the paper submitted. Nevertheless, I recommend agreeing on an end date because it helps everyone to keep on track and stay motivated.

How will your research collaboration communicate?

Every member should specify by what means they would like to communicate. The default here is probably email but do consider platforms such as Slack. It allows you to create polls, upload documents and discuss topics in threads. Just a note of warning: They can speed up communication but they can also become a huge time waster. In order to use Slack or similar tools efficiently I suggest defining how often you expect everyone to check their messages and reply.

And even if you choose email as the communication tool of your research collaboration, agree on acceptable response times and for what type of discussions to schedule a synchronous meeting instead.

Graphic inviting scientist to register for our free interactive writing training

 Does collaborative writing for a high-impact journal feel intimidating? Partly because you’ve never received proper academic writing training?

In this free online training, Dr Anna Clemens introduces you to her template to write papers in a systematic fashion with your co-authors. Click the orange button below to watch now or to save for later.

2. STEP: PLAN THE COLLABORATIVE PAPER WRITING

Once your scientific collaboration yielded promising results that you would like to write up in a research paper, it’s time to have another meeting with your co-authors. Resist the urge to start writing the scientific paper immediately!

Now is the time to discuss the collaborative writing process. The points of discussion are similar to those at your initial meeting with some crucial adjustments and additions:

  1. What is the order of authorship?
  2. Who’s in charge of writing what?
  3. Who has the final word?
  4. What’s the timeline for the paper?
  5. What’s the story of the co-written paper?
  6. What is your target journal?
  7. Which collaborative writing tools are you going to use?

Here’s what to discuss.

WHAT IS THE ORDER OF AUTHORSHIP?

Reassess if it still makes sense to keep the project owner in their role. It might be that the research shifted focus and that it would make more sense now for another member of the group to direct the collaborative writing process.

It makes sense that the project owner is either the first or last and possibly corresponding author — this also depends on the conventions in your research field. In addition to the responsibilities of the project owner outlined earlier, they should also be in charge of compiling the pieces of writing from various collaborators into one uniform manuscript and submitting it.

Now is also a good time to agree on the remaining order of authors. If you struggle with this, check out this guide by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and these tips from Naturejobs.

WHO’S IN CHARGE OF WRITING WHAT?

Who’s writing which part of the scientific paper? Remember to discuss with your scientific collaborators the Introduction and Discussion sections in particular, as they likely need real collaborative effort. You may want to schedule further meetings to discuss the content and structure of those sections.

WHO HAS THE FINAL WORD?

Who among the collaborators will have the power to decide, e.g. what title, abstract and conclusions you are going with?  

WHAT’S THE TIMELINE FOR THE PAPER?

Now is a good time to revise your collaborative writing plan (if you haven’t yet): In what time frame could any remaining research be completed? What should the deadlines be for the different members of the research collaboration to finish their part of the writing? When do you expect to have a first draft?

WHAT’S THE STORY OF THE CO-WRITTEN PAPER?

All of the collaborators should agree on and be aware of the story you want to tell in your scientific paper. Inside the Researchers’ Writing Academy, our academic writing course, we provide you with a template that helps you define all elements of the story of your scientific paper easily. I highly recommend to have the story of your co-written paper saved in a separate document that is accessible to all members of your research collaboration.

Encourage your co-authors to have this story document opened up or printed out whenever they are writing their part of the paper to make sure the resulting paper is telling a coherent story!

WHAT IS YOUR TARGET JOURNAL?

Do make a decision about your target journal BEFORE anyone on your scientific collaboration starts writing. The choice of target journal determines your story (see above), the selection of data to include, the lengths of sections, the word count of abstract, title etc. Not choosing a target journal at this stage of your collaborative writing process will mean that you will spend more time editing the completed draft. Anyone who has ever experienced an editing nightmare with their co-authors knows that that’s better to be avoided! I recommend clearly stating the target journal on the story document mentioned above.

WHICH COLLABORATIVE WRITING TOOLS ARE YOU GOING TO USE?

