Collaborative Scientific Writing: Challenges and Strategies

Dr. Graham Hubbs, University of Idaho; Dr. Kara Hall, National Cancer Institute; Dr. Amanda Vogel, Leidos Biomed; Dr. Kendra Spence Cheruvelil, Michigan State University; Dr. Patricia Soranno, Michigan State University

One of the standard products of scientific research is collaboratively authored manuscript. Writing collaborative manuscripts—scientific or otherwise—involves challenges from start to finish that will be familiar to anyone who has ever engaged in the process of collective authorship. Such challenges include establishing workflow, maintaining progress (especially when authors are spread out geographically), developing and executing a unified vision of the goals and content of the paper, establishing a consistent voice, and agreeing upon order of authorship, to name but a few. This panel will discuss these challenges and highlight strategies for overcoming them. The session will feature conceptual and practical perspectives on collaborative writing by experts from across disciplines (philosophy, psychology, public health, ecology) who work in a variety of research-related organizations (academia, government, and consulting).

Presentation #1:

“Collaborative Writing and Collective Intentionality”

Graham Hubbs

Collaborative writing is a form of collective action: when two or more people write a manuscript together, they unite their forces to produce a single text, and they commonly mark this unity by listing all of their names as co-authors of the manuscript. This is an example of a kind of action that exhibits collective intentionality—the intentions that guide the work manage to bind the agents together into a group, a collective that is unified in a way that a mere aggregate of individuals is not. For several decades, philosophers have studied the nature of this unity, examining the conditions under which a group of individuals count as a group bound by a collective intention. This presentation will analyze collaborative writing, and more specifically the writing of team science, within the two dominant philosophical frameworks on collective intentionality, the psychologistic framework (cf. Bratman 2014) and the normative framework (cf. Gilbert 2014). This analysis generates two hypotheses about successful collaborative writing: (1) members of an authorial team need to have individual intentions that interlock in specific ways, and (2) there needs to be a specific structure of accountability between authors. Probing these hypotheses may, in turn, offer guidance to writing teams.

Presentation #2

“Collaborative Writing Policies, Processes, and Practices”

Kara L. Hall & Amanda L. Vogel

A key benefit to collaborative authorship is the opportunity for greater innovation in scholarship through the integration of diverse expertise and perspectives (Hall, Vogel, Huang, et al., 2018). Yet a recent study that explored retractions of collaboratively authored papers in the journal Science highlighted the vulnerability of collaborative authorship to misconduct and errors, particularly when there is a lack of team unity (Andersen & Wray, 2018). These findings point to the potential to increase the quality of scientific work (e.g., increases in innovation/productivity and reductions in errors/misconduct) through the use of effective collaborative processes aimed at enhancing authorship team unity.

In this presentation we offer considerations for how policies (e.g., promotion and tenure) and practices (e.g., author contribution tracking; CRediT taxonomy) can enhance transparency and accountability and thereby the degree of ownership, investment, and engagement in collective writing activities. We then go on to discuss effective practices for collaborative engagement depending on which writing phase collaborators are in (e.g., idea generation, planning, writing,  editing, revising), how the writing occurs (e.g., sequential, parallel, simultaneous; in person vs. computer-mediated; full group vs. subgroups of authors), and what type of product is being developed (e.g., type and/or section of manuscript). Lastly we will identify how various strategies support key team processes and provide suggestions for which strategies to use when, and with whom, to meet collaborative writing goals.

Presentation #3:

“Adventures in Environmental Collaborative Manuscript Writing”

Kendra Spence Cheruvelil and Patricia A. Soranno

We are big data lake ecologists who study what affects lakes at broad scales of space and time to predict how lakes will respond to global pressures. To do so, we co-lead large and interdisciplinary research teams that include people from various institutions, disciplines, career stages, and backgrounds. Our research teams publish approximately 10 collaborative and interdisciplinary journal articles per year.

In this presentation, we will draw on our 15 years of co-leading research teams to share the team policies and practices we have developed for collaborative writing. In particular, we will highlight the use of team authorship policies, collaborative manuscript management strategies, and author contribution paragraphs as mechanisms for improving collaborative writing.


Session Outline:

Introduction to panel by moderator, Kara Hall (5 min)

Presentations #1-3 (15 min each)

Discussion session (40 min)