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Collaborating with your colleagues can enhance your writing, but how can it be done efficiently?
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How to Collaborate Successfully on Your Next Writing Project

By David Stevens | Thursday, September 6, 2018

Open School blog Sept 6

Writing for health care improvement is principally a solitary activity: gathering improvement experiences and assembling data, drafting a paper or blog post, revising and … revising again.

It’s useful to recognize, however, that writing has a second important process that embraces a wider community of colleagues — the process of publication. Colleagues and friends, co-authors, reviewers, editors, and ultimately your reader — most importantly, your reader — they’re all part of the community that surrounds your writing for publication.

Steps to Organizing a Writing Collaborative

Your systematic approach to this second process will provide efficient and effective strategies that can lead to publication success. One of these strategies is the establishment of an approach, which I call a Writing Collaborative. Let’s drill down on how you can establish just such a Writing Collaborative.

A Writing Collaborative is simply a group of colleagues willing to write and review each other’s written drafts. To be useful and successful, it requires that participants find the courage to trot out very early drafts for others to see in the glare of day. It requires, as well, the willingness to be a critical reader.

My experience with a wide variety of writing groups — students, trainees, faculty, senior department and division leaders, and groups of inter-professional participants in writing workshops — has yielded useful guidelines that can help you establish your own local Writing Collaborative. The most rigorous road testing for these concepts occurred during five years of monthly writing seminars conducted with resident trainees and faculty in the Healthcare Improvement Writing Program for the Leadership and Preventive Medicine Residency at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire.

For a Writing Collaborative to be sustainable, participants must find that it contributes substantially and efficiently to improving their writing products. Here are five elements that can help you launch a successful Writing Collaborative.

  1. First and foremost, it is important that participants commit to meeting regularly to share and criticize writing products. Moreover, there is no limit on the number of participants. Anyone is welcome (you only need two). There’s no upper limit. Generally working on writing products in pairs or trios allows the group to accommodate as many as are interested.

  2. Your Writing Collaborative requires your most precious resource — time. So commit to a regular time and place. Don’t aim for marathon sessions. Participants’ concentration is usually good for about 90 minutes. Monthly meetings will generally accommodate most participants’ schedules. Most successful Collaboratives that I’ve been associated with usually meet monthly at a practical time and place — often tacked on to other activities that find participants together such as a division meeting, journal club, or research seminar.

  3. Employ the peer review process — blunt but generous criticism of each other’s writing. In our writing collaborative for trainees and faculty at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, we recognized early that “your best friend will be your most critical reader.”

  4. Rotate the task of session organizer/moderator.

Find an extra bonus by building in a short, defined time segment in your meetings for participants to remind others of recently published interesting, well-written articles.

And here is a useful checklist that can help assure successful Collaborative meetings:

  1. Start on time and get straight to work with writing or discussing writing.
  2. Avoid gossip or chatter until the session’s over.
  3. It is easy to initiate a Collaborative, but harder to keep it going. Recognize signs of flagging momentum such as dropping attendance.
  4. Keep senior leadership aware of your successes — even the simple fact that you’ve self-organized a writing process.
  5. Develop creative financial support from institutional leadership. The first task here is to ask.

Learn more about Writing Collaboratives in “This Writing Workshop Will Help You Get Published,” a Learning Lab within the IHI National Forum in Orlando this December.

Editor’s Note:

David Stevens is an IHI Senior Fellow, Adjunct Professor, Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Lebanon, NH, and Editor Emeritus, BMJ Quality and Safety, London. He is the author of Writing to Improve Healthcare: An Author’s Guide to Publication, published by CRC Press, London, in June 2018.

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