Co-authoring Take 2: A co-authored blog post about co-authoring

Shannon Lucky, Library Systems & Information Technology, University of Saskatchewan Carolyn Hoessler, Program and Curriculum Development Specialist, Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness

This post is a follow-up to an article published on April 21, 2015 on Brain-Work about co-authoring. After that article went up I was delighted to receive an email from Carolyn wondering if I had plans to develop the co-authoring checklist I mentioned in my post. I hadn’t planned that far ahead, but I said that I would be interested if she wanted to collaborate on it – a perfect co-authoring opportunity!

Carolyn and I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet before, even though we work in the same building on the U Sask campus and, apparently, have some shared interests. We met up earlier this summer to talk through some of the issues that have come up for us during co-authoring projects and to share what we’ve learned in our respective positions. The following post was written by both of us and is based on the 5 Basic Elements of Cooperative Learning that Carolyn introduced me to. To see Carolyn’s description of our collaboration visit Educatus, the official blog of the GMCTE, where this article is cross-posted. 


Co-authoring and collaborative research can be personally rewarding and can strengthen a project by tapping into multiple perspectives and disciplines. It can also be difficult and frustrating at times but conflicts can be minimized, or avoided altogether, through  planning and clear communication.

The following checklist is based on the five basic elements of cooperative learning developed by Johnson, Johnson, & Johnson Holubec. Each element is defined and lists questions you should answer as a group and tips to keep in mind as your work progresses. These questions can feel uncomfortable or may lead to conflict, but it is better to have these hard conversations early and to sort out any impasses before it is too late. Sometimes collaborating with someone just doesn’t work and it can be better to identify these situations early and walk away on good terms rather than having a project fall apart mid-way through when lots of time, energy, and resources have already been invested.

Communicate early! Communicate often!

A good collaborative team needs:

  1. Positive Interdependence – having mutual goals, pursue mutual rewards, and need each other to be successful.

    • What are my goals for the project and what are my co-author’s goals?
      This can include the number of publications you will write, the venue and format of publication, and timelines.
    • What am I bringing to this project and what are other in the group bringing?
      Talk about your work style and preferences, personality, Myers-Briggs types, StrengthsFinders, what bugs you about working in groups – anything that will help your group get to know each others preferred work styles.
    • Can the project be easily divided so that everyone has a defined task?
      Doing the literature review, editing, analyzing, referencing, etc.
    • What will each of our roles on the project team be and will they be static or rotating?
      Note taking, coordinating meetings, synthesizing/pulling together ideas, etc.
    • What will the author order be or how else will author contribution be recognized?
      How is this determined and is everyone in agreement?


  • Know thyself – figure out what has bothered you about past collaborations and what has worked well. Communicate this clearly to your team members and ask them what works and does not work for them. Be honest and upfront about your expectations.
  1. Face-to-Face Promotive Interaction – reading each other’s expressions or tone and have positive interactions


  • How can we meet face-to-face, in the same room or using technology?
    Especially important when working at a distance. We must interact with each other in ways that avoid misunderstandings or assumptions and build consensus/respected distinction?
  • How frequently should we meet and how will these meetings be arranged?
    Are all meetings planned at the start of the project? Who is required at the meetings and who will organize and lead them? When will they occur?
  • What will our meetings look like?
    Will they be for planning and checking in on individual progress, working meetings, or discussion and co-creation focused?
  • What is the length of our project?
    Confirm what collaborator and able and willing to commit to in advance. Situations can change, but having a rough expectation for required time and contribution to the group can help with contingency planning if need be.
  • How will we create a good rapport and welcoming environment for the group?
    Whose job is it to set the tone? The meeting host and the content lead for the discussion don’t have to be the same person.


  • Pay attention to discussions happening over email and other non face-to-face interactions to ensure that positivity, respect, and encouragement is maintained.
  • Make sure everyone in the group is included in discussions so no one becomes isolated or siloed in their piece of the project. This recommendation does not preclude small task groups or subgroups, but communication should be forefront.
  1. Individual Accountability – each person knowing what they need to do, is able to do it, and does it on time.


  • What are the deliverables?
  • What are realistic timelines for me?  For my co-author(s)?
  • What are our external deadlines?
    e.g., special issue deadlines, external reviewer, conferences, personal deadlines
  • What will we do if we fall behind or need to step back?
    Anticipate setbacks and plan contingencies.


