Perspectives on Collaborative Scholarship

Kelsey Hixson-Bowles, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Enrique Paz, Miami University of Ohio

We address some of the most pressing issues facing new and experienced scholars interested in embarking on collaborative publications. Collaboration can be a daunting task. We recognize that it is not always easy to determine when you should collaborate, with whom you should collaborate, or how to collaborate. On top of all these challenges is the formidable tradition of single-authored texts that many of our departments continue to uphold, especially in the humanities. In spite of the challenges collaboration presents, we and many other scholars find collaboration to be productive and rewarding. This article shares what we learned by interviewing six writing center professionals who actively have engaged in collaborative scholarship throughout their careers.

As writing center tutors and professionals, we participate daily in the social production of written text. Though providing feedback in a tutoring session differs from co-authoring a paper, both activities express the social nature of writing (Berlin, 2009; Bizzell, 2009; Bizzell & Rubin, 1988; Bruffee, 1984). Given this, it’s no surprise that writing center scholars and professionals tend to gravitate towards opportunities to collaborate; in fact, our journals are increasingly publishing collaboratively written articles. Many names have appeared together in writing center studies: Rebecca Day Babcock and Terese Thonus (2012), Dana Driscoll and Sherry Wynn Perdue (2012, 2013, 2014), Anne Geller and Harry Denny (2013), Pam Bromley, Kara Northway, and Eliana Schonberg (2013), Shanti Bruce and Ben Rafoth (2009), Anne Geller, Michele Eodice, Frankie Condon, Meg Carroll, and Elizabeth Boquet (2007), etc. And, if we look at the broader field of composition and rhetoric, we find teams such as Ede and Lunsford (1984; 1986; 1990; 1992; 1998; 2001; 2012). Though these examples suggest that collaboration abounds in our field, Neal Lerner’s (2014) recent study suggests that it is not as common as it seems within writing center scholarship. Only 18% of articles published in The Writing Center Journal feature more than one author (p. 73).  Regardless, we support Eodice’s (2003) sentiment that “we can and should demand collaboration” (p. 129). For, as McNenny and Roen (1992) have boldly stated, “Scholarship is collaboration. It cannot be otherwise” (p. 307), nor should it be.

Though we may value collaboration, local contexts often limit it. Day and Eodice (2001), for instance, were denied the opportunity to collaboratively produce a dissertation, a rare feat that few graduate students consider seriously. Similarly, some scholars have found that collaboratively written articles count differently in the tenure process than single-author texts. Such local constraints can be discouraging, especially for developing scholars.

To combat these challenges, this article provides guidance for emerging scholars embarking on collaborative projects. We (Enrique and Kelsey) are both drawn to writing about collaboration because we share the common belief that two heads are better than one and because we hope to encourage others to collaborate. Kelsey’s prior experiences with collaboration as well as her interests in collaborative leadership and creativity drive her to learn more about how others collaborate in administration and scholarship.  Enrique’s research on authorship and plagiarism convince him to challenge the dominance of single-authored texts through his scholarship and teaching. Having both collaborated already, we are eager to acknowledge the benefits, challenges, and rewards of collaborative work. While the scholarship we cite above is invaluable, this article adds to the conversation by documenting how successful collaborators in our field have managed their relationships and work.

In particular, to address some of the most pressing issues facing scholars interested in embarking on collaborative publications, collaboration can be a daunting task. It’s not always easy to figure out when you should collaborate, with whom you should collaborate, or how to collaborate. On top these challenges is the tradition of single-authored texts that many universities uphold, especially in the humanities (Laurer & Asher, 1988). In spite of the challenges collaboration presents, we and many other scholars find collaboration to be an effective means of improving both one’s scholarship and one’s scholarly identity.

To demonstrate the motivations and methods of collaborating researchers, we interviewed writing center scholars who have actively engaged in collaborative work throughout their careers. Six scholars offered insights from their collaborative experiences:

  • Dr. Ben Rafoth is a professor of English and the director of the writing center at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. In addition to the numerous leadership positions he has held in IWCA, his collaborative scholarship includes Tutoring ESL Writers (2009) with Shanti Bruce and the forthcoming Tutoring Second Language Writers, also with Shanti Bruce.
  • Michele Eodice is the associate provost for academic engagement at the University of Oklahoma as well as the director of the writing center. She also serves as a co-editor for The Writing Center Journal. Her latest collaborative project, the Meaningful Writing Project with Anne Geller and Neal Lerner, continues her career-long commitment to collaboration, which began in her dissertation, and First Person2 (2001) with Kami Day.
  • Dana Driscoll is an associate professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her research in writing center studies and transfer of learning has produced multiple co-authored publications, including “Theory, Lore, and More: An Analysis of RAD Research in the Writing Center Journal, 1980-2009” (2012), winner of the 2012 IWCA Best Article Award.
  • Sherry Wynn Perdue, co-author of “Theory, Lore, and More” with Dana, is the writing center director at Oakland University. Her many collaborations also include “Negotiating the Sponsorship Continuum: Preparing Humanities Undergraduates to Conduct RAD Research” (2014) also with Dana and student co-authors Jacob Matthews, Enrique Paz, and Jessica Tess. Sherry also collaborates as a co-editor of The Peer Review.

