None of the following suggestions can be adopted if you’re trying to work with someone you’re deeply skeptical of. If you do not trust a fellow collaborator to do right by you ethically, morally, or professionally, we recommend searching for another partner or continuing solo.
2. Find someone with whom you are socio-politically aligned
This enabled us to trust one another throughout the writing process, especially more so than we might have trusted someone with oppositional or conflicting views. Trust is essential for a productive collaboration relationship. Knowing the other partner holds similar beliefs and values prevented us from having to re-write portions of our manuscript or clarify essential meanings. Essentially, it allowed us to give the one another the benefit of the doubt. Below is a list of questions we have explored with one another throughout various conversations across a few years.
What are your views on systemic oppression? In which direction do you believe society is headed? What responsibility do we as burgeoning academics have in the midst of the madness? What are your ultimate goals and how can this work help move toward them?
3. Choose a writing partner who is willing to allow for scheduling flexibility
Things come up in life. Sometimes people move. Folks take on full time jobs (that try to kill them and/or devour their soul). Deaths happen. Babies are born. Life doesn’t stop simply because the two (or or more) of you have chosen to write this paper. Understand that things happen. To avoid having to have an awkward talk about expectations, we planned our summer writing schedule with ample flexibility allotted in the event that life happened, so that when it did, we could attend to life and pick up the paper again later. Specific steps we took to try to mitigate issues include:
- Establishing due dates for manuscript components
- Aiming to complete the manuscript roughly 3 weeks early to allow time for feedback incorporation and revisions
Be forthright and upfront about authorship expectations. The conversation must be had and decision made eventually, and it’s better to decide early on so there is no confusion about workload or task delegation. We found this to be the best way to prevent unnecessary confrontation and disagreement. Don’t be awkward about it. Ideally, the relationship will be an ongoing, fruitful one that will allow you two (or more) to publish together in multiple capacities. Provided this occurs, authorship can oscillate.
Seasoned, eminent scholars we know (Muhammad/Ladson-Billings) have discussed their strategies on authorship. They have shared how they challenge common practices around authorship by assigning it based on who is in greatest need. Obviously, this goes against American norms of competition, but this communal approach repositions scholarship as a collective enterprise of collaboration and genuine care. For example, if one collaborator is going up for tenure soon or needs first authorship for a grant, they would receive it. In order for this practice to work, though, the relationship requires great trust in knowing all involved will responsibly complete their portions, which is why our first point is essential to the entire process.
5. Your writing partner should be open to critically discussing reviewers pre-submission
By this, we mean that you should use your network as a resource base for feedback on your manuscript. Have a conversation about whom you might ask for feedback; these folks could range from peers to colleagues to working professionals. Share with your partner(s) the insights these folks bring to your project, and what your motives are for soliciting their feedback. This should be a strategic selection process, and it is important to fully trust the individuals from whom you request feedback, especially if they are part of the academy. There should be a firm consensus, and all collaborators should feel comfortable sharing their working project with these individuals.
6. Lastly, select a writing partner who is comfortable planning and performing small, tedious tasks
On the day of submission, the date by which our manuscript was due, we almost got got! We had not carefully thought through the numerous small steps required to officially and successfully submit a manuscript for publication. Since this was the first experience for both of us with this part of the process, we were a bit scattered and anxious. Because we have a working relationship that allows for flexibility and a focus on execution, not blame, we were able to complete the task at hand. Obviously, this was a learning experience for us, but in the moment we were able to support one another and share tasks and responsibility so that our submission cleared-- which was our goal.
At the core of our success in writing the paper was the knowledge that we had each other’s backs. Each of us wanted (and want) to see the other thrive both academically and professionally. Knowing that, we were able to trust that each decision we made had the other’s best interest at heart.
Essentially, in the most ideal of situations you should find a writing partner who is both a colleague and a friend. However, we understand that this isn’t always an option. Regardless of whether or not your writing partner is someone you can kick it with, like we stated above, trust is the most foundational principle in a successful collaborative writing relationship. Have the hard conversations up front and it will make things a lot easier later on.
We’d love to hear what other tips you have about writing collaboratively; feel free to share them in the comments!
Autumn (left) is not a carefree Black girl, although, she hopes that one day she will be able to be. Autumn holds more degrees than your president and is more qualified than your secretary of education. She is a lifelong educator who loves and believes in the potential of Black and Brown children, especially girls. Autumn is currently pursuing her doctoral degree and would love advice on what to do next with her life. Follow her on twitter @AutumnAdia; follow the blog @ReadBlackademia.
ArCasia James (right) is Texas born and bred and a former domestic and international secondary humanities teacher. She is currently a PhD student at the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign in the Education, Policy, Organization, and Leadership department.