  • Make individuals accountable to the group and their collective goals, rather than to a single individual leader. Allow the weight of several people relying on and expecting each piece to prompt action. Also reduces the tracking and chasing of the leader.
  • Make sure there is an explicit link between author order and contribution to the project or ensure another type of recognition for all authors.
  1. Interpersonal And Small Group Skills – having the conflict-management, leadership, trust-building, and communication skills to build a well-functioning group


  • What skills do we already have in our group for leadership, conflict-management, facilitation etc.? What gaps exist and how can we fill them?
    This can mean adding a person or finding external support such as hiring a copyeditor.
  • What roles do we all want to play on this project?
    Take care to consider each person’s workload and other projects they are involved with. You might not want to be the lead researcher or editor for multiple projects are the same time.
  • What is my bandwidth for contributing to this project?
    Note if this is likely to change during the lifecycle of the project and how this will impact the group.


  • See what skill development opportunities are available in your area.
  • Co-authoring might be an opportunity to either observe or practice a new skill
  1. Group Processing – continuing to be a well-functioning group, checking in regularly and using the skills from element #4.


  • What points of coherence and dissonance have we identified as a group?
    • How do our personalities in element #1 work together or against each other?
    • How will we deal with disagreements?
    • What is the plan when individuals do not fulfill their part of the project?


  • Revisit your roles and decisions periodically as a group.
  • Build time to reflect and discuss the project into your meetings or schedule time specifically for this activity.  
  • Identify one next step or a change to improve your project and/or your work dynamic.
  • Celebrate your successes!



Johnson, David W., Roger T. Johnson, and Edythe Johnson Holubec.Cooperation in the Classroom. Edina: Interaction Book, 1991. Print.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Collaborating for Research – Experiences and Lessons Learnt

by Maha Kumaran
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library, University of Saskatchewan

True collaboration does not happen unless all involved researchers invest time and energy towards every step of the project. Depending on the project, grants may need to be applied for and funding secured, ethics cleared from all required institutions, research assistants interviewed and hired, research participants contacted, interviews or forums set up, survey questionnaire prepared, tested, sent, and data gathered and analyzed, and a literature review conducted. Then the article needs to be written, the journal chosen and seen through the peer-review process, and the order of authors for publication established. Accomplishing all of this takes time, teamwork, communication, and a willingness accept and finish assigned tasks in a timely fashion.

In my most recent project I worked with one collaborator. Our project involved surveying and interviewing internationally educated nurses (IENs) employed at health regions in Saskatchewan. I needed to secure ethics clearance or operational approval from all 13 health regions in the province. My collaborator and I also sought ethics clearance from our own institutions which was a straightforward process. Securing ethics clearance from health regions was a little more complicated and time consuming. In some of the health regions, the contact information for ethics personnel was not clearly stated. In a few health regions, we had to wait for the health region’s board meeting where our ethics clearance request was placed on the agenda. In one case, they did not have time to discuss this at the scheduled board meeting, so we had to wait for the next meeting before we could get clearance. Many reminders had to be sent and finally ethics was cleared over a period of 3 months.

Our project was divided into 2 phases. In phase 1, I learnt to use FluidSurvey to create a survey. We hired a student from the U of S’s Social Sciences Research Laboratories (SSRL) to analyze the survey data. In Phase 2, interviews were set up for IENs with the SSRL researcher. Later we learnt to use NVivo to analyze the interview results.

Once all the research was completed I learnt to use NLM citation format to publish our paper in the journal of our choice. Unfortunately we hadn’t decided on the journal beforehand, so this stage also involved some learning. Throughout our research project, we planned for conference presentations and worked on posters in PowerPoint. This involved learning or re-learning many features of Excel and PowerPoint to create charts, graphs, and tables to present data.

Our project ran over a period of 3 years and this also meant a lot of communication – between collaborators, participants, SSRL, ethics and grant personnel, our journal editor and finance personnel to have our conference expenses reimbursed.

Lessons Learnt:
When seeking a collaborator, remember to find someone who is as invested and significantly engaged in the topic. This will be a huge motivating factor in accomplishing all the required work and seeing the project to finish. Be prepared to invest time and energy towards communications, learning new technologies and skills, writing the article and seeing it through the peer-review process. If collaborators are geographically apart, virtual meetings may need to be set up. Since my collaborator and I were in two different cities, we set up phone, Zoom, and Skype sessions. Initially, we set up agendas and took notes of what needed to be done after each meeting. As time progressed and our work lives got busier we were less industrious about such meetings and tried to accomplish everything through email. There were miscommunications or misunderstandings along the way, but we were both professional and mature enough to get past these hurdles. Be patient and understand that collaborators also have other priorities. There were many occasions when I felt overwhelmed with amount of work involved. On such occasions, I took a short break, made lists, prioritized the work, assigned tasks, and set deadlines.

Collaborative research when done well can be a rich and rewarding experience. Researchers learn to problem solve, gain new knowledge and skills, and ultimately have a strong project published in a high impact journal.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.