Carolyn Wisniewski is the writing center director at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She recently received her Ph.D. from University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2014. Her collaborative works as a graduate student and beyond are under review for publication or currently in progress. Her research interests include writing program administration, post-secondary writing teacher education, and composition theory and pedagogy.

  • Jessica Reyes is the assistant director of the writing center at Towson University. Her research examines social justice in the writing center, community engagement, collaborative leadership, and local institutional structures’ impact on writing tutoring.  Like Carolyn, her collaborative projects, which include a long-term research project with Kelsey, are in progress or under review. As an assistant director, she also collaborates with her undergraduate writing center consultants on conference presentations and local writing projects.

These six scholars offer diverse perspectives and experiences with collaboration. Ben and Michele, both full professors, represent established scholars late in their careers. Dana is recently tenured and in the middle of her career, while Carolyn, a new Ph.D., is pre-tenure and early in her career. Our interviews also included two professionals in staff positions: Sherry, director at Oakland University, and Jessica, who recently received a master’s degree and accepted a position at Towson. We combine the insights of these scholars with our own perspectives as graduate students and graduate writing center administrators, who collaborate to produce scholarship, including this article.

In what follows, we synthesize the stories, experiences, lessons, and advice offered by these scholars. Through our interviews, several major questions emerged as key concerns for collaboration, as follows:

  • Why should/do we collaborate?
  • With whom should we collaborate?
  • How can we find collaborators?
  • How should we negotiate conflict?
  • How can we manage the collaborative writing process?
  • How does collaborative scholarship affect tenure and professional advancement?

We conclude with reflections on what this discussion suggests for scholars seeking to publish in The Peer Review and for writing center studies’ scholarship more generally. Our interviews provided many insights and revealed best practices for scholars seeking to work collaboratively. We hope that this discussion will serve as a resource to enable that work.

Why Should/Do We Collaborate?

As will become apparent throughout our discussion, collaboration offers several benefits. Foremost, scholars can simply accomplish more when they work with other people. Dana found this to be true in her collaborations. For their investigation on RAD research in writing center scholarship, Sherry and Dana were able to split their duty of reading every issue of The Writing Center Journal. Carolyn’s collaborative research allowed one project to include twice as many classroom observations thanks to including multiple observers. Kelsey and Jessica are currently amassing a large data set that would be too time-consuming for either of them complete individually. The affordances collaboration offers to data collection and analysis can result in more detailed data sets.

Collaboration also allows for the division of intellectual labor. When working together, scholars can address difficult problems in the research and writing processes more effectively. Ben, for example, reported that his collaboration with Shanti Bruce began because he had difficulty addressing questions about second language writers alone. A problem-solving partner can expedite solutions and conclusions, enable more critical thought on a subject, and keep peers motivated. Alternately, as Dana put it: “I like working with collaborators because my thinking is better when I’m working with other people.” The cooperation of multiple minds can prevent roadblocks that might bring a single scholar’s work to a halt.

This cooperative contact also provides the opportunity to learn new skills from your collaborators. Both Dana and Sherry spoke about the important skills they gained from their experience working together. Dana’s social science background provided her with the tools to design qualitative and quantitative studies, which complemented Sherry’s training in humanities, including experience with secondary research and literature reviews. After years of writing together, Dana has learned from Sherry’s expertise and feels better equipped to compose literature reviews because of the collaboration. Likewise, Sherry shared that her knowledge of methodologies and data-analysis has expanded due to her work with Dana. Michele referred to these knowledges as “skill sets,” which collaborators rely upon but also learn from one another through their work. Working with scholars who have complementary skill sets enables us to address new tasks while producing new scholarship.