Decide on one writing program everyone in the research collaboration will use so that the person who is compiling the different parts of the paper isn’t overly burdened with converting Latex scripts into a Word doc or vice versa. There also exist a number of collaborative writing tools such as Authorea and OverLeaf. Easy options for writing with several co-authors are Google Docs or Word Online.

3. STEP: REVISE THE CO-WRITTEN SCIENTIFIC PAPER

Once the project owner has received all parts from the different collaborators and compiled the paper into one draft, it’s a good idea to meet up with the members of your scientific collaboration again. Here are the decisions you need to make:

  1. Who will edit the paper for coherence?
  2. How will you incorporate revisions from co-authors?
  3. How will you deal with conflicting opinions?

Let’s go over each point.

WHO WILL EDIT THE PAPER FOR COHERENCE?

Should the project owner/first/last author or another collaborator be responsible for editing the draft so that it is concise and coherent? Or are you going to hire an external editor to do this?

HOW WILL YOU INCORPORATE REVISIONS FROM CO-AUTHORS?

In what order should the co-authors read and comment on the draft? How should the comments, changes and edits be submitted to the project owner? A common option is to ask every co-author to switch on track-changes if you work in Word. It’s easy to see the changes an author has made and whether the owner wants to accept or reject them. Some prefer to get a list of the suggested changes from their co-authors so they can implement the edits themselves.

HOW WILL YOU DEAL WITH CONFLICTING OPINIONS?

The project owner should take all suggestions from members of your research collaboration into account. Instead of ignoring suggestions that the project owner doesn’t agree with, it’s better to seek discussion with the co-author. If you can’t come to an agreement, the topic should be opened up to all members of the scientific collaboration.

COLLABORATIVE WRITING STRATEGIES

Finally, a few additional strategies that will help you manage the collaborative writing process efficiently.

TAKE MEETING NOTES

When you meet with your research collaboration partners and co-authors – be it in person or virtually – have someone take minutes. The project owner should update the timeline, responsibilities etc based on the minutes.

USE PROJECT MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE

There is project management software out there, which you might want to check out. If you have never worked with programs like this, I recommend starting to look into Trello or Notion, which don’t require much project management experience and are fairly easy to set up.

However, setting up a project management systems can be a time-consuming undertaking, and it might just overcomplicate things for your collaborative writing. So, consider wisely if this would be a good investment for your research collaboration.

AGREE ON THE FINAL DRAFT

Every co-author should read the final draft before the paper is submitted. The project owner should make clear to all co-authors that this isn’t the time for big structural changes or even copy-editing. Only proof-reading (correcting typos, spelling, grammar) is permitted in this final read-through.

COLLABORATIVE WRITING DONE RIGHT — CASE STUDIES

Making collaborative writing more efficient is our jam. Inside the Researchers’ Writing Academy, we teach researchers a whole system to develop, write and finalise a scientific paper with their co-authors time-efficiently. I want you to meet two researchers who were able to transform their collaborative writing process.

COLLABORATIVE WRITING CASE STUDY OLUWATOYOSI A. ONWUEMENE, M.D.

First, meet Oluwatoyosi A. Onwuemene, MD, who is Associate Professor of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center in the US. Here is what she said after implementing the collaborative writing strategies we teach inside the Researchers’ Writing Academy:

Circular headshot of Dr Toyosi Onwuemene

“I am an excellent writer and have been writing and submitting manuscripts for a while.”

”However, the Researchers’ Writing Academy significantly improved my process of engaging with and receiving feedback from my co-authors.

“The particular breakthrough I received in the Researchers’ Writing Academy was with regard to the necessary work prior to writing, especially with regard to creating an outline prior to committing to a full manuscript.”

“It sounds like a simple intervention; but it really changed the way I interact with my co-authors. It has cut down significantly on major edits of fully written manuscripts and allows me to fully engage co-authors early on in the manuscript-writing process. Now there is less confusion and fewer surprises during the writing process!

COLLABORATIVE WRITING CASE STUDY JIA NG, MD

Next, please meet Jia Ng, MD, who is an Assistant Professor at the Zucker School of Medicine in the US. Here’s what she says:

Circular headshot Dr Jia Ng

“I used to approach academic writing as something tedious that I needed to do.

