Collaborative Writing 101

What is it and why do it?

What is collaborative writing?

While some say that all writing is collaborative (Speck, 2002), we want to be a little more specific (we think that’s more helpful). According to Navarrete and Cabrera (2014), writing is a complex process that involves selecting the appropriate content, grammar, and structure to communicate the desired ideas.

This process involves planning, editing, and revising, and in collaborative writing, these activities are carried out with peers through communicating and coordinating their efforts towards a common goal (Navarrete & Cabrera, 2014). For us, we want to take it a step further, and believe collaborative writing occurs when there is

“more than one person contributing directly to the creation of a text and so sharing responsibility for it.” 

Haring-Smith, 1994, p. 360

The concepts of “contributing” and “sharing responsibilities,” include, but are not limited to, brainstorming, discussing, researching, creating, revising, and challenging one another as a group (Kittle & Hicks, 2009). The key idea of this definition is that the students are not bystanders, but instead are active participants in the group, and are accountable to each other.

Why do collaborative writing?

Collaborative writing has been studied from a variety of perspectives to determine its benefits, its effectiveness, and how to make it more effective. Often times, the terms collaboration and cooperation are used interchangeably, but as we detailed here, there are some important distinctions.

At Storillo, we often use the term “group writing” so we can better emphasize cooperative and collaborative writing projects (but for the sake of the article, we'll stick with collaborative writing). When it comes to effectiveness, Haring-Smith (1994) considers writing to be a helpful way for students to collaboratively learn since the writing process already involves two parties: a writer and a reader.

Storch (2005) notes that research findings on collaborative writing have been positive, with results proposing that collaborative writing can foster reflective thinking. Zhou, Simpson, and Domizi (2012) also cite a series of articles that highlight the numerous benefits of collaborative learning, which include deepening learning and developing problem solving, decision making, and information literacy skills.

What it needs

In order to reap the benefits of collaborative writing, certain elements should be present to make it effective. With new technologies, there has also been research into different ways to better write collaboratively using computer-mediated communication (CMC) and computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) tools (or more simply, edtech). To make collaboration successful in online environments, An et al. (2008) found that there needed to be

  1. Individual accountability
  2. Affective team support
  3. The presence of a positive leader
  4. Consensus building skills
  5. Clear instructions

They also found that the absence of these elements, coupled with difficulties collaborating only through written communication, and technical problems, impeded the online collaboration process (An et al., 2008).

Several articles situate collaborative writing in the context of a social constructivist view of learning based on the work of Lev Vygotsky (1978), which suggests that human development happens in a social context (Storch, 2005; Suwantarathip & Wichadee, 2014). Since collaborative writing demands the interaction of individuals, it supports the idea that knowledge is co-created socially. As this research suggests, by creating situations in which students can effectively collaborate, they will be able to benefit from the lessons the collaborative process teaches (Storch, 2005; Suwantarathip & Wichadee, 2014).

So, what have we learned?
  1. Collaborative writing is about sharing responsibility for creating a text.
  2. Everyone needs to be invested and involved, otherwise you can’t call it collaborative!
  3. When it’s done right, it is a great tool for teaching 21st century skills such has critical thinking and problem solving.
  4. To make a collaborative writing project successful, the students need to be clear about the objective of the project and have a balanced team that supports each other.

Keep an eye out for Collaborative Writing 201, where we will dive deeper into the collaborative writing process and how Storillo can help!


An, H., Kim, S., & Kim, B. (2008). Teacher perspectives on online collaborative learning:    Factors perceived as facilitating and impeding successful online group work. Contemporary Issues In Technology & Teacher Education, 8(1), 65-83.

Bremner, S., Peirson-Smith, A., Jones, R., & Bhatia, V. (2014). Task Design and Interaction in Collaborative Writing: The Students’ Story. Business & Professional Communication Quarterly, 150-168.

Haring-Smith, T. (1994). Writing together: collaborative learning in the writing classroom. New York : HarperCollins College Publishers, 1994.

Kittle, P., & Hicks, T. (2009). Transforming the Group Paper with Collaborative Online Writing. Pedagogy 9 (3), 525-538. Duke University Press. Retrieved from Project MUSE database.

Navarrete, M. O., & Cabrera, A. F. (2014). Proposing a Wiki-Based Technique for Collaborative Essay Writing. Profile: Issues In Teachers’ Professional Development, 16 (2), 185-198.

Speck, B. W. (2002). Facilitating students’ collaborative writing. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, 28 (6), 1-139.

Storch, N. (2005). Collaborative writing: Product, process, and students’ reflections. Journal of Second Language Writing, (3), 153. doi:10.1016/j.jslw.2005.05.002

Suwantarathip, O., & Wichadee, S. (2014). The Effects of Collaborative Writing Activity Using  Google Docs on Students’ Writing Abilities. Turkish Online Journal Of Educational Technology - TOJET, 13 (2), 148-156.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Zhou, W., Simpson, E., & Domizi, D. P. (2012). Google Docs in an Out-of-Class Collaborative Writing Activity. International Journal Of Teaching & Learning In Higher  Education, 24 (3), 359-375.

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