Individual work also benefits from collaboration and collaborators. All of our interviewees described how they have applied knowledge, skills, and experiences from collaborative writing to their individual projects. Jessica, in fact, always works to employ collaborative practices throughout her individual work, soliciting colleagues’ input to reproduce the intellectual energy collaboration brings. Sherry noted how often she leans on collaborators to motivate her and push her forward during slumps she encounters in her own writing. And Dana simply believed that collaboration made her a better writer and helped her to transition successfully from writing for a dissertation to writing for publication. For undergraduate and graduate students in particular, collaborations with faculty and established scholars often functions like an apprenticeship and serves as an introduction to publishing, producing scholarship, and the politics thereof.

Finally, collaborations are also rewarding on an individual level because of the potential for rich personal and professional relationships to develop. Bluntly, collaborative work is just more fun. Michele confessed that she “[finds] writing very lonely.” Dana echoed this sentiment as well when she said, “So much of our scholarship is so isolating. It’s so nice just have another person that you can work with. ” When scholars come together to produce scholarship and research, they get to share an experience that is, for many, intimate. The result is that collaborators often build lasting relationships out of their collaborations, which deepen both their social and professional networks.

With Whom Should We Collaborate?     

Choosing your collaborators is perhaps the most important decision you will make when embarking on collaborative work. When asked how to make this decision, many of our interviewees recommended seeking out those who share your interests and excitement for the questions you want to pursue. Indeed, mutual passion for collaborative scholarship and writing brought Kelsey and Enrique together to write this piece. We were both drawn to exploring the nuances of collaborative relationships in our field as well as motivating other scholars to experiment with collaboration in their own work. Likewise, Dana describes how her relationship with Jennifer Wells (see Driscoll and Wells, 2012) began because of their shared research interest in student attitudes toward writing transfer and similar findings from their own research. Dana holds that there is “safety in numbers,” reminding us that collaborators reinforce, support, and advance our research and arguments.

Nearly all of our interviewees also expressed that friendship is a tremendous asset to all collaborative relationships. As such, it makes sense to seek out people you like and would like to work with. A foundation of friendship will be useful, since collaborators quickly learn about each other’s personal and professional lives. It’s nearly impossible to avoid; almost all aspects of our lives influence our work, and when we collaborate with others, we invite them to learn about those aspects of our lives that influence our work the most. When we began our collaborations for this article, Kelsey was two weeks away from her wedding. Collaborating with Enrique became another ball to juggle during that busy month. At the same time, Enrique and his wife prepared for a baby due toward the end of our editing.  We each had to understand, respect, and adapt to each other’s lives and personal responsibilities as much as to our intellectual perspectives or work practices. No matter what it is—marriage, moving, babies, dissertations, illness, etc.—developing and maintaining friendship with your collaborators makes the process of working together more productive and sustainable. As Jessica put said, we should seek out those who will support, promote, and encourage us in all of our endeavors.

The fact that these friendships establish trust and motivate accountability is also important. Sherry emphasized the importance of friendships that have a solid foundation of trust in her collaborations. Developing a blend of trust and friendship in this way allows collaborators to “forgive each other,” Sherry noted. As our students will often complain to us, “group projects” often result in a series of frustrations. Even those of us who continue to choose collaborative projects may still experience basic frustrations when working with others. Missing deadlines, disappointing feedback, differences of perspective, unintended offenses—there are many scenarios that may cause friction between collaborators. However, as Dana mentioned, we are more generous and accepting of these scenarios with friends. Having a friendship anchored in trust provides collaborators with the motivation and means to communicate their frustrations, negotiate solutions, and mend fractures.

In fact, Ben went as far as to liken collaboration to marriage. Both require a commitment (and for long-term projects, these commitments may even last longer than some marriages). Both require a foundation of friendship and trust. Both require that all involved be willing to work through frustrations and negotiate challenges, keeping the shared goals and values as their primary priority. McNenny and Roen (1992) echo Ben’s sentiment, stating “In a collaborative project, as in marriage, each member needs to respect each other; each needs to be committed to the project; and each needs to carry his or her share of the load” (p. 305). And in fact, we see many collaborations that emerge from or lead to marriage—which Michele referred to as “intimate collaboration.”

In other cases, as we mentioned above, we should seek new collaborative relationships with scholars who have skill sets we do not yet possess. Consider what gaps exist in your knowledge of the subject at hand, the theory that informs it, or the methodological expertise needed to perform research about it. Sherry and Dana shared how their respective training in humanities and social sciences methods were complementary. Ben offered an example about seeking collaborators for methodological knowledge from his time as an undergraduate at Miami University, where Donald Daiker, Max Morenberg, and Andrew Kerek worked on their sentence-combining research. These scholars reached out to Richard Hoffman (credited in a footnote) from Educational Psychology for his advice on methods and research design. Ben believed that such interdisciplinary collaboration ought to happen more often: “It would be nice to see more of it, because methodologically, there’s a lot of expertise that we can really not just learn from but use if we could work with people in other disciplines.” Ben’s comments point to the need to expand our collaborations to others whose knowledge and training would complement our own and enable us to approach complex questions more effectively. We might begin seeking collaborators by considering what colleagues in other disciplines might bring to our projects, and in doing so we could expand the kinds of questions we ask and refine how we answer them.