Since being a member of the Researchers’ Writing Academy, I can write a draft in four weeks.”

COLLABORATIVE WRITING — CONCLUSION

There you have it: A checklist for each stage of the collaborative writing process including some essential collaborative writing strategies and case studies illustrating how collaborative writing can feel when done right. Hopefully, this helps to make collaborative writing a more joyful experience for everyone on your research collaboration!

If you want to learn the complete system to write collaborative papers time-efficiently, including how to develop your story, how to structure each section of your research paper and how to stay accountable, check out our free writing class. 👇

Graphic promoting a free scientific writing class for researchers

 

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Collaborative Writing: How to Write a Scientific Paper with Collaborators & Co-Authors

Are you dreading writing that research paper with your scientific collaborators? Have you had awful experiences with authorship disputes or endless rounds of revising a manuscript? Here’s a system to make the collaborative writing process enjoyable and efficient for everyone.

If you have published a scientific paper, chances are you weren’t the only author. Research is no longer done by lone wolves but rather a collaborative effort. You might have co-authored a piece with your supervisor, your PhD or undergraduate students, a PostDoc or whole groups of collaborators. Whether your research collaboration is overseas or across the corridor, you’ve probably felt the challenges of working on a manuscript with a group of people.

In this blog post, I’m sharing collaborative writing strategies with you that make sure your collaborative paper a) gets written efficiently, b) won’t make you hate your collaborators and c) becomes that stellar piece you had in mind when you set up the scientific collaboration. Here’s what we will cover:

  • The collaborative writing process (3 crucial steps and questions to discuss with your co-authors)
  • Collaborative writing strategies
  • Case studies illustrating what collaborative writing can feel like when done right
  • Conclusions on this article on collaborative writing and what to do next

Let’s go!

The collaborative writing process

There are three crucial checkpoints at which you should have a discussion with the members of your research collaboration: At the start of the collaboration, before you start writing the paper and after the first paper draft is completed.

I will walk you through what to discuss at each checkpoint below so that your collaborative writing goes smoothly.

Here is an overview what the ideal collaborative writing process looks like:

  1. Step: Set the premises for your research collaboration
  2. Step: Plan the collaborative paper writing
  3. Step: Revise the co-written scientific paper

Let’s look at each point specifically.

1. STEP: Set the premises for your research collaboration

There are some things you best discuss way before you are writing up the findings of your research collaboration. Ideally, you and your collaborators should have a meeting at the very start of your project and agree on these crucial points:

  1. Who owns the collaborative writing project?
  2. What is every co-author’s responsibility?
  3. What is the timeline for the paper?
  4. How will your research collaboration communicate?

Here’s what to discuss for each point in detail:

Who owns the collaborative writing project?

The owner of the project is the one who is responsible for keeping the project on track, following up with the members of the collaboration, arranging meetings… They will likely be the corresponding (and/or first or last) author of the manuscript. This role does not need to be a principal investigator (PI) – in fact, most early-career researchers will probably appreciate the role and get lots of valuable project management experience out of it.

What is every co-author’s responsibility?

Every member of the research collaboration should have a specific task they can be held accountable for. This could be a certain part of the lab work, supervision of a certain task etc.

What is the timeline for the paper?

The timeline of the project is best discussed from the start. When should the compound be synthesised and when are the simulation results due? Make sure every collaborator has enough available time in their schedule to complete their task. It surely is hard to estimate when the whole project will be finished or the paper submitted. Nevertheless, I recommend agreeing on an end date because it helps everyone to keep on track and stay motivated.

How will your research collaboration communicate?

Every member should specify by what means they would like to communicate. The default here is probably email but do consider platforms such as Slack. It allows you to create polls, upload documents and discuss topics in threads. Just a note of warning: They can speed up communication but they can also become a huge time waster. In order to use Slack or similar tools efficiently I suggest defining how often you expect everyone to check their messages and reply.

And even if you choose email as the communication tool of your research collaboration, agree on acceptable response times and for what type of discussions to schedule a synchronous meeting instead.

