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 drive.google.com 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 drive.google.com 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.

Alternative Ways to Complete RA3

If you prefer, RA3 can be completed the same way that your first two rhetorical analyses were: as a traditional essay posted on your blog. But if you like, I’m giving you two alternative ways to complete the assignment: collaborate with one other person or create a video analysis.

Collaborate with One Other Person

Because we’re studying collaborative writing, you may fulfill the RA3 assignment by producing a single text written by two people. If you choose this path, the following guidelines apply:

  1. The assignment is the same: the essay still must analyze the rhetorical strategies used on a Wikipedia talk page. You’ll still need to study the original assignment sheet carefully.
  2. The essay’s length and detail should reflect the fact that two writers were working on it. If necessary, the authors may choose to write about more than one talk page to find enough things to write about; however, if they use more than one talk page, the pages should be on similar topics.
  3. The total time spent planning and writing the essay should be the same amount of time spent if each student planned and wrote an individual essay.
  4. Both students are equally responsible for the entire essay. It will receive a single grade that will be applied to each student’s grade.
  5. If you know another student taking another section of RHET 351 from me this semester, you may collaborate with that student (if you get my permission first).
  6. Each student will email me an individual statement about what the collaboration process was like. This is due the same day and time that the final draft of the essay is due. Though this statement can be informal, it should be a detailed, multi-paragraph narrative of what steps the team took. This is also the place to share private reflections on the strengths and weaknesses of your writing partner. (I won’t share these emails with anyone else.)

To successfully collaborate on this assignment, I have a few suggestions (which you can take or ignore as you wish):

  • Communication is key. Get each other’s phone numbers and email addresses (and maybe Twitter accounts?) as soon as possible, and discuss right away how you want to meet. (In person? Over Skype or a Google Hangout? Over email? By adding comments to a document? How often?)
  • Consider setting up a collaborative document that you can both edit whenever you like (like at Google Docs), as opposed to sending attached documents back and forth over email.
  • I love this page on Group Writing from the writing center at UNC Chapel Hill (@UNCWritingCTR). It might be worth skimming over it with your partner to see if it raises any questions you’d like to address together.

Create a Video Analysis

Or, if you prefer, you may compose a video analysis of your Wikipedia talk page. If you choose this path, these guidelines apply:

  1. Your assignment is the same as in the original RA3: you’ll analyze the rhetorical strategies used on a Wikipedia talk page. You’ll prove your ideas in an organized, evidence-filled production. But instead of writing an essay, you’ll create a screencast: a video where the viewers see your screen and hear your voice talking about what you see. (Most of the videos I make are screencasts; for example, this introduction to the course is a screencast.)
  2. This video will be assessed in the same four areas described in the main RA3 assignment sheet, with the style grade assessing your speaking voice–its clarity, liveliness, and suitability of word choice for a video’s audience.
  3. If you choose to create a video, you must submit it the same way you submitted your audio version of RA1: you’ll create the video (see below for my software recommendations), upload it to YouTube, and then embed that YouTube video into a new post on your blog along with a detailed written Statement of Goals and Choices. (See my post on how to write an SOGC for reminders of what I expect.)
  4. The video analysis may not be done collaboratively.

If you choose this path, I have the following suggestions:

  • While there are many options for screencasting software, I strongly recommend Camtasia, a popular and user-friendly program. The 30-day free trial is fully functional, so you can download it, use it for this project, and then decide later whether you want to buy it or uninstall it. (I use it a lot as well, so I would be able to help.)
  • If you use Camtasia, you can easily edit out moments where you mess up while recording. So if you make a mistake, you don’t need to stop your recording and start over; you can simply continue recording and edit out the mistake later.
  • There are lots of good tutorials on how to use Camtasia; if you’re confused, read the software’s official documentation or just search Google or YouTube. I bet someone else will have had the same problem.
  • You’ll want to plan your video extensively, including the big picture of what you’ll show when (to keep your viewers from getting bored) and the detailed picture of what you want to say. You may feel most comfortable reading from a script, or you might rather simply talk casually from an outline. Do whichever will make you sound the best (to keep your style score from suffering).
  • Obviously, much of what the viewer sees will be the Wikipedia talk page itself. But to keep the video visually interesting, consider what else you might show to help you make your point.
  • I use a free browser plug-in called Diigo to highlight text on webpages in different colors. If you want to highlight the text of your page, this might be a strong option. Consider what other creative ways you might emphasize your points (perhaps by zooming in and out or using other techniques).
  • Remember that you can check out USB headsets from the library for 1 day, to be used outside of the library. Using a microphone will help your voice quality sound much stronger and clearer (helping your style grade).
  • UPDATE: A scholar named Dan Anderson gives a screencasting assignment to his students, and he has lots of good advice on that page. I especially like his bulleted list of things you can show in a Screencast, like video of yourself typing, and his list of sample screencasts at the bottom.