How to Make a Collaborative Google Doc

If you’re writing RA3 collaboratively (guidelines here), you may find it helpful to use a single online document to share your notes and writing with each other. (I do it all the time.)

While there are lots of sites that allow collaborative writing (including Zoho and PiratePad), I find trusty Google Docs (now part of Google Drive) to be the easiest and most useful–partly because of the clear sharing directions, and partly because so many people already have Google accounts.

Here’s how to make a shared doc:

1. If you don’t have one, open a free Google account. As always, you can choose how truthful you want to be with the info you give them.

2. Go to Google Drive. (I often just type into my browser’s address bar.) Log into your

Screenshot of the create button

Google Account if you’re not automatically logged in already.

3. Click the big red “CREATE” button in the upper left of the screen, and then choose “Document” in the drop-down menu that pops out of it.

4. You should now be in a new untitled document. Here, you can do a few things really easily:

  • Give the document a name by clicking “Untitled Document” in the upper left.
  • Notice that when you type, changes are automatically saved. You can always get back to a document you created by browsing to Google Drive and logging in from any computer. (There’s also a mobile app.)
  • Notice that you can link to any outside information the same way you add links in WordPress: by highlighting text and then clicking the image of a link in the toolbar.

5. The default privacy setting for every document is complete privacy–no one but you gets to see what’s in it. Invite someone else to write in the document with you by clicking the “Share” button in the upper right, where you’ll see a few simple options. Here’s what I suggest:

  • After you click Share, you’ll see a box with some options. Next to “Private – Only the people listed below can access,” click the “Change…” button.
  • On the next screen, the easiest way to share your document is to select “Anyone with the link,” and then choose “Can edit” in the box that appears. This way, your collaborator won’t have to log into a Google Drive account before being able to write in the document.
    • Once you select the options you want, click “save” and you’ll be given a link to your document that you can send to anyone you want.

Screenshot of privacy screen

    • The main downside to the anyone-with-the-link-can-edit approach is that your collaborator will need to save the link to the document, or she won’t be able to get back to it later. But if she has a Google Account and is logged in when accessing the document, she can get to it Sagain simply by going to and logging in from any computer. Google remembers which Docs you’ve read. (Kind of creepy, right?)
    • The other option is that if you both have Google accounts, the person making the document can choose to keep the document private and give explicit permission to only the person invited. Sometimes the “invitation” stuff gets confusing when people use multiple email addresses, but you should be able to figure it out if you’d prefer to go this route.

Once you start, Google Docs can get pretty addicting. I have docs that keep track of my address list, to list where I can get free stuff on my birthdays, to track what presents I give to family each year, to list what repairs are done on my car, to get advice from friends on my writing, and for various scholarly projects. Every time my wife and I go on vacation, we make a Google Doc (or 2) as a place to dump ideas and links for each other to look over later. Some of my docs are collaborative, but many are private–I write there so I can find my writing no matter what computer I’m at.

Understanding Absences in Moodle

When checking out your grades in Moodle, you’ll see a new category toward the top of the screen: Unexcused Absences. I’m writing this because it’s easy to misinterpret the information I put there.

The short version: pay attention to the number, not the percentage. This number:

Image showing the number I'm talking about in Moodle.

When I update grades in Moodle every couple of weeks, I’ll check my records and see if you’ve been absent since I last updated grades; if so, I’ll add one to the number currently there–say, from 0 to 1. Moodle, however, wants to give a percentage to everything, even though percentages don’t apply to this situation. So if you’ve been absent once, it will say that you have 1 out of 4 possible absences in the category and say you have a 25%. But really, all that means is that you’ve used one of the 4 absences you can possible have in this class. (When you hit number four, you’re withdrawn from the course, so there’s no way you can hit number five. See the syllabus for details.)

(Of course, the syllabus also explains what an excused absence looks like. I don’t count those here. They just drift away into nothingness.)

One reason I include these numbers in Moodle is so you can double-check my counting. I’m happy to hear from you if you disagree with my count, especially if you can find a way to remind me or prove to me that you were actually there on the days I counted you absent. (I’ll share the dates you were absent with you if you’d like.)

I’ll try to remember to put in an academic alert when you hit absence #3 (which means you don’t get any more freebies), but of course, you’re responsible for not missing more than three even if I forget to give you that formal warning.

As always, let me know if anything doesn’t make sense!

Proofreading with Control-F


These are all simple ways to make sure your essay doesn’t make common surface-level errors. As you know, these can hurt your credibility with readers.