Without fail, our interviewees confirmed each other’s advice to our readers. Pursue collaborations with people you like, who share your values, who complement your workflow and strengths, and who will move with you toward your common goals.

How Can We Find Collaborators?

Perhaps the greatest barrier for entry into collaborative work is simply locating and engaging with fellow scholars. Our interviewees advised us to find others who share our research interests and whose skills and knowledges complement our own. But where do we find these people?

First, think local. Many of our interviewees found their collaborators at their own institutions. Dana and Sherry met when Dana was a faculty member at Oakland University. Their work emerged from conversations they had during their regular encounters. Indeed, Michele reminded that much collaborative research springs from interesting and/or unusual events encountered in daily work that result in collaboration with whomever happened to be beside us at the time. Ben and Shanti Bruce began working together at IUP when they noticed their undergraduate tutors clamoring for more knowledge on second language writers. They have maintained that relationship, and it has produced a book and an edited collection. Many others, including Enrique and Kelsey, have found collaborators while at graduate school. The MA program in English at Kansas State University brought Jessica and Kelsey together, and Carolyn also found her collaborators among her colleagues in her Ph.D. program. Michele’s collaborations with Kami Day began in graduate school and produced both her dissertation and the book First Person2. The coursework and camaraderie of graduate programs allow you to learn much about your colleague’s research interests and experiences. Take advantage of the proximity to begin collaborations with like-minded people and establish productive relationships.

Conferences and professional organizations also provide excellent opportunities to meet or seek out collaborators. Being active among organizations like the IWCA or WPA or attending conferences like National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing, will not only keep you informed of new research but also immerse you into a community of scholars, many of whom will share in your excitement for collaboration. A number of Ben’s collaborative works have emerged from his time as treasurer of IWCA. He would often collaborate and publish with other board members in response to interesting problems or questions the IWCA board encountered. Attending presentations relevant to your research interests will expose you to presenters and attendees who share them. An enlightening presentation or a thoughtful question from an audience member might point you toward a collaborator. Enrique found many of his future co-panelists and collaborators. Further, Carolyn points to conference workshops like the IWCA Collaborative and Research Network Forum at Central Carolina Community College or the Graduate Research Network at Computers and Writing as means of sharing your work and hearing about other’s research. Organizations often offer mentorship and networking opportunities for graduate students, such as the WPA Graduate Organization. These opportunities to gather with fellow scholars and discuss our ideas are well-trodden paths towards collaboration.

We also recommend subscribing to organizational listservs such a WPA-L and WCenter. Many scholars turn to the listservs to ask questions, seek advice, and even find collaborators. The discussions that circulate through these channels will point toward others who share your interests.

Subpoint: Collaborating Across Faculty, Administrator, and Student Positions

While many of our interviewees recommended that younger scholars and students should seek out experienced mentors and researchers, we want to draw attention to how uneven positions of power can make collaboration difficult. As Sherry said and Dana echoed, we don’t talk enough about power and authority in writing center studies. Power is particularly relevant in scholarly collaborations; as McNenny and Roen (1992) point out: “Whatever roles are adopted, the success of collaborative projects will always involve questions of ‘who wields the power, to what end the collective works, and how people are respected or abused in that pursuit’” (p. 306).

All interviewees who have worked collaboratively from a higher position of power, Sherry, Jessica, Michele, Ben, and Dana have all worked with undergraduate and graduate students, acknowledged the need to be aware and reflective about the power dynamics involved in such collaborations. Sherry noted that, when she and Dana collaborated with three undergraduate consultants (including Enrique) to produce “Negotiating the Scholarship Continuum” (2014), the group often fell into “unconscious patterns…as though Dana was still their teacher and I was still their boss.” As one of those undergraduate students, Enrique can attest to the rigidity of those patterns; it was incredibly hard to break out of those roles. To do so, Sherry and Dana had to make conscious moves that would invite the undergraduate students to assume more equal roles as collaborators. In his interview, Ben described similar moves. First, faculty or staff should be explicit about their desire to work as peers and true collaborators. From the outset, the relationship between the ‘boss’ and the student should be clear . Following this, they should also create many opportunities for graduate and undergraduate collaborators to offer written and verbal feedback. Most important, Ben noted, is to then use that feedback, that is, to demonstrate that you value their feedback by applying it to your project.

