Writing collaboration

a ‘work in progress’

3c. writing conversation…

with one comment


Next! I was asked three years ago to write a chapter on ‘ethnography and participant observation’ research for a geography methods book aimed at an introductory US student audience. It couldn’t be too wacky, and would be the first thing that those students would read about this method. I get asked to do this kind of thing a lot, and didn’t want to trot out the same thing. I was also concerned that I couldn’t remember what it was like to not know what this kind of research was like the first time around. But I did know people who did. People who 12 months beforehand, had been sitting in my ethnography lecture. People who had since done ethnographic research in their dissertations. Most of which I’d supervised. After they’d submitted, I emailed them to ask if they’d like to help out. All they had to do was come to a meeting (which lasted a couple of hours); talk about how their experience of this research changed from first hearing about it, to handing in their dissertations; discuss how this experience was different and similar for each of them; and let me record and transcribe the conversation, code it like and interview, reassemble and edit it into a chapter they would comment on before submission. The discussion rocked. It was lively, passionate, funny, heart-wrenching, clever stuff. I wanted to carry as much of this life into the chapter as possible (see below).

Coauthorship as dialogue was the only way to do this. No smoothing out. We wanted to give our readers the impression that ‘if we can do this, so can you’… This collaborative writing was quick, easy and probably much better than anything that we could have done any other way. Now, I’ve started recording meetings with people I’m hoping to work with – as an alternative to making notes, but also (perhaps one day) as a resource on which to base future co-authored writing.

NB: This approach was also used to write Cook et al (2000), which was based on a recorded and transcribed conversation with artist Shelley Sacks. The paper was not, however, written as a conversation but as a first hand experience of her social sculpture.


Written by Ian Cook et al

September 2, 2008 at 10:26 am

One Response

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  1. Have you seen the EPD: Society and Space paper cowritten by Trevor Barnes and students on McDowell’s Capital Culture book?

    Barnes T, Horner G, Murphy A, Pang X, Powell R, Rempel G, Richardson K, Vasudevan A, Winders J. 2000. Capital Culture: a review essay. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 18(2), 275-278.

    Not peer reviewed, but an interesting exercise in multi-author writing. We taped a conversation about the book, took turns transcribing the tape, then each highlighted passages we thought should stay in and which should come out, and how certain parts should be massaged to flow better. One key decision was to include at least everyone’s voice at least once, which makes the flow a bit awkward at times.

    We also ended up being more critical – in the vituperative rather than progressive sense – than we intended, or indeed felt. It just so happened that the harsher comments tended to be better expressed than the more supportive ones, and there was only so much massaging we felt was appropriate.

    Andrew Murphy

    September 8, 2008 at 10:01 am

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