Use these as a final-final step, after you’re convinced that the essay is already as good as it possibly can be. That is, these work best after you’ve already done the bigger editing tasks of considering how your organization, evidence, and ideas fit seamlessly together to create the experience you want for your reader.

Image of a Word ProcessorSteps

Open a digital copy of your writing in a word processor or web browser, and then type control-F. (That is, hold the control button down, and while you’re holding it, type F.) This should bring up a search bar, allowing you to search the page for any word. (F is for find.)

1. Search for then and make sure that it refers to time passing. If it’s a comparison, it should be than.

2. Some words often feel vague to readers; search for each of them and consider replacing them with more concrete words. These include good, great, interesting, wonderful, and truly.

3. Search for which.

  • If it’s at the beginning of a sentence, you probably have a sentence fragment. Combine it with the previous sentence by turning the previous period into a comma.
  • Check to see if there is a comma before which, which is generally the best way to punctuate it. (The word that usually doesn’t have a comma before it.)
  • When which is in the middle of a sentence, it often introduces a clause that is surrounded by commas on both sides. Like this:

The pizza, which had mushrooms, smelled funny.

It’s common for people to forget the second comma.

4. Search for its and it’s and make sure you’re using them correctly. (Not sure which is which? Google it.)

5. Search for any sentence that begins with if, when, while, because, since, although, or as. (Yes, you should search for each one of these separately.) If a sentence starts with any of these words, there should be a comma separating that first clause from the rest of the sentence. Like this:

If you’re hungry, you should eat.
When you’re angry, don’t punch anything.
Because you’re ridiculous, you wear all those silly clothes.

Notice the commas?

Note that when those words occur in the middle of sentences, they usually don’t need commas before them.

6. Search for any place where you use a comma followed by and or but. So your search box will look like “, and” but without the quotation marks. (Don’t forget to include a space after the comma when you search.) Check to make sure everything after the comma+and or comma+but is a complete sentence. (Just read it out loud. Does it sound like a complete sentence?) (This doesn’t apply when the comma+and is part of a list, like I ate fish, chips, and pizza.) You’re trying to avoid this subtle mistake:

I’m an excellent typist, and an excellent cook.

Notice that if I read out loud the part after the comma+and, it’s not a complete sentence. (“An excellent cook.”) So I need to fix it to make that second part a complete sentence. And that’s easy: I’ll just add a subject to the second part of the sentence.

I’m an excellent typist, and I’m an excellent cook.

Of course, sometimes that makes sentences feel unnecessarily bulky, so I sometimes opt for simply removing the comma. The following sentence is also correct:

I’m an excellent typist and an excellent cook.

7. Make sure that all commas and periods are inside quotation marks. To do so, search for “, and for “. (that is, a quotation mark followed immediately by a comma or period on the outside with no space in between). When you find one, put the period or comma inside the quotation marks.

The only exception to this rule is when you have a parenthetical citation. That is, both of the following sentences use commas in the correct place:

Rutherford dismissed the viscount’s “careless fanaticism,” but he secretly sympathized with him.
Rutherford dismissed the viscount’s “careless fanaticism” (Hurwitzer 58), but he secretly sympathized with him.

Writers often punctuate the second example correctly, but they often mistakenly put the comma outside the quotation marks in the first example. Control-F can help.


UPDATE: I shared the original post above with my friends on Twitter and Facebook, asking if I had forgotten anything. Luckily, I have some really smart friends who suggested a few more things to include. I know that when any page gets this long, its usefulness suffers, but for the sake of completeness, I’ll add ’em anyway. Take what you will.

(I also want to credit two helpful sources that I forgot to include the first time around: years ago, Nick Carbone gave me the idea of using control-F in a writing class, and an earlier version of this sheet was heavily influenced by this pdf over at Duke of Definition, a page focused primarily on secondary English classes.)

On to the new ideas:

8. (From Steven Hopkins) Passive voice often takes away some of the punch from your writing, and it sometimes even makes it hard to figure out who is doing what. Contrast the following passive-voice sentence with its active alternative. Passive: The bill was ignored in the Senate committee. (Wait, who did the ignoring? That might be important!) Active: Senator Constantine ignored the bill in the Senate committee. (Ah, that guy again.)

To find these sentence constructions easily, search for versions of the to be verb (including be, is, was, been, and being). Then rewrite the sentence so that the person or thing acting out the main verb is named (like in my example above).

9. (From Brad DeutschSearch for think and believe. Can you remove them to make a stronger statement that means the same thing?

For example, here’s a sentence using believe: “I believe Mugabe’s actions were particularly deplorable.”

