Course Activities - Collaborative Writing

Overview | Instructional Use | Tips | Shortcomings | Potential Technology | Resources

In this type of activity, students work online in teams (ideally of three to four students) to write collaboratively a letter, essay or even a book. This activity could be highly structured, in which the instructor:

  1. specifies the number of sections that need to be written
  2. specifies the type of content that each section should include and even how long each subsection should be
  3. assigns a specific section to each team member;
  4. assigns different roles to each team member (summarizer, editor, researcher, etc.)

Or it could be loosely structure, allowing team members to do the content and role assignment themselves.




Having a group of students collaboratively writing a document might have the following potential benefits:

  • Students can become more motivated when interacting with others, having a sense of commitment of working towards a common goal.

  • Students can review and revise each other’s contributions, learning from each other as they improve the overall quality of the document.

  • Students develop critical thinking skills having to analyze, synthesize, and write in their own words topics being covered.


  • When students do not have previous experience with collaborative writing, it is recommended to use a structured approach, assigning specific sections to each team member.

  • Provide a job aid or have a session explaining how to use the online applications you have selected for the collaborative writing activities.

  • Start by assigning short collaborative projects in order to facilitate the development of collaborative writing skills and also to allow students to become familiar with the technology they need to use.

  • Similarly to other team activities, assign a grade to the whole team for the final product while also taking into consideration individual contributions.

  • There might be a slight learning curve involved in using effectively the online applications for collaborative writing. Providing a job aid or a video tutorial demonstrating this process might be quite helpful.

  • Students might need to sign up to have access to collaborative writings applications. Even though the applications are free, students might still need to use an additional username to access them.

  • There is the possibility of lack of collaboration on which each student works on his/her own section without taking into consideration the work of others in the team.  This situation causes that students don’t benefit from the whole learning experience but only for the section they worked on. Moreover, the overall quality of the final product diminishes because there might be a lot of redundancy across sections or some sections could be very well done while others don’t, depending on the efforts from each student.


There are several technologies that can be used for collaborative writing projects, such as:

Online file sharing. Tools like or allow sharing a folder or a specific document. Multiple students can view and edit the same document. A centralized version of the document with the latest updates is located on the Internet.
Indiana University students have free access to as a collaboration tool.

Online Documents. Tools like Google Docs allow sharing and collaborating on the web. Students can create documents, spreadsheets, drawings, and presentations collaboratively. It is also possible to see the history of changes done in the documents, revert back to any previous version, and to know who was the author of each contribution.

Wikis. Wikis were the first widely known tools that allowed for online collaborative writing. Wikipedia was created and is currently mantained using a Wiki tool. Wikispaces provides a free wiki environment in which students can share and collaborate together. With wikis it is also possible to see the history of revisions in the document, revert to past revisions, and find out who contributed what in the document.