Collaborative writing is the preferred mode of authoring papers with multiple contributors. When writing with co-authors, you may soon realise that not all authors work and write the same way. It’s easier and more fun with some than with others. Here, we describe 10 different academic writers to help you characterise and understand your co-authors better.
Writing papers for journals is a straightforward process. You follow specific rules and if the research you present is good enough, you’ll get published. And if you have difficulties writing a specific section of the paper, you simply follow the established guidelines for paper-writing, right? Well, that’s the theory, at least.
In reality, writing papers can be a very individual process. Good guidelines can help you tremendously here, but in the end, papers are written by people with different approaches to writing.
Over the years, we’ve come across many different academics who apply different approaches to writing. It’s not for us to say that one is better than the other. And yet, we can see that for some people, one approach to writing is more productive than another.
To help you understand your co-authors and their various writing approaches, we’ve provided a typology of academic writers inspired by Brooke Morriswood on the Total Internal Reflection Blog. We;ve included the 10 types of writers that we’ve seen most often. If you understand how your co-authors approach writing a paper, it will be easier for you to cooperate with them and get your paper done.
Now, let’s have a look at the 10 types of academic writers:
1. Novice writers
These writers have no or very little experience with academic writing in general and have not written or published a journal paper before. They appreciate guidance in the process of academic writing and publishing. They might not feel comfortable asking you for help, but any support they get is greatly appreciated. As novices, they are learners and require an encouraging mentor. Writing with them is rewarding but requires patience.
2. Experienced writers
These academics have published papers successfully and know how the game is played. They might be working on several projects at the same time and typically have several papers in the pipeline. The good thing is that they know the rules and requirements for papers, but the downside is that they may not feel the need to share their knowledge with others. Or they may feel that the time restriction doesn’t allow for too much explanation. Working with them requires the courage to ask for an explanation of their actions as they might take them for granted.
3. Procrastinator writers
These academic authors have the best intention to write a paper and deliver their contribution, but a gap remains between the promise and the action. They would rather write tomorrow than today because they’ve got so many other things that need to be done first. Working with this type of writer requires clear agreements on what needs to be delivered by when. We advise keeping in regular and close contact with them to ensure paper progress.
4. Doubtful writers
These writers fear that what they deliver and what is written in the paper so far is not good enough. They would rather reformulate whole sections and, if necessary, run another round of experiments to be absolutely sure of the content in the paper. They strive for perfectionism. They not only hesitate with their own writing, but also have concerns about the text produced by co-authors. Working with these writers means expressing confidence about the work you did and being able to provide the necessary evidence. See our blog post #105: The perfect paper—and how to create yours! to understand the challenge of writing a perfect paper.
5. Binge writers
These are writers who, for various motivations, plan or postpone the writing until the very end, the very last minute. They often start shortly before a delivery deadline. They claim that they were not able to write their contribution before. They assume that they need to work under pressure and that it’s possible and good to put everything off until the end. They prefer writing everything up in literally one long stretch, writing almost night and day. Working with these writers means making clear that the team’s output would be put at risk if it is scheduled to start too late. It is helpful to work with milestones throughout the writing process and regularly call for their contribution.
These are authors who need co-authors to get the paper done. They are not comfortable or able to create the paper alone. They prefer someone else take the lead in the writing process and delegate specific tasks to them. They are willing to invest time and effort, but require structure and leadership in return. Working with these writers can be easy if you have a clear plan for the different tasks of each writer and provide a reasonable timeline.
7. Lonely writers
They would prefer to write a paper on their own. They trust their own skills and know that they are capable of producing a decent paper. They would rather make all the decisions on the paper themselves and have a specific idea in mind on how the paper should look. These colleagues may suggest many changes in your text and a lot of re-writing. They dominate the writing and change what you’ve written. Working with these writers in a team is challenging. It helps to have the flexibility to accept their alternative solutions and revisions as long as these steps can also lead to publication success.
8. Passive writers
These are academics who invest only very little time and effort into a paper. They do not substantially contribute with their own text, but merely limit themselves to commenting on the paper superficially or donating their name to the paper. Sometimes these academics are listed as authors for political or hierarchical reasons, not because of their actual contribution. Working with these researchers on a paper means that others have to do the lion’s share unless you manage to turn them into active authors (see our blog post #23: What to do if my co-authors don’t contribute? for suggestions on how to do so).
9. Rushed writers
These writers want to see the work on the paper finished as soon as possible. They seem in a hurry, busy with a lot of other work and needing this paper out of the way. They’re willing to compromise on the content, and the quality, as long as their name on the paper is guaranteed and submission is forthcoming. Working with these writers is tempting and risky. They may give you the false impression that the paper is ready for submission. Don’t get infected by their hurry and submit when you feel the paper is immature.
10. Cooperative writers
These colleagues see the writing of a paper as a truly collaborative effort and aim to share the workload in equal parts among the author team. They accept their responsibility for the paper and contribute meaningfully according to their skills and involvement in the research. They’re reliable and provide constructive feedback on all parts of the paper. Working with these writers is a pleasure, they provide a great example of collaborative writing, and represent a type of writer that it’s worth striving to emulate.
Sometimes, we are surprised that colleagues and peers who have the same tasks and duties as us have a totally different approach to completing tasks than we have. In writing in particular, these differences become obvious. Co-authors—like us—all have their own agendas and schedules which influence how they approach writing papers. In an ideal world, we could select our co-authors according to a writing approach that matches our own, but sometimes, we cannot be selective. Then, it might be helpful to identify what type of writers your co-authors are so you can best deal with them. We’ve created a free checklist “Co-authorship roles” where you can define the roles and responsibilities of your co-authors. It will help you to define deadlines and tasks for writers who are not always so easy to work with.
- Checklist “Co-authorship roles”
- Smart Academics Blog post #23:What to do if my co-authors don’t contribute?
- Smart Academics Blog post #105: The perfect paper—and how to create yours!
- Morriswood, B. 2020. The 9 types of academic authors. Total Internal Reflection Blog, 24 June 2020.
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