In Common List

In common this week: Collaborative Writing with Social Paper (a.k.a. Words with Friends)

Hi folks,

I’m in the process of writing my dissertation which means much of my time is spent doing the solitary work of writing. It can get lonely. I look forward to the communal work of revising–sharing writing, soliciting feedback, discussion, argument. Invariably, the dense, obtuse writing I produce when I’m on my own opens up through the process, is enriched and finally starts to look like the type of scholarly writing I admire. So this week I want to highlight collaborative writing Commons community members have been doing on using the tool Social Paper.

Social Paper is an experiment to develop a non-proprietary collaborative writing tool; an environment in which folks can offer their writing up for comments. It’s the brainchild of two Graduate Center students, Erin Glass (English) and Jennifer Stoops (Urban Education). You post your writing and either an invited group or the general public can comment on it by responding to the whole piece or in response to specific paragraphs. The tool is similar to Google Docs, but developed and managed by students and scholars. Google doesn’t own the data that’s there.

The list below is hardly an extensive run down, but it is inspirational. You can see all the publicly available papers on the Recent Papers thread on the Commons (check back regularly since it’s a live feed). Below are particularly interesting papers that demonstrate the benefits of the tool and the exciting possibilities that can be explored using it. Read them and be enriched by the content, see the vibrant discussion they are provoking, and (if you’re so inclined) chime in!

  • Erin Glass, a student in the English program at the Graduate Center (now working at UC San Diego), and one of Social Paper’s creators, wrote up this essay about why tool like it are important. She highlights that classroom writing is rarely read by anyone other than the professor; the grading process is helpful but not really a model of positive collaboration (it’s punitive, anxiety-ridden, and is high stakes).
  • Erin is also using Social Paper as part of her dissertation project on collaborative writing. She’s released her introduction here. The comments really stand out in this document, they add to and enrich the text she provides.
  • Karl Steel, Professor in the English program at the Graduate Center, is using Social paper as he works on his new book. The chapter he’s offered for comment most recently is the last in his book–apparently he works backwards. It’s a fascinating read about the symbolic importance of oysters in medieval and early modern philosophy. The benefits of collaborative writing environments like Social Paper don’t only go in one direction. Making scholarship that is in process available for comment not only provides the writer with feedback but also models research processes and methodologies for the readers.
  • A number of people use Social Paper to write grant proposals and project proposals. The grant application is a peculiar genre and getting a handle on it is easiest when you have a few other sets of eyes on it. Browsing through some of the recent proposals (20th Century Women Scientists Database,   Visual Archive of WWII Fashions) gives you a glimpse at some interesting ideas and a collaborative community being inspired by helping each other.

Get out there and get writing and commenting!


2 thoughts on “In common this week: Collaborative Writing with Social Paper (a.k.a. Words with Friends)

  • Thanks, @plhebert, for your very thoughtful write up of Social Paper and the great work happening there! I’m delighted to see students and professors experiment with this academic-developed technology, even if it’s not (yet?) as user-friendly as big name writing tools.

    If we had more resources, I wonder how we would improve the tool together? What would make it easier and more inviting to use? What features might help us build more collaborative student and scholarly communities?

    I just asked these questions to ENG 494 at the University of San Diego, and got a few interesting responses such as this one:

    It’s also so exciting to see that @karlsteel posted an entire chapter of his second book! And on Oysters! I can’t wait to check it out!


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