Creating Continuity: Group Papers

By Kat Seidemann

Oh, those pesky group papers. You divide up the work, each person selecting a section to work on and then when you put it all together it just doesn’t flow. I often see group papers like this in the WaCC and I have dealt with some of my own. I understand the frustration that goes with trying to make different writing styles flow together into one coherent piece

After working on several group projects, both as a group member and as a tutor, I have developed some strategies to help create continuity in group papers.

1. Make sure everyone has the same understanding of the assignment and requirements.  This may sound obvious, but I have found that different levels of understanding contribute to the disparity between sections in a group paper. If the group members have differing ideas about what is required for a successful paper then there are bound to be differences in the quality, or quantity, of each section. If your group can’t agree on the assignment requirements, talk with the instructor as a group to get everyone on the same page.

2. Maintain clear communication between group members. Exchange emails, phone numbers and discuss when each member is available. Again, this seems obvious, but if someone doesn’t understand the citation method chosen or is struggling to make the deadline it will help to know that sooner rather than later. Setting up rules for the team at the start of the project will be helpful; for example, a rule that says emails or phone calls will be responded to within 24hrs provides a structure for communication to build on.

3. Make sure you rely on each group member’s strengths and interests. Often group projects include more than just a paper. If someone in the group is interested in creating a visual, or has strength in oral presentations consider dividing up the work along those lines if it allowed by your instructor. If your team only has to produce a paper you still might find that someone is a strong proofreader and someone else has experience with a particular requirement.   Offer to work on the aspects of the project that interest you, but be ready to compromise. Ask if someone is willing to assemble all the parts into a single document and write the transitions that make it flow together. Discussing these things can help assure that the work is fairly divided among the group.

4. Choose a single citation style as a group. If your instructor hasn’t assigned a particular citation method this is a critical aspect on which you should all agree. I have heard horror stories about group projects that got in trouble because one person didn’t properly cite their part of the paper. By agreeing to a citation style and method before the writing begins the group can avoid awkward transitions between sections. The last thing you want is to have someone using footnotes when everyone else is using endnotes for example.

5. Share an outline of your section with your group members. This way you can see the commonalities and/or differences between sections. Knowing the basics of what each person plans to include in her part of the paper can make it easier to write the transitional phrases that will allow the paper to flow.

6. Once all the parts are assembled into a single document, have everyone in the group read through it. Don’t think of that document as the final draft, rather, consider it a rough draft. If there are disparities, this is when they can be most efficiently corrected by the group. This way everyone can give input on any changes that need to be made.

Finally, if one person has agreed to fine-tune the document, don’t make them go it alone.  Be available for that person in case they have questions or need clarifications about your part of the paper. Make sure everyone sees a copy of the final draft before it gets handed in.

Remember the WaCC consultants are always happy to help with group projects, and the entire group can come in for a conference.

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