What is collaborative writing?

What is collaborative writing?

By Dr Jeremy Koay

A limited view

In most conventional writing tests, test candidates are expected to write their essays independently. As a result, in an exam-oriented education system, in-class writing activities typically involve producing a piece of individual writing. Although there should be room for independent writing, collaborative writing should not be neglected because it is a useful skill to have at some workplaces.

Some teachers believe that collaborative writing activities do not benefit students because some are reluctant to participate. While this might be the case, the same can be said about any classroom activity. One way to prevent this from happening is to select writing topics that learners are familiar with.

A holistic view

According to Storch (2011, p. 275), collaborative writing is the ‘joint production or the co-authoring of a text by two or more writers’. Storch also points out that ‘the defining trait of collaborative writing is the joint ownership of the document produced’ (p. 275). This defining trait implies that peer-review activities alone are not considered collaborative writing. Similarly, brainstorming activities by themselves are not regarded as collaborative writing unless all the participants own the final written product.

The benefits of collaborative writing include students producing more grammatically accurate pieces (Dobao, 2012) and being more aware of their target audience (Leki, 1993). Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of learning suggests that collaborative writing allows group members to provide and receive peer support.

Theory and practice

To ensure the success of collaborative writing, it is important for teachers to give clear instructions about the task.

Collaborative writing activities can start with brainstorming activities, followed by joint construction of an essay and then peer-review activities. In the joint construction stage, students can each draft a paragraph after jointly discussing and planning the content for each paragraph. Then the students can take turns to revise each other’s paragraphs. Technology, such as Google Docs and Etherpad, can enhance this process by allowing real-time editing.

A practical consideration is the size of a group. Too large or too small a group may limit participation and interaction among group members. Teachers should also consider learners’ familiarity with collaborative writing activities. It might be unrealistic to expect learners to collaborate if they do not have prior experience in this form of writing.

Why not give collaborative writing a go (if you haven’t already done so)?


Dobao, A. F. (2012). Collaborative writing tasks in the L2 classroom: Comparing group, pair, and individual work. Journal of Second Language Writing. 21(1), 40-58.

Leki, I. (1993). Reciprocal themes in reading and writing. In J. Carson & I. Leki (Eds.), Reading in the composition classroom: Second language perspectives (pp. 9-33). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Storch, N. (2011). Collaborative writing in L2 contexts: Processes, outcomes, and future directions. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics. 31, 275-288.

Dr Jeremy Koay is a New Zealand-based Independent Researcher and a Research & Development Consultant at EduMaxi. He obtained his PhD in Applied Linguistics from Victoria University of Wellington in 2015. His research interests include Discourse Analysis, Genre Analysis and TESOL.

Image source: shutterstock.com/Lucky Business

  • Wee Poo Chin
    Posted at 02:25h, 23 September

    Totally agreed that teachers need to give clear instruction on the task. Initially teachers may need to clarity students’ roles too such as which students to be the writers and which to be the idea givers. Without these clarification, there will be a dominant who take over both the roles of idea giver and writer leaving the rest as passive passengers.

    • EduMaxi
      Posted at 10:59h, 03 October

      Thanks for sharing your idea, Poo Chin. I think assigning roles to learners is a possible solution to reduce the number of “passengers” in the classroom. You probably would agree with me that generally speaking, students would be interested to share their ideas if they have. From experience, “passive passengers” are typically learners with limited language resource. Other reasons may include unfamiliarity with the writing topic, reluctance to participate, having negative discussion experiences (e.g. ideas being criticised) and ideas have been taken by a group member. Because learners are human beings (each with different experiences and worldviews), I believe there are many ways that teachers can encourage and support “passive passengers.” Perhaps a useful way to understand challenges that learners face in collaborative writing activities is to have a debrief after the activity or to ask students to discuss in small groups or write about what they find enjoyable or challenging. Let us know if this suggestion works and feel free to share with us other strategies that might work. Thank you again for your comment, Poo Chin.