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VI. Managing Your Collaboration

Sep 14, 2018 by Claire Renaud

Once you and your collaborator have agreed to the terms of the collaboration, what might it look like on a day-to-day basis? In this blog, you will learn about various options for collaborating with someone on a project, all of which involve regular meetings and defined practices for working on shared documents.

Determine Writing and Revising Methods

Simultaneous writing. If your collaborator is local, you could meet and work on the project together at a specific time every week (or whatever works best for your schedules). In this case, the actual writing of the document would be done together. And if your collaborator is not local, you still have the option of writing together by using screen sharing tools, such as Google Docs, Google Hangout, Skype, Zoom, etc.

Asynchronous writing. Writing does not have to happen simultaneously. Indeed, especially with a collaborator in a different time zone, the writing will often be asynchronous. For example, you might write a first draft of the Methods section on Monday, and your collaborator would continue working on that same section later in the week, perhaps on Wednesday. If you opt to write asynchronously, it is important to schedule regular meetings to give each other feedback and to decide on the next steps to take.

Writing in separate sections. Another option in a collaboration is to divide the work into smaller sections and assign a section or more to each collaborator. For example, you could write the Methods and Results sections, while your collaborator writes the Introduction and Discussion sections. Once a draft of each section is written, exchange the documents to see what was produced and provide comments to each other. Eventually, you will want to have one person review the entire document to ensure cohesion of style before submitting it to a journal. A benefit of dividing up the writing is that it could help both you and your collaborator showcase strengths and feel more motivated.

Adhere to Short-Term Deadlines

Crucially, regardless of the writing option you select, agree on deadlines. Establishing numerous short-term deadlines will ensure that the project progresses and that the ultimate deadline for submitting the product is met.

Anticipate Delays

To prevent life’s little surprises from interfering with the success of the project, you should anticipate running into potential obstacles that may delay the project by including some “wiggle room” along the way (or at the very end of the project by having an earlier deadline than needed). In this way, when things do not go according to plan, you can use that scheduled wiggle-room time to make up for the delays or other problems you may encounter along the way. To give a few examples, technical difficulties may arise that prevent you from working on the project and meet the agreed-upon deadline. Or a family emergency may prevent your collaborator from working on the project, thus missing a deadline. An unexpected, urgent task for you or your collaborator may take time away from the time dedicated to this project. In each of these scenarios, preplanned wiggle room will allow you to handle these obstacles without drastically impacting the original timeline.

Be Proactive When Conflict Arises

Will everything go smoothly? As with many things in life, probably not. However, by being pro-active with obstacles, regularly communicating with your collaborator, and being flexible, you will manage to resolve conflicts and ensure the project’s successful completion.

Collaborator Conflicts. Should a conflict arise, what are the steps to take? Being proactive when setting up the collaboration means agreeing upon expectations, revisiting expectations if needed, and establishing good communication to minimize potential conflicts. However, if a conflict arises, first discuss the conflict directly with your collaborator. If this does not resolve the matter, find a neutral, outside party to mediate. Many universities have resources that can help in such cases. In the unfortunate circumstance in which you are the victim of a collaborator stealing your ideas or of other ethical conflicts, definitely refer the matter to someone at your institution.

Workload Conflicts. One of the most common problems that may arise is that your collaborator stops contributing to the project. Once again, the first step should be to reach out to your collaborator directly. However, if your attempts at resolving the conflict do not work, you may have to decide on removing your collaborator from the project. Be diplomatic as you point out how the project is suffering from the collaborator’s lack of contribution. Ideally, your collaborator will make the decision either to leave or to stay and contribute more.

To summarize, there are many aspects to a collaboration, including being prepared for potential obstacles and conflicts. While there is no one-size-fits-all way of collaborating, having clearly established roles and expectations and communicating regularly should minimize delays and frustrations. Ultimately, in such cases, as the leader of the collaboration, it is your role to find the best way to move forward for the success of the project.

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