Faculty or administrators seeking to approach graduate or undergraduate students for collaboration should also recognize the influence and pressure that such a request might carry. Dana emphasized the student must feel comfortable and must know they can decline the invitation. Students must also be made aware of the demands and expectations that collaborative work entails. As she puts it:

I’ve always seen it like taking the student through a doorway, and saying, ‘Hey, there’s this world out there. If you’re interested in stepping through [the door], I’m happy to walk with you. But if you want to stay in this room, that’s fine too.’ And giving the student a sense, that if you’re interested in doing this collaboration…it’s going to go beyond the course, you’re going to get feedback you don’t like… Kind of setting them up what happens if they’re interested in taking that step and understanding that.

Ben too cautioned against strong and sudden requests for collaboration. He takes care to gauge the student’s potential interest in innocuous ways beforehand using “feelers,” as he put it. Both he and Dana advised that students should know what they are getting into, but also that faculty should be realistic about their expectations. Just as any other collaborator, student collaborators face other demands that also draw their attention and resources. More importantly, perhaps, Dana recognized that students might have different goals than faculty. For instance, a publication may not be worth much to a student depending on her career goals. She drives us to consider what graduate and undergraduate students who don’t intend to pursue academic careers are getting out of our collaborations. Sherry described it as a reciprocity that’s necessary between all collaborators. How does collaboration benefit the student as much as it would benefit you?

Taking the other perspective, younger scholars and students should be bold about seeking mentorship through collaborations. Ben believes that graduate students should take the initiative in approaching faculty or writing center directors and asking about collaborating. Younger scholars have much to offer, particularly those working in writing centers. Their current knowledge of the field and the latest research, as well as their daily application of that knowledge in writing center practice (Grobman and Kinkead, 2010; Fitzgerald, 2014) can complement the experience and long-term view of the field a senior scholar possesses. Michele noted that she learns much from her students, and she encourages them to teach her what they know. Dana provided an excellent example of learning from her student collaborator. While collaborating with Roger Powell for their article in this issue of The Peer Review, they had a conversation about transfer in which Roger shared some of his thoughts and helped Dana to rethink some of her ideas on the subject. Indeed, as Sherry had described, these collaborations are reciprocal and always offer much to both parties.

Like faculty and administrators, graduate and undergraduate students should be clear about what they are seeking from collaboration, if they are seeking collaborations at all! One of our interviewees related a story in which a professor invited himself into her collaboration with another graduate student and took control of the paper, even changing the essence of their argument. Other interviewees related similar stories of faculty members who took on collaboration because they were unaware that the student only wanted advice or mentorship. Sherry cautions, “It’s important for young scholars, which is hard because you don’t have the power, to make clear when you’re asking for a partner or for somebody to read something.” Despite this difficulty, students must, for the sake of their scholarly identity, assert their agency by being clear about their expectations for mentorship or collaboration.

How Can We Manage the Collaborative Process?

We all work through the writing process in different ways, but how can we work productively when bringing two or more unique styles and writing habits into one project? Each of our interviewees approached the writing process differently, and sometimes they approached the collaborative process differently with different collaborations. While there is not one best way to write collaboratively, three best practices emerged from our interviews:

  1. Communicate clearly and often
  2. Respect and adapt to your collaborator’s work practices
  3. Define expectations explicitly

The importance of clear, open, and frequent communication manifests in different ways depending on the collaboration and collaborators. Dana’s Writing Transfer Project, a research team investigating transfer and writing, has begun having more frequent meetings to thoroughly develop their ideas and establish direction and values. Ben described his phone conversations with collaborators, adding that he would often make impromptu calls simply to talk to his collaborator, to share his progress, and hear from them. Several of our interviewees, including Dana, Michele, and Sherry, would record these sorts of conversations to refer back to them while drafting and revising. Indeed, Dana recognized that many of these discussions resemble drafting a document.  Recording meetings allows everyone to access a detailed record of project decisions, which can then be accessed while negotiating disagreements or producing text.

Distance meetings alone, however, will not suffice, according to our interviews. Dana and Michele both spoke of the importance of arranging face-to-face, in-person work sessions, no matter the physical distance between collaborators. While writing The Everyday Writing Center, Michele and her collaborators carved out time around conferences to meet for work sessions. They even planned four-day weekend work sessions at one collaborator’s home. Dana and the Writing Transfer Project group arrange at least one meeting year—which Dana referred to lovingly as “transfer camp”— in a central location at one of the collaborator’s residences to meet, plan, write, and talk. Live, personal interactions help to sustain collaborative relationships and are an essential part of any project.

