Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How to Write a Group Paper

Writing a paper as a group can be a difficult task. Here's the process that we're using to write our group paper. You may find this helpful in managing your own group project. If you have any suggestions or recommendations, feel free to comment or send an email.

1. Form a good group. Look for people who are at the top of their game intellectually and seem interested in the class. The gal in the front row with her hand up all the time is a a better choice than the slouching guy in the back of the room who's nodding off during the lecture.

2. Pick an interesting topic. At least one person in the group should have some significant passion behind your topic. It would be best to have at least one person who works in that industry. So, if you're going to write about the Fed, try to find someone who works there! Even if he's not directly or even indirectly involved with setting interest rates, chances are good that he can get some good information from the people he works with.

3. Narrow the topic to something very specific. Getting as specific as you can will help you focus your efforts. Of course, don't get so specific that you're unable to find material on the subject. Choosing something timely and popular will make material easier to find.

4. Write an outline with the entire group. You're gonna need your standard introduction, body and conclusion, of course. Break out the body into 3-5 sections. Most topics will have a history section where you review the history of the issue at hand. Then you might review different views of experts on the current issue. Lastly, you'll probably want to assess each of those views in your own opinion. Draw some conclusions and set it up for your concluding section.

5. Assign the sections of the outline to the members of your team. If anyone has a preference, try to honor it. It's always better to have someone writing on something that they feel comfortable with and that they're interested in. Each person should have ownership and responsibility for their section. That said, everyone should be willing to help out with any section, as needed.

6. Pick a collaboration tool. I prefer GoogleDocs. There's also Microsoft Office Live. You could also use any web-based tool/site that allows you to upload and share a document. You want to be able to share a common document so there's visibility into the progress of the entire progress. You don't want to find out that one section isn't progressing at the last minute. In addition, you'll be easily able to help each other out with content and form as well as double-checking spelling and grammar.

7. Gather source materials and cut/paste them (or links to them) into the project doc at the bottom. This should take at least a week. Don't worry about writing anything during this time. Just gather information.

8. Refine the outline and cull the information that you've gathered. You probably won't use all of the information that you gathered. Despite how interesting some material may be, resist the temptation of including it unless it fits clearly into your topic and the outline.

9. Each member should begin writing a draft of his/her section. Go through a write/review/refine feedback loop until you get the draft to a point that it looks polished.

10. The group should meet at least once a week to review the progress of each section. Even if you have good email communication and you're using a collaborative tool to work on the paper, it's best to have a face-to-face discussion where everyone is together, you review progress, talk about any issues/problems that you're having and assign actions to team members to resolve the problems.

11. Polish it, finalize it and turn it in!

Good luck!

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