Working on a team is necessary for success in virtually any professional scenario. You might be a business professional collaborating on a project with your colleagues. Or perhaps you’re an academic writer who is working on an article with your peers, hoping to submit it to a field-specific journal. In these scenarios, you need the ability to communicate effectively with your team to ensure the project goals are met on time.
Easier said than done, right? A team’s ability to accommodate conflicting schedules and differing perspectives is an art form, a tenuous balancing act.
To further complicate things, members of the team might be working from separate locations, whether that means different cities or different continents. This certainly complicates what can be an already convoluted process. It is difficult enough to ensure that group members communicate effectively. But when the members of the team are working from remote locations, it is even more crucial to implement systems and methods to improve the lines of communication and optimize interaction within the group.
Many professionals and academics work remotely on collaborative writing projects. Here’s the thing: there is nothing more confusing than sending out multiple versions of a document via email with revisions from each team member. Keeping track of a document’s version history is bound to hit a snag with this editing/revision process.
Collaborative writing software to the rescue! Software for collaborative writing allows multiple individuals to engage in the virtual, real-time writing and editing of a document. Many types of collaborative writing software are out there, each providing unique features, pricing options, layouts, and degrees of complexity. Of course, the ideal collaborative writing software depends on the specific project, as well as the price and complexity required by the user.
Collaborative Writing Software: The Best of the Best
1) Google Docs
When you hear “software for collaborative writing,” does Google Docs come to mind first? If so, it’s easy to see why. Google Docs is the prevailing software solution for this task. Multiple collaborators can simultaneously compose and edit a document. The keyword here is simultaneously: those who have access to a document on Google Docs are able to work at the same time and view the changes that other collaborators are making. What’s more, Google Docs is free to use, and any changes made to a document are saved automatically.
Prior to opening a file on Google Docs, users can either select a blank document or use one of several templates (essay, letter, lesson plan, report, etc.). Contributors can provide comments that are linked to specific portions of the text, and other collaborators may respond to the issues/concerns raised in these comments. Google Docs also sends emails to contributors when a file is shared with them. In addition, files can be exported in .pdf, .doc/.docx, or .odt format.
While Google Docs is one of the major contenders among collaborative writing software, it is not open source. Furthermore, the ability to track a document’s version history is limited, and documents tend to lag and become less responsive when many individuals are writing/editing at once.
In contrast to Google Docs, Etherpad is an open-source software for collaborative writing that allows multiple users to compose and edit documents. Etherpad is available for Windows and Mac/Linux systems, and it is ideal for recording collaborative minutes or brainstorming with colleagues. Etherpad color-codes the contributions made by different authors, and the changes that have been made to a document over time can be recorded and played back for review. Therefore, the ability to track versions of a document is more robust in Etherpad than in Google Docs.
Once the document is complete, the color-coded changes are integrated into the text to produce a more appealing, professional format. Etherpad is ideal for those who do not want to dish out an outrageous monthly payment. This resource is free, though donations are encouraged. The main downside to Etherpad is that users may be limited in their ability to include footnotes, figures, or images with their text.
Draft is a type of collaborative writing software that enables several collaborators to work with and edit a single document. The changes are not immediately integrated into the text, however. Instead, a new version of the document is produced every time a contributor’s changes are accepted.
While this feature permits users to easily keep track of the project’s version history, some may view this as a downside, as only the original author of the document can accept or reject other contributors’ changes.
While this feature permits users to easily keep track of the project’s version history, some may view this as a downside: only the original author of the document can accept or reject these changes. The original document is updated only when these changes are accepted.
Users must create an online account prior to using this software. Draft is unique in that it prepares analytics of an individual’s writing habits, such as the number of words produced by a writer per week. And, as with Etherpad, Draft is free.
Quip provides a comment thread to facilitate interactions between collaborators as they work on a file. Users receive notifications of any changes that other collaborators have made to the document. What’s notable about Quip are the multiple platforms on which the software is supported (Mac, Windows, Android, iPhones, iPads, or online). Quip is also designed to be ideal for a mobile environment. While the business version of Quip requires regular payments (a free trial of Quip Business is available), a free version also exists.
5) Dropbox Paper
Though Dropbox has always been a great tool for sharing Word documents and file folders with multiple users, it has recently improved its capabilities for collaborative writing by introducing Dropbox Paper, a cloud-based software for editing.
This application can only be accessed online through a Dropbox account. In order to access Dropbox Paper (which is still in beta), users must first join a waitlist to receive an invitation to use the application. Project members can work together on a single document, with contributions from different users marked by colored cursors. Yet Dropbox Paper offers only three fonts and basic formatting options (underline, bold, strikethrough, and italics), which certainly limits your editing capabilities.
Dropbox Paper is ideal for managing a project because users can create to-do lists and notify team members of a task that requires completion.
Well, there you have it—the best software for collaborative writing. For those in academic or professional environments, working with group members from different locations is a reality. And though virtual group interactions can be complicated, these tools will help you avoid the cumbersome, hopelessly frustrating, sending-edits-via-email form of collaboration once and for all!
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