Written By Writing Assistant and Student Director (Spring 2019), Irene Gerrish
A common complaint I hear from fellow students, colleagues, and even myself, is that our classes don’t teach us how to do things that are really, really crucial to survival in adulthood. Filing taxes, understanding how mortgages work, and being financially responsible all play integral roles in our adult lives; but understanding each of these is absent from much of our educational experiences. Instead, we learn and memorize rules and proofs in geometry, specific steps of biology lab reports, and the most efficient ways to cram for exams overnight.
Something required in many college seminars, however, that proves to be very useful into adulthood, is the completion of a group paper. Now, I know what you’re thinking—“How can group papers be of any use to me in the future? They’re miserable, unnecessarily stressful, and I’m more comfortable writing one on my own.” Many of us at the Klooster Center understand and agree with you (we really do). But the challenges implicit in constructing a successful group paper mimic those familiar to those in a collaborative work environment. In any mix of students or coworkers, you’re sure to face stark differences in writing strategies and preferences, research methods, and abilities. For this reason, group papers can certainly be one of the harder college assignments, but certainly, one of the more informative ones. Here are a couple of tips to keep you and your peers on track as you navigate the murky waters of group work.
- Delegate, delegate, delegate. While it’s tempting to want to take on either all of the work or leave it to be completed by the group’s most competent writers, you are all receiving grades for the same assignment. If your tendency is to try and take on all of the work, divide up the portions of the project and ask your group members which sections they’d be most comfortable with. If your tendency is to let others initiate, make your group members aware of your willingness to tackle things that need to be done. Please know that many professors require peer evaluations to be completed by each group member, and your performance, good and bad, will be noticed by your colleagues!
- Be smart about task division. Choosing how to divide up tasks can be difficult. Try to rely on the strengths of your group members; strong writers might be more comfortable with editing the final product, whereas strong researchers might appreciate collecting information instead. If you each choose to write sections of the paper, try to have someone look over the rough draft so the voice of your project is (relatively) consistent throughout, which brings me to my next point.
- Come to the Klooster Center! We are more than willing to assist you with your group papers. All members of the group project are welcome during any one appointment, and we have chocolate!
- If all else fails, communicate with your professor. If the working dynamics of your group are frustrating and/or fostering a negative environment, let your professors know. They are aware that conflict is a natural part of forcing students to collaborate, and are also equipped help you resolve any rising tensions.
Ultimately, group papers can be a positive collaborative learning opportunity—if everyone is willing to make it work. Overcoming differences and striving towards a common goal are situations we will continually be in throughout our professional, academic, and personal lives, and group papers can be wonderful introductions to this process. Best of luck, and write on!