Successful collaboration on large, technical Word documents?
December 28, 2009 10:22 PM Subscribe
Scientists and other academics: Please advise on strategies for successful collaboration on large, technical Word documents.
posted by Jacqueline to writing & language (18 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I work at a research institute, and half my job is an administrative/accounting position supporting a team of scientists and engineers. Basically, I'm their Girl Friday. Unfortunately, ever since they figured out that I have a decent grasp of grammar, punctuation, and usage and an eye for nit-picky details, I have also been their copyeditor. ohgodpleasemakethepainstop.
I've come to the realization that roughly 25% of the time we spend on document creation, collaboration, revision, formatting, etc. is unnecessarily wasted time caused by the fact that many (most?) people here either a) don't how to use Word very well and/or b) don't plan their collaborative writing projects very well.
My coworkers' Word skills run the gamut from treating Word like a typewriter (i.e. hitting Enter several times when they want to start a new page instead of inserting a page break) to a decent comfort level with styles, captions/cross-references, citation management, etc. No one (myself included) knows how to use Word's advanced features for managing long documents. I plan to address our Word deficiencies by mastering the program myself, then I will assemble links to existing online videos, documentation, etc., into a little self-study course customized around the type of documents we produce. (So, heavy coverage on things like captions/cross-referencing for figures and tables, and no coverage of never-used features like mail merge.)
I don't know how to teach them to plan their collaborative writing projects better, though, because I don't know the answers myself. I just know that there has to be a better way than how we're doing it now! For example, it's only AFTER they've already written most of a 100+ page document that they will confer and then come to me, the copyeditor, to tell me about all the different variations of terms the four authors of the document have used and which particular consistent term and spelling these should all be replaced with. I ask them, "Shouldn't you have agreed on this sort of thing BEFORE you all started writing?" Their response is a sheepish, "Probably," but these large collaborative writing projects are infrequent enough that they don't seem to ever learn from their mistakes.
I need to fix them! Or I will lose my mind! (Most or all should be receptive to being "fixed" -- everyone agrees that the way we're doing things now is painfully inefficient.)
So, any advice? Resources? Books, articles, checklists on how to do the collaboration thing more efficiently? Anything specific to scientists, engineers, or academics would be especially helpful.
(Unfortunately, new software better suited for this type of work is not an option -- half my coworkers have resisted upgrading from Word 2003, so there's no way I'm going to convince them to learn a new program even if it is a much better tool.)