Friday, March 04, 2005

Style, Part 4: Collaborate Carefully

Writing collaboratively at work could be a daunting task. When management requires lengthy reports, several staff members may be assigned to write various sections. Employees who have written collaboratively have said that they benefited from the camaraderie, learning opportunities, and reduced pressure that come from such situations. On the other hand, they have also complained about problems emerging from conflicting styles, opinions about content and organization, project inefficiencies, and power struggles. Keeping in mind the following tips would be helpful when writing collaboratively.

1. Keep the style uniform. Someone has to manage the overall project to keep the style consistent. An instance of what can go wrong if no one takes charge occurred when two professional writers assigned to writing a book divided the chapter assignments. When they met again with their completed halves of the manuscript to fuse them into one volume, they realized that one wrote mostly active sentences while the other wrote in the passive voice. Much rewriting was necessary.

2. Respect others’ opinions about style. These days, cultural differences—of the national and corporate types—more than age or sex differences have a dramatic impact on a writer’s style. Talking openly about the organization’s objective in relation to the document should help settle matters about which style—not necessarily whose style—would best suit the situation.