A group essay assignment can feel a bit like some kind of morbid social experiment.
Several strangers are forced to work together on a project that’s generally recognized as being more easily done alone.
Will they find a way to work together, or will they descend into chaos?
Without the right strategies and attitudes in place, it can quickly feel like your group is leaning toward the latter.
So today let’s look at how to write a group essay and ways to avoid losing your mind while also producing a strong piece of writing.
How to Write a Group Essay Without Losing Your Mind
Whether you’re just learning how to tackle your first group writing project or you’re starting your 10th, you can maintain your sanity–and avoid the chaos.
Here are eight ways to get through the group process, sanity intact.
1. Have a good attitude
Let’s start with maybe the most important thing to keep in mind when writing a group essay. No matter what happens, maintain a positive attitude.
You can’t always control the people you are grouped with or how you will mesh with those people, but you can control yourself.
Remember what John Milton writes in Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
Things will inevitably go wrong, but with a good attitude, you can overcome them!
2. Avoid the urge to appoint a leader
Maybe it’s some remnant desire of our more primitive pack-hunting selves, but people tend to look for a leader when in a group setting. This may seem like the most productive strategy, but it can lead to some unintended consequences.
Putting someone at the top means someone has to, in turn, be at the bottom. This slippery hierarchical slope can lead to hurt feelings and failing grades.
As you’ll see in number 3, it’s better to collaborate fully than to give one member more power than others.
3. Work on all parts together as much as possible
The UNC Writing Center has created this nifty spectrum as an approach for how to write a group essay or writing project.
On the far right of the spectrum, one group member writes everything while the other members simply provide comments. On the far left, all parts of the writing process are done together.
There are various points along the spectrum between these extremes, including planning together and writing alone and working in pairs on different parts of the paper.
However, the closer you are to the left side of the spectrum, the better.
It’s best if you don’t divide the assignment up. Back when the only way to collaborate was to be in the same room together, it was common practice to divide the essay and work alone in an attempt to not go crazy.
Luckily, the times have changed, and you can collaborate online from the comfort of your own home.
While spending time in the same room working on the essay is still invaluable to its success, it’s also difficult to accomplish. By using collaborative writing software–such as Google Docs–you can work on the essay together, even if you aren’t really together.
4. Set a schedule and deadlines
If you’re thinking to yourself that attempting to prepare and write all parts of the paper together sounds like insanity, well, it kind of is.
As we established at the outset, expecting a group of people to write an essay, each putting in the same amount of work, is kind of crazy. But it can be done.
One way to make it work is to create a schedule with deadlines and stick to it.
First, come up with a weekly schedule for when you will collaborate, either in person or online. Then, create an overall schedule that lays out what must be done and when it needs to be finished.
Here’s a tip to ensuring this crazy process gets completed successfully: leave lots of time in the schedule for revision and editing. You’re going to need it.
5. Recognize individual strengths and weaknesses
Just because you won’t be dividing the work up doesn’t mean some people aren’t going to be stronger at some aspects than others.
Just because you aren’t going to appoint a leader and specific roles, doesn’t mean that group members’ strengths and weaknesses should be ignored.
If someone is great at research but bad at editing, it’s okay for them to shine in that earlier stage of the process, and vice versa.
The key is to stay positive and flexible during the process so that everyone has a chance to shine.
6. Don’t be the slacker or the dictator
Although it’s okay to step up or step back during each stage of the process depending on your skills, you must be careful not to do one or the other too much.
You may not like working in groups, but don’t be that person who slacks off and allows everyone else to do all of the work.
Conversely, you may feel an urge to take control when things seem messy, but it’s better to take a deep breath and remain in the spirit of collaboration than to take over and start telling people what to do.
If a group member starts to become the slacker or the dictator, avoid calling the person out by name. Instead, try gently reminding everyone of the schedule and asking all group members to quickly check in with what they’re currently working on.
This will hopefully nudge everyone back on track while avoiding animosity.
7. Be a good peer editor
Group writing assignments can be awkward for various reasons, but peer editing can be particularly uncomfortable. However, nailing this step is integral to the success of your group writing essay.
As any editor will tell you, the line between constructive and destructive criticism can be a perilous one to walk.
The key, much like in group writing as a whole, is to stay positive. It’s of the utmost importance that you’re honest, but you shouldn’t be overly negative in your feedback.
So before giving your peer constructive criticism, try to find a few positive things to say first.
Peer editing and revision aren’t just about pointing out what’s wrong. You should give credit where credit is due.
8. When all else fails, stick to the process
As we’ve clearly established already, group writing assignments can be difficult for various reasons. Things will inevitably go wrong. But these setbacks don’t have to derail your entire essay.
When things start to get challenging, do what you have to do to get through whatever step you’re on and move to the next. Wipe the slate clean, and move on to the next step in the process.
Even if you’re still a little unsure about how to write a group essay, you–and your sanity–can get through it by sticking to the process. So let’s take a look at those steps.
Prewrite and brainstorm
In your very first face-to-face meeting, you should set a work schedule and start brainstorming ideas for your essay. You should settle on a topic and direction that first day because this step of the process is difficult to do when you aren’t in the same room.
Ideally, you can start to outline the structure of your essay on that first day as well, but this can be done online if need be.
It’s important that you all agree on the structure of the essay before you move on to the next step. If you don’t, things can quickly get messy.
Once the outline is finished and the group knows what to look for, most research can be done individually.
However, any potential source should be run by the other group members before a final decision is made on whether to use it. Just because you think the source is great, doesn’t mean your group members will.
It may seem impossible to write together, but it’s not! By using online writing software, you can all write and rewrite while seeing any changes that are made.
If a group member makes a change, all other members can see that change and discuss whether to keep it or go back to the original way it was written.
In this way, all group members can have have their say in how the paper is written. However, if this causes frustration, you can also divide the paper up to be written separately and then fused together later. That approach will require more revision time to mesh the voice, though.
Once you have the first draft written, allow time for every group member to read it and come up with suggestions on how to improve it.
With online writing software, each group member can make notes right in the document that the other members can read and consider.
After everyone has made suggestions on how to improve the draft, you should go back to the writing step to complete the next draft.
From there, continue to write, read, and revise until you come up with a draft that everyone feels good about. During the reading and revising steps, don’t worry about sentence-level issues. Those will be addressed next.
Once you have a final draft that everyone is happy with, it’s time to edit. This is the time to look for and correct any sentence structure, grammar, or vocabulary issues that may hurt the clarity and flow of your essay–and in turn your grade.
Each member of the group should take the time to edit the draft. The more eyes the better. If you want to take it a step further, you can send your paper to a professional editor at Kibin to give it a once over.
Need more insight on writing a group paper? Check out these example essays that students have written about working in a group or have written for a group project:
- A Job Analysis of an Ames Company Sales Representative
- A School Paper on Creation of a Small Group Project in School “Change of Hearts”
- A Report on Group Dynamics in a Project on the Topic of the Influences of Environment on Personality and Character Traits
In the end (as in the beginning), the success or failure of a group writing project–even if you have how to write a group essay down to a science–often comes down to the attitudes of its members.
Professors know that it’s hard to write in a group, but they also know that collaboration is important. If you keep an open mind and a positive attitude, everything will work out just fine.