Graphic inviting scientist to register for our free interactive writing training

 Does collaborative writing for a high-impact journal feel intimidating? Partly because you’ve never received proper academic writing training?

In this free online training, Dr Anna Clemens introduces you to her template to write papers in a systematic fashion with your co-authors. Click the orange button below to watch now or to save for later.

2. STEP: PLAN THE COLLABORATIVE PAPER WRITING

Once your scientific collaboration yielded promising results that you would like to write up in a research paper, it’s time to have another meeting with your co-authors. Resist the urge to start writing the scientific paper immediately!

Now is the time to discuss the collaborative writing process. The points of discussion are similar to those at your initial meeting with some crucial adjustments and additions:

  1. What is the order of authorship?
  2. Who’s in charge of writing what?
  3. Who has the final word?
  4. What’s the timeline for the paper?
  5. What’s the story of the co-written paper?
  6. What is your target journal?
  7. Which collaborative writing tools are you going to use?

Here’s what to discuss.

WHAT IS THE ORDER OF AUTHORSHIP?

Reassess if it still makes sense to keep the project owner in their role. It might be that the research shifted focus and that it would make more sense now for another member of the group to direct the collaborative writing process.

It makes sense that the project owner is either the first or last and possibly corresponding author — this also depends on the conventions in your research field. In addition to the responsibilities of the project owner outlined earlier, they should also be in charge of compiling the pieces of writing from various collaborators into one uniform manuscript and submitting it.

Now is also a good time to agree on the remaining order of authors. If you struggle with this, check out this guide by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and these tips from Naturejobs.

WHO’S IN CHARGE OF WRITING WHAT?

Who’s writing which part of the scientific paper? Remember to discuss with your scientific collaborators the Introduction and Discussion sections in particular, as they likely need real collaborative effort. You may want to schedule further meetings to discuss the content and structure of those sections.

WHO HAS THE FINAL WORD?

Who among the collaborators will have the power to decide, e.g. what title, abstract and conclusions you are going with?  

WHAT’S THE TIMELINE FOR THE PAPER?

Now is a good time to revise your collaborative writing plan (if you haven’t yet): In what time frame could any remaining research be completed? What should the deadlines be for the different members of the research collaboration to finish their part of the writing? When do you expect to have a first draft?

WHAT’S THE STORY OF THE CO-WRITTEN PAPER?

All of the collaborators should agree on and be aware of the story you want to tell in your scientific paper. Inside the Researchers’ Writing Academy, our academic writing course, we provide you with a template that helps you define all elements of the story of your scientific paper easily. I highly recommend to have the story of your co-written paper saved in a separate document that is accessible to all members of your research collaboration.

Encourage your co-authors to have this story document opened up or printed out whenever they are writing their part of the paper to make sure the resulting paper is telling a coherent story!

WHAT IS YOUR TARGET JOURNAL?

Do make a decision about your target journal BEFORE anyone on your scientific collaboration starts writing. The choice of target journal determines your story (see above), the selection of data to include, the lengths of sections, the word count of abstract, title etc. Not choosing a target journal at this stage of your collaborative writing process will mean that you will spend more time editing the completed draft. Anyone who has ever experienced an editing nightmare with their co-authors knows that that’s better to be avoided! I recommend clearly stating the target journal on the story document mentioned above.

WHICH COLLABORATIVE WRITING TOOLS ARE YOU GOING TO USE?

Decide on one writing program everyone in the research collaboration will use so that the person who is compiling the different parts of the paper isn’t overly burdened with converting Latex scripts into a Word doc or vice versa. There also exist a number of collaborative writing tools such as Authorea and OverLeaf. Easy options for writing with several co-authors are Google Docs or Word Online.

3. STEP: REVISE THE CO-WRITTEN SCIENTIFIC PAPER

Once the project owner has received all parts from the different collaborators and compiled the paper into one draft, it’s a good idea to meet up with the members of your scientific collaboration again. Here are the decisions you need to make:

  1. Who will edit the paper for coherence?
  2. How will you incorporate revisions from co-authors?
  3. How will you deal with conflicting opinions?

Let’s go over each point.

