Creating Content Collaboratively

The Internet is a driver of collaboratively created content. The belief that such content is inherently inferior to content created by an individual is simply not true. (Shakespeare collaborated.)

In 1977, a U.S.-based study by Donald King found that there were, on average, 1.79 authors per academic article. In 1998, according to data from the ISI Science Citation Index, that number had risen to 3.89 coauthors — more than a 100 percent increase.

The following factors encourage collaboratively created content:

  • Replicability. Digital content is easy, cheap, and fast to copy.
  • A common medium. The Internet is a common medium that allows for fast, cheap, and ongoing communication.
  • Common tools. Authors have the same or similar software tools (e.g., word processing, email, etc.)
  • Changeability. Digital documents are easy to change, add notes to, update, etc.
  • Compactness. Digital documents, particularly text-based ones, are relatively small in size and can therefore be moved quickly and efficiently between authors.
  • Hypertext. Hypertext is affecting the way we write content. Documents are getting shorter and more interlinked, inviting collaboration.
  • Information overload. Not only is the amount of content exploding, but the information contained in content is changing with increasing frequency. Collaboration allows people to pool resources and keep up with rapidly changing trends.

Collaborative writing works best when:

  • There is a major content creation task at hand that demands the input of multiple disciplines.
  • The content job can be broken up into clearly defined segments that can be allocated to individual authors. However, just allocating pieces of work to people is not collaboration. Unless there is strong interaction among authors and an overall sense of direction and style is jointly established, the true potential of collaboration will not be achieved.
  • There is a well-thought-through set of processes to facilitate collaboration.

Collaboration is not easy because the classical business environment rewards individual effort. A great many people believe the motto “Knowledge is power.” It can also be the case that the better the writer, the bigger the ego.

Add to this the fact that a lot of people who can easily accept criticism in other areas become very tetchy when their writing is criticized. To top it all off, while obvious mistakes can be pointed out and accepted, two people may have very different but perfectly acceptable styles. Writing is an inexact science — more like a craft, really — and rarely is there one right way to write a piece of content.

People will collaborate better if:

  • They know each other and have a respect for the skills and knowledge each party brings.
  • There is a clear reward and remuneration structure that supports collaborative writing.
  • Management shows a strong commitment to collaboratively created content and is actively willing to promote such an approach.
  • There is a similarity of style and thinking among the authors, or the different parties bring very different skills — for example, one person has a deep technical understanding but relatively poor writing skills, whereas another has excellent writing skills.
  • There is a shared understanding of what needs to be achieved and the processes involved in getting to the finished product.
  • There is an equal level of commitment and enthusiasm.

Simply put, collaboration makes good sense.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.