Moving from planning to writing will require flexibility as collaborators attempt to meld their composing practices. Sherry noted that collaborative writing is not a second-nature activity. Indeed, our scholarly training, built on seminar papers and dissertations written individually, emphasizes individual writing so much as to make collaborative writing awkward and unfamiliar. Accordingly, we must learn to adapt to and understand each other’s different approaches, responsibilities, and workflow strategies.

As we alluded to earlier, different roles, responsibilities, and lifestyles influence our approach to collaborative projects. As Michele warned, “Time is the enemy,” and each collaborator wars with time in their own way. Everyone designs their workdays, work weeks, and free time differently. Dana and Jessica, for example, guard their personal time, preferring to contain work within the Monday through Friday, 8:00 to 5:00 work-week. Sherry and Kelsey, on the other hand, are comfortable spreading work out into the evening and on weekends as necessary. Understanding the way collaborators allocate time will help to understand when work gets down, when it might be done, when others are available, and who might take on time-sensitive tasks.

At the same time, our preferred ways of working can shift over time due to demands or changes in employment, growing families, etc. In these cases, sometimes our projects must enter into a “holding pattern,” as Michele described it, until collaborators are settled into new environments or have addressed their local responsibilities and are ready to engage your project again. Sherry described how the demands of a writing center director—annual reports, budgeting issues, consultant training—often interrupted her collaborative work with Dana and overrode their personal deadlines. Carolyn is currently experiencing a holding pattern as she and her peers settle into their postgraduate lives, a shift which has turned their previously local collaboration into a long-distance partnership. Leaving in-person collaborations and integrating distance technology, such as real-time video conferencing software and collaborative composing programs, requires patience as Carolyn and her collaborators acclimate. Respecting and understanding the many roles that collaborators juggle is vital to building a supportive and trusting relationship.

It is equally important, however, to define expectations for collaborative projects explicitly. Who will write what? When should it be done? How will we revise? Being explicit about each collaborator’s responsibilities eliminates confusion and helps ensure that the work is divided in a way that everyone is comfortable with. Ben has certainly experienced the value that clearly and quickly defining expectations provides. His editorial work with many contributors on many projects has shown him the need to make his values and expectations for contributors clear. Doing so has allowed him to avoid potentially difficult or unproductive relationships. However, Kelsey would add, we must also be willing to adjust expectations as work progresses. Though Kelsey and Jessica divided the work of data collection, set deadlines, and worked diligently, they quickly realized that their original timeline was unrealistic. They tried different strategies including scheduling “working meetings” where they met virtually, using video conferencing, and working silently rather than conversing. They also began logging their progress to communicate progress to one another and have a form of accountability. Their strategies exemplify the benefits of being flexible in response to unforeseen problems.

While there are productive strategies for collaborating, we again emphasize that there is no right or ideal way to distribute the workload of collaborative writing. Some collaborators, such as Michele, prefer to “co-conceive,” composing together at every step and allowing all contributors to participate in the work of writing. She contrasts this with a “stitch-together” method wherein each collaborator is assigned a portion of draft to compose before bringing the work together again. For this article, the “stitch-together” method was particularly appropriate, as both Kelsey and Enrique were often traveling or otherwise unavailable at various times during this article’s composing. So, they divided the various parts between each other, drafted sections, and then came back together to combine their writing into a whole draft. While “stitching together,” Jessica emphasized that revising together is absolutely essential to composing a truly collaborative text. Working together, often at the same time through video conferencing and collaborative composing software, allows collaborators to present their project confidently through a unified vision, voice, and style throughout their writing. No matter how you divide the labor, ensure that each collaborator knows and understands their role, the expectations of that role, and how work will proceed throughout drafting and revision.

How Should We Negotiate Conflict?

Despite carefully planning and dividing labor, the greatest challenges that threaten collaborations are often interpersonal. As any writer knows, writing (especially published writing) can be quite personal, and collaborations can often bring about conflicts and disagreements. It is important for collaborators to be able to negotiate these differences and overcome them in order to sustain their research as well as their relationship.