WHO WILL EDIT THE PAPER FOR COHERENCE?

Should the project owner/first/last author or another collaborator be responsible for editing the draft so that it is concise and coherent? Or are you going to hire an external editor to do this?

HOW WILL YOU INCORPORATE REVISIONS FROM CO-AUTHORS?

In what order should the co-authors read and comment on the draft? How should the comments, changes and edits be submitted to the project owner? A common option is to ask every co-author to switch on track-changes if you work in Word. It’s easy to see the changes an author has made and whether the owner wants to accept or reject them. Some prefer to get a list of the suggested changes from their co-authors so they can implement the edits themselves.

HOW WILL YOU DEAL WITH CONFLICTING OPINIONS?

The project owner should take all suggestions from members of your research collaboration into account. Instead of ignoring suggestions that the project owner doesn’t agree with, it’s better to seek discussion with the co-author. If you can’t come to an agreement, the topic should be opened up to all members of the scientific collaboration.

COLLABORATIVE WRITING STRATEGIES

Finally, a few additional strategies that will help you manage the collaborative writing process efficiently.

TAKE MEETING NOTES

When you meet with your research collaboration partners and co-authors – be it in person or virtually – have someone take minutes. The project owner should update the timeline, responsibilities etc based on the minutes.

USE PROJECT MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE

There is project management software out there, which you might want to check out. If you have never worked with programs like this, I recommend starting to look into Trello or Notion, which don’t require much project management experience and are fairly easy to set up.

However, setting up a project management systems can be a time-consuming undertaking, and it might just overcomplicate things for your collaborative writing. So, consider wisely if this would be a good investment for your research collaboration.

AGREE ON THE FINAL DRAFT

Every co-author should read the final draft before the paper is submitted. The project owner should make clear to all co-authors that this isn’t the time for big structural changes or even copy-editing. Only proof-reading (correcting typos, spelling, grammar) is permitted in this final read-through.

COLLABORATIVE WRITING DONE RIGHT — CASE STUDIES

Making collaborative writing more efficient is our jam. Inside the Researchers’ Writing Academy, we teach researchers a whole system to develop, write and finalise a scientific paper with their co-authors time-efficiently. I want you to meet two researchers who were able to transform their collaborative writing process.

COLLABORATIVE WRITING CASE STUDY OLUWATOYOSI A. ONWUEMENE, M.D.

First, meet Oluwatoyosi A. Onwuemene, MD, who is Associate Professor of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center in the US. Here is what she said after implementing the collaborative writing strategies we teach inside the Researchers’ Writing Academy:

Circular headshot of Dr Toyosi Onwuemene

“I am an excellent writer and have been writing and submitting manuscripts for a while.”

”However, the Researchers’ Writing Academy significantly improved my process of engaging with and receiving feedback from my co-authors.

“The particular breakthrough I received in the Researchers’ Writing Academy was with regard to the necessary work prior to writing, especially with regard to creating an outline prior to committing to a full manuscript.”

“It sounds like a simple intervention; but it really changed the way I interact with my co-authors. It has cut down significantly on major edits of fully written manuscripts and allows me to fully engage co-authors early on in the manuscript-writing process. Now there is less confusion and fewer surprises during the writing process!

COLLABORATIVE WRITING CASE STUDY JIA NG, MD

Next, please meet Jia Ng, MD, who is an Assistant Professor at the Zucker School of Medicine in the US. Here’s what she says:

Circular headshot Dr Jia Ng

“I used to approach academic writing as something tedious that I needed to do.

Since being a member of the Researchers’ Writing Academy, I can write a draft in four weeks.”

COLLABORATIVE WRITING — CONCLUSION

There you have it: A checklist for each stage of the collaborative writing process including some essential collaborative writing strategies and case studies illustrating how collaborative writing can feel when done right. Hopefully, this helps to make collaborative writing a more joyful experience for everyone on your research collaboration!

If you want to learn the complete system to write collaborative papers time-efficiently, including how to develop your story, how to structure each section of your research paper and how to stay accountable, check out our free writing class. 👇

Graphic promoting a free scientific writing class for researchers

 

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