Monday, July 22, 2013

Writing With A Co-Author

I am about to undertake a writing project with not just one co-author but several, so I was especially interested in Bryan A. Garner's recent article '7 steps for producing top-notch text with a co-author' in the ABA Journal.

Here are Garner's 7 steps:
1. Canvass the existing literature.
2. Write out your main propositions.
3. Arrange your propositions into categories, and put those categories into a sensible order.
4. Ideally, co-authors should write the same parts of the manuscript simultaneously.
5. Have one team member meld the two versions into one.
6. Spend plenty of time revising the draft, amplifying here and diminishing there.
7. Reconsider everything.

For my team's paper, we will have a bit of a historical section on how technology has transformed collection development, so we will definitely have to canvass existing literature. Lucky for us, there has been quite a bit written on this topic.

Our paper, however, is more of a narrative of our experience, so the propositions portion will morph into a look at how we arrived at this point in our collection management. We will arrange our experiences in a logical outline.

My team will likely break up our paper into sections and have each author write a separate portion of the paper, which will be easier to do once we have a solid outline. This also means that we will not write the same portions of the paper simultaneously. There are downsides to this, as we will not be able to choose from the better version.

I really like the idea of having one team member edit the versions of the paper. This allows the paper to flow as one. Sometimes editing is a matter of style, and this will ensure that the paper does not have conflicting styles.

One thing I tell my Scholarly Writing students, and something I will have to keep in mind myself, is that we cannot be afraid to dump entire portions of the paper if we find that they do not fit. This may be even more challenging with multiple authors because the team will not want to offend.

If you are writing a persuasive piece the advice about writing out and arranging propositions and reconsidering everything is of utmost importance. You want to make sure that what you are persuading makes sense and can stand up to scrutiny. For a narrative piece, these parts are much less important, as we are merely telling of our experience and not trying to persuade that we are right or wrong.

I am excited to co-author a piece, and any author that might be in a similar situation should definitely take Garner's 7 steps seriously. After all, the man does know what he is talking about. He has successfully co-authored several books with one of the (seemingly) grumpiest Supreme Court Justices of all time.

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