Many of our interviewees acknowledged that much of this conflict could be avoided at the start of collaborations. Many said that whom you choose to collaborate with may well be the most important factor in avoiding serious conflict. When collaborating with friends, we also focus on maintaining the relationship, fostering generosity and trust between collaborators who understand criticism as constructive and disagreements as productive. Dana commented, “If you disagree with somebody and you like them, then it’s not really a big deal, because you have your friendship. If you don’t really know them and you disagree with them, that could really throw a wrench in things.” Accordingly, both Dana and Sherry recommended getting to know one another and building that relationship throughout your collaboration, thereby becoming more flexible and trusting in your work together. Having that trust allowed Dana and Sherry to respect disagreements as indicative of different perspectives or responsibilities and not as personal faults. As Carolyn described it concerning her own collaborations, “We’re friends, and we understand.”

At the same time, however, introducing collaborative projects into a well-established relationship brings a slightly different set of challenges. Relationship dynamics must shift while you become accustomed to your new roles and responsibilities to each other. Jessica and Kelsey discovered that embarking on a long-term collaborative research project requires a different kind of negotiation than mediating disagreements. Kelsey and Jessica found themselves too often relying upon the generosity and understanding that friendship provides. Their collaborative work was readily set aside as other responsibilities demanded attention and they knew their friend would understand. They had to learn how to be accountable to without policing each other. While open and honest communication helped them sort through these challenges relatively easily, such issues can become major if they are not addressed quickly.

To negotiate disagreements, Michele referred again to having the same values, or what McNenny and Roen (1992) called a shared “ethical framework” (p. 306). When asked about addressing conflict during collaboration, Michele replied decidedly, “Well, that doesn’t really happen if you have same values.” Ede and Lunsford (1990) have also reported on conflict that can arise when co-authors don’t share values for a project and each tries “to impose his vision on the entire work” (p. 70), bringing the project into disarray.  Researchers should initiate collaboration with people who share their values and build relationships with collaborators that will enable mutual trust and understanding.

Understanding what each collaborator’s role or responsibilities will be also helps avoid potential conflicts. Though work style or collaborative methods may vary, each collaborator should know the part they will play. Ben warned that establishing responsibilities and tasks is particularly important when working on very meaningful projects, whether personally (as in, time invested) or professionally (as in, tenure). Conflict sometimes arises because a collaborator has fallen behind or hasn’t fulfilled their role. Though it is important to respect the other roles and responsibilities your collaborator has, it is also important to try to resolve the issue. Dana recommended simply talking with people to see how they are doing and what’s happening – “Reaching out rather than letting it fester.” She also suggested being proactive by sending kind reminder emails ahead of deadlines.

As you assign roles early in your collaboration, you must also consider the issue of authorship. Questions like “whose name will be first?” can quickly lead to disagreements. Negotiate who will be first author early in your collaboration and what responsibilities you expect the first author to carry. The role of lead author, Michele argued, should include more responsibility, as being lead author often comes with more recognition. By the same token, however, Michele suggested that first authorship should always go to the person who needs it most. Who still needs tenure? Who is going on the job market soon? Other collaborators might have alternative ways of choosing their authorship order. Lunsford and Ede (2012), for example, have sustained their collaboration to produce many publications, and they report that they simply take turns. No matter how you choose, be sure that all parties know what responsibilities their role entails.

Ultimately, however, if you cannot reconcile differences during your collaboration, Ben recognized that sometimes “enough is enough,” and it may be best to simply walk away from a project. He recalled a contributor to one of his edited collections who disagreed with the editor’s values, and they decided to walk away. Because of situations like this, Ben recommended developing a plan for what to do with any work you have done—converting chapters from a failed book venture into journal articles, for example. As Ben has found, salvaging what one can is more productive than dwelling on a project and attempting to force it through irreconcilable conflicts.

How Does Collaborative Scholarship Affect Tenure and Professional Advancement?

If your conflict concerning collaboration is not interpersonal, perhaps it is professional or political. Scholarly writing about collaboration invariably recognizes the risk collaborative authorship might present for an untenured scholar (see McNenny and Roen, 1992; Lunsford and Ede, 2012; Facione, 2006). The dominance of single-authored articles and books in earning tenure weighs heavily on many collaborators, and many of our interviewees have experienced resistance to their collaborative work. In graduate school, Michele and Kami Day planned for a collaborative dissertation, which their graduate school would not allow. Sherry recognized that her lack of collaborative work prior to her research with Dana resulted from the negative opinion of collaborative work common during her graduate training in the 90’s. The stigma against collaboration has not evaporated completely, either. During her time at Oakland University, a member of the tenure committee warned Dana not to collaborate. Although all interviewees recognized the professional resistance collaborators might encounter, they offered insights on how collaborations had positively impacted their professional advancement.