Here’s a better version with believe simply taken out: “Mugabe’s actions were particularly deplorable.” (The audience understands that you believe it, because you’re the one writing it.)

10. (From Marc SantosSearch for opening parentheses and make sure they close later on. Same goes for quotation marks!

11. (From Matt FlammSearch for a few of the most commonly mistaken words that spellcheck won’t catch. These include conscious/conscience, causal/casual, defiantly/definitely, and anything else that another reader has caught for you in the past.

12. (From Lindsay JacobySearch for the word that and make sure that it’s not renaming a person; if it is, you can usually safely change it to who. 

You’re trying to avoid this subtle problem: People that go to country dances are good conversationalists.

Rewrite it by simply replacing the that with a whoPeople who go to country dances are good conversationalists.

13. (From Lindsay Jacoby): While you’re searching for that, go ahead and search for this, these, and those as well, and make sure they’re not lonely. They’re lonely if they’re not followed by a noun–which often leaves readers thinking, “Wait, what exactly does that pronoun refer to, anyway?” (Of course, your context might make the noun’s identity so exceptionally clear that a lonely pronoun can be acceptable–but it’s more common for people to err on the side of leaving them too lonely.)

These sentences all use lonely pronouns, leaving them sad (and even a bit confusing):

This should be required reading if we’re to avoid repeating our past mistakes.
And why aren’t these included on next year’s program?
There’s no way you’ll catch me outside in those.

But they can easily be fixed by adding a clear noun after the thisthese, or those:

This report should be required reading if we’re to avoid repeating our past mistakes.
And why aren’t these competitive eaters included on next year’s program?
There’s no way you’ll catch me outside in those shoulder pads.

CC-licensed image: carlosgomez, “Finally usable, Pages.

So what *is* a Statement of Goals and Choices?

After reading your responses to the question I posed in class on Wednesday, September 18, I’ve come to two conclusions:

  1. A lot of you simply didn’t read the assignment very carefully, for a lot of different reasons (some better than others).
  2. A lot of you didn’t have a very good sense of what I was looking for in the SOGC.

#1 isn’t something I can help with; either you read the assignment or you don’t.

But #2 I can address. That’s what this post is about.

Background of the SOGC

The term and idea for a Statement of Goals and Choices came from Dr. Jody Shipka, a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She asks her students to compose multimodal pieces that go far beyond digital spaces: they paint and sculpt and design things, all for the same reasons any rhetor does: to strategically affect an audience in a purposeful way. (Her students’ work–and their SOGCs–are up at this site.)

But of course, you can imagine the question she gets asked a lot: “What do those crazy projects have to do with rhetoric?” And to answer that, her students compose an SOGC: a statement that explains what goals they had as they composed their work and what choices they made to make those goals a reality.

And of course, that’s exactly what you’re doing. When you created your audio file, I wanted to know what you wanted to achieve and what you did to make that happen.

Writing a SOGC

Though different professors ask for different things in the SOGC, for me they essentially need to include only two things (unless I say otherwise): a description of what goals you had and a description of what choices you made to make those happen. This description can be written informally, but I need to clearly get understand your ideas.

For the goals part, I could imagine you writing something like one of these:

I don’t think of my voice as very strong, so I had the goal to come across sounding powerful and certain of myself in my recording.

(Or this:) I know that some people automatically assume that people from my hometown aren’t very smart, so I was determined to sound intelligent.

(Or this:) I wanted to sound inviting and friendly, like someone who you would actually listen to if you heard me on the radio.

For the choices part, then, you would say what you actually did in the assignment to make that goal a reality. Using the three examples of goals above as a starting point, possible choices might include:

To make myself sound strong, I purposefully read a lot of shorter sentences, with repeating words that emphasized my point. I think this choice made me sound a bit like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! I also read with a slower, emphatic tone of voice.

(Or this:) To make myself sound intelligent, I had to find a balance between words that were academic but not stuffy. So they had to be words that I was already comfortable using, but on the upper limits of what I already know. So for example, toward the beginning of my piece you can hear me saying multitude and semiotic domain. That was on purpose.

(Or this:) To make myself sound friendly, I made sure to modulate my voice a lot–that is, the tone of my voice went up and down, almost sing-song-like. I also noticed that when I recorded it the first time, the poor quality of my microphone took away from the warm, friendly feeling I was going for, so I borrowed a friend’s headset mic to rerecord.

Any of those sentences would work perfectly in an SOGC. My favorite ones are the most specific ones–the sentences that say, “You can hear me doing this in this specific spot.”

