Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary activity; in fact, coauthors can make the process easier. I was part of a writing team for my first published article. The lead author had been published so could guide us through the process. And dividing the work made the project feel less intimidating. We celebrated publication by going out to lunch!
Unfortunately, not every collaborative writing process is as positive as the one I had.
For instance, I’ve heard too many horror stories of coauthors not following through on their writing commitment. Many of these problems can be avoided with a kick-off meeting. You wouldn’t launch a major project without a planning meeting, and it’s the same with a writing project.
The kick-off meeting can be in person, by phone, or online, depending on the geographic location of the participants. If you opt for an online meeting, consider using video technology, such as Zoom, Skype, or WebEx to host the get-together. Being able to put a face to a name can foster “buy-in” and support the collaboration right from the start.
Here is what should be on the agenda:
Project goals and objectives. Discuss the scope and practice of the project. You’ll also want to cover the process: Will different people write different sections or will one person write the first part of the manuscript, then hand off for the next person to write the next section, and so on?
Project lead. The project lead is usually, but not always, the lead author. This person will shoulder the bulk of the work, including ensuring the manuscript reads like it was written by one person instead of several and keeping the process moving. The project lead also is usually, but not always, the corresponding author—the one who communicates with the journal.
Author order. This can be a sensitive issue, especially with interprofessional writing teams. Cindy Munro, a nurse who shares the editor-in-chief role for the American Journal of Critical Care with a physician, notes that different disciplines may differ on expectations when it comes to the publishing process. For example, in nursing, the senior author is usually the first author, but in medicine, the senior author is typically listed last.
Options for determining order include degree of contribution and alphabetical order. If you have plans for several manuscripts, you may want the lead author be the one in the discipline related to the journal that you target for submission. For example, you, as the nurse, would be the lead author for the manuscript to be sent to a nursing journal; a pharmacist might be the lead for an article for a pharmacy journal, and so on. Just remember that all of these articles need to be original and different from each other.
Be sure that authors truly contribute to the manuscript and aren’t listed simply because they are the senior member of a project team or someone’s project advisor. Check out the four criteria for authorship from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.
Team member responsibilities. Determine who is going to do what, based on their areas of strength. For example, someone who is detail oriented might be the best person to do a final check of the reference list.
Timeline. Establish a schedule for your project. Everyone should leave the meeting knowing key targets, such as when the first draft is due. You can schedule interim meetings, but don’t schedule too many—you want people to be writing, not meeting.
Technology. Decide how drafts will be shared. Dropbox and Google Docs are good examples. Changes can be tracked in Microsoft Word. You can also consider apps, such as Asana, to help you manage the project.
What if? Most team members are sincerely committed at the start of a project, but for some, their enthusiasm fades for a variety of reasons such as an unexpected work project or family emergency. To avoid hard feelings, everyone should know from the start what will happen if expectations aren’t met. For example, you might decide that if a person misses the deadline for submitting his or her part of the manuscript by 3 days, the person is dropped from the team. It may seem harsh, but you don’t want one person holding back the entire team. Another option is to simply state that if comments aren’t received by a certain date, the project will move forward anyway.
Be sure someone takes notes and follows up with a summary of the call.
An effective kick-off meeting will set you on the path of a productive collaborative writing experience. It can also serve as the first step in forging connections with those who then become colleagues in future writing projects. These colleagues are often great resource for improving your writing. I am thankful to many of my past coauthors for their insights!
For more information about breaking down the time barrier, see Anatomy of Writing for Publication for Nurses, 3rd ed.