In particular, several scholars reported that collaboration allowed them to do work that would have otherwise been impossible. As we mentioned above, the division of labor and coordination of knowledge made possible by collaboration allows for more complex thought and deeper insight, as well as more data collection and analysis, than an individual author could accomplish (Reither and Vipond, 1989; Ronald and Roskelly, 2001). Concerning the works that have resulted from his collaborations, Ben describes the benefits this way:

Another [reason to collaborate] is seeing some reward for this, and I mean rewards in the professional sense, where you can see that – Oh, this is a book! A book is a big deal. We need books to get tenure and promotions and make our name in the field.

The scholars we interviewed described the positive impact that collaborative writing has had on their professional advancement and work better than we could hope to:

  • Dana: “[Collaboration] has made my career.”
  • Sherry: “I do not believe I would have entered this Ph.D. program, that I would have taken the next step and worked so hard on behalf of my individual writing had I not gotten involved with [collaboration].”
  • Jessica: “I almost never not collaborate, because I think I do better work when I’m with other people…and I know I can’t do it all.”
  • Carolyn: “You’re building reflective practice into your research process through collaboration because you so often have to talk about what you’re doing and what you’re thinking and be really mindful about the choices that you’ve made. I think that forces you to reflect on what you actually think, the way that you’re synthesizing knowledge and the way that you’re trying to present it to others. I think that influences the way that I write, think, and how I interact with graduate students.”

These scholars’ statements encourage us to view collaboration as enabling professional advancement, not hindering it. While the negative evaluation of collaboration in one’s career is well documented, we hope the experiences of these scholars provide a counterpoint that demonstrates the positive results collaborations can bring to one’s career.

Perhaps the best and most important argument for working together comes from Michele:

“The earth is in rough shape. We would benefit from collaborating to solve some real serious problems. I can hardly think of a time where having people work together will not come to a good conclusion.”

Michele points to the affordance collaboration offers for addressing important issues that no one could tackle alone and whose ramifications might extend beyond academia. We hope that these comments from our interviewees might cause writing center scholars to reflect critically on their work and how they might begin collaborating to solve some “real serious problems.”

Collaboration and The Peer Review

Our interviews offered us rich insights and led us to reflect on our own views of and experiences with collaboration, and we encourage others to do the same. As we close, we would like to share our reflections on what we’ve learned during this process. As graduate students and young scholars, the successes our interviewees have experienced as a result of collaboration encourage us to push through the stigma against collaborative works. Certainly, it hasn’t always been easy for them, but seeing how they have negotiated the social and political tensions that surround collaborative scholarship gives us hope that we too can be successful as we pursue collaborative projects. Accordingly, we are deeply grateful to Ben, Michele, Dana, Sherry, Carolyn, and Jessica for all they have shared. We hope that their stories and advice demonstrate not just how to collaborate successfully but also why we need to collaborate in the first place.

We also gained a deeper understanding of how to use collaboration to develop as scholars. Hearing our interviewees describe the benefits they reap when collaborating with graduate and undergraduate students encourages us to seek out established scholars, propose a collaborative project, and learn from them in the process. We join these scholars to emphasize the need to seek particular collaborators to learn certain things, like the publication process, methodological knowledges, or new writing practices and genres. As writing centers are cross-disciplinary spaces, we particularly hope to see writing center scholars engage in cross-disciplinary scholarship to expand the methodologies we employ in writing center work. We hope that future contributors to The Peer Review will apply the insights offered in this discussion to find ways to produce interesting scholarship while learning new skills.

As inaugural graduate student reviewers for TPR, we hope that this piece has demonstrated this journal’s commitment to supporting collaborative scholarship, as laid out in the TPR mission statement. The Peer Review aims “to challenge the primacy of the single author” as well as “to facilitate collaboration between emergent and established scholars.” Put simply, the entire editorial team intends for this journal to sponsor and support collaborative work. In particular, we encourage future contributors to consider collaborating with new scholars in order to introduce these emerging voices to our field and mentor them while producing new knowledge. We also hope that through these collaborations, future submissions might showcase exciting research agendas in the thorough and complex ways that collaboration enables. Ultimately, we aim to position The Peer Review as a venue that values collaborative scholarship and might represent and argue for that value to our field, to tenure committees, and to academic institutions, both now and in the future. We welcome future contributors to join us in that vision.


In her interview, Michele Eodice passed along one of her professors’ advice to always acknowledge all those who contributed to your work. We’d like to thank her and our other interviewees for their generosity and insight. We also thank The Peer Review’s editors and reviewers for their feedback and encouragement. Finally, we would like to acknowledge our mentors, past and present, for modeling successful collaborations. We thank you for your patience, guidance, and kindness.


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