SOGCs and Grading

When I ask for an SOGC and don’t get one, I simply can’t grade the assignment. It’s impossible. Here’s why:

I judge the effectiveness of the choices you made to achieve your goals. Here are two common scenarios:

  • If you wrote in your SOGC that you wanted to sound intelligent and the only choice you made was to use big words, I might think to myself, “When I listen to this piece, I actually don’t think this student sounds very intelligent. Sure, he’s using big words, but I think he ignored a few other things he could have tried as well.” So that student would lose points.
  • But say I listen to your piece cold, without reading your SOGC, and I think, “Okay, that was pretty good, but not the best.” It’s possible that reading your SOGC would then point out things that I missed, allowing me to reward you for those things! So maybe you made a choice to purposefully read slowly because you wanted to sound strong. Your SOGC is a place for you to tell me what you were doing, which in turn helps me notice it, which in turn allows me to reward you for those choices!

I hope this helps! We’ll keep talking about these in the future when we do more multimodal work.

Video: Responses to RA1

I’ve made a video that walks you through the main issues I saw in RA1. It describes a primary and secondary issue for each of the four areas of the rubric (ideas, organization, evidence, style).

(I also know I promised it would be 15-minutes tops, but I went a bit over. Still, compared to a 50-minute class, I think it’s a good deal. My apologies.)

Watch it at

How to Revise a Major Essay

After you receive a grade on a major essay (RA1, 2, or 3), you may revise that essay for a higher grade–after all, practicing effective revision is part of what this class is all about. When I receive your revision, I’ll average your original grade with your new grade. So if you earned a 70 on it the first time and revise to earn a 90, I’ll record an 80 in the gradebook in Moodle.

Here are the detailed guidelines:

  1. Revisions are due one month after the date the essay was originally due. (RA1 was due September 6, so revisions are due October 6.)
  2. When submitting a revision, I need to see both the original version and new version. Because your essays are posted on your blog, that gives you a few options, any of which is fine with me:
    • You could copy the text of your original essay into a new post, revise it there, and email me with links to both posts.
    • You could copy the text of your original essay into a word processor, revise it there, and email me a link to your original and attach a file with your new version.
    • You could copy the text of your original essay into a word processor, save it for the record, and then revise the original post. (This keeps your best material and only your best material on your blog.) Then email me an attachment with the original copy and a link to your revised version online.
  3. Before submitting a revision, you must take your essay to either the Writing Center or the Center for Learning Strategies. I need to see documentation that this visit happened.
  4. In addition to the advice you get from them, you must incorporate any advice I gave (usually found in the Moodle gradebook).
  5. When you email me your revision, include a detailed statement about what you changed. (If you just focused on the introduction and conclusion, say so.)

Let me also mention this: the most common choice students make when revising is to simply do a bit more proofreading, cleaning up commas and word choices here and there. These students usually only get another point or two for their troubles. To make this exercise in revision really worth it, it’s usually worthwhile to consider how to adjust major issues in the essay, perhaps by adding/deleting/moving paragraphs, writing entirely new pieces of evidence and explanations of that evidence, and completely rewriting introductions and conclusions.

For more advice, check out this page on Revising Drafts from UNC Chapel Hill’s Writing Center.

An Email I Just Wrote

One of you emailed me recently, asking what I was looking for in the blog post due tomorrow and how long it should be. This was my reply:

I’m actually hoping to be surprised. I have a couple of ideas about why I assigned both of these readings for the same day, but I bet there are a lot more connections between the two than I have thought of. So your task is to look for any and all connections you can find. Many of the connections won’t be very obvious, because the chapters really are about very different things on the surface. But why do you think I assigned them on the same day? Can an idea from one be applied to another?

In terms of length, there’s no minimum requirement. I find that when I give a word-count limit, most students write just to that point and stop, even if they were in the middle of saying something interesting! But it’s true that writing more is a strong sign that you’re taking the assignment seriously and found some really cool connections to talk about. So write as much as you can, and stop when you run out of things to say. (But sometimes, I think when you run out of things to say, you probably have a couple more things lingering that just haven’t found their way out yet. If it were me, I would write a draft and then come back later to add more, just in case more good ideas come out in meantime.)

Feel free to be informal in these reading response posts. I’m much more interested in hearing your ideas than anything else. So it’s okay to go off on tangents, and to not use formal organization, and to say whatever you’re thinking. Of course, don’t use grammar so bad that I can’t understand you–but I’m not grading down for things like commas, either. This isn’t like a rhetorical analysis assignment. Also, if I mentioned something specific in response to your first post, be sure to address that this time!

I hope that helps?