Blog Post

What to Look for in a Collaborative Writing Tool

Most businesses seem to run on memos and other shared documents. It’s easy enough to distribute finalized documents around even large teams, but creating those documents in the first place can require some work. The right collaborative writing tool can make the process a lot easier, if only because multiple users can log in and check for updates, without needing to send around a copy for approval every time even a small change gets made.

That said, there are certain characteristics that make a world of difference in a collaborative writing environment — especially if you’re working in an larger organization.

  1. The ability to edit from outside the office: Not all documents are going to be edited by telecommuters, but there will always be occasions where having the ability to edit documents from anywhere is useful.
  2. An overall organizational system: Most companies are document-producing machines. Computers have come a long way in being able sort through tons of files, but it’s better to have a built-in organizational system in your writing tool, especially if you don’t have any need to export your documents from it.
  3. An excellent security system: As most of the best collaborative writing tools are now based in the cloud, it’s crucial that you pick a tool that can protect your organization’s information.
  4. The ability to include editors and viewers: Depending on your organizational culture, there are likely people involved in the process who don’t necessarily need to make changes in a document but do need the ability to look it over. By not giving everyone under the sun full access, you have the ability to avoid someone messing up the document that took hours to create.
  5. The ability to roll back changes: There comes a time in every project where you decide that a particular edit just isn’t working. In some cases, you can just undo minor changes with a couple of clicks, but if it’s a big change, it’s easier to just revert to an earlier version of your project.

All writing tools are not created equal. Some people have the opinion that Microsoft Word — and the many tools that are now available to make that particular piece of software accessible from anywhere — is the best. That’s because it’s been the standard word processing tool in offices for years and because of the huge amount of development that’s gone into it. Don’t be afraid to try something new, though. Fewer bells and whistles can actually benefit your ability to write: you can focus on the words, rather than spending your time on convincing the software to do what you need it to.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Nic McPhee

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6 Responses to “What to Look for in a Collaborative Writing Tool”

  1. I am looking for a collaborative writing CMS. Does anyone know of a simple easy to use system that allows multiple authors to create large documents with each contributing a portion in a system that allows input from all and blending of contributions. has the right idea. But it is for smaller projects. I’d like a CMS that can scale to multiple projects.

    WordPress PageMash has a good simple layout, but I am told that it is intended to manage website pages instead of document pages. Too bad.

    Any thoughts?

  2. Nice post Thursday. I agree, especially the part about focusing on the writing and not convincing the word processor to do your bidding. It boggles my mind how much time well paid people spend on that low value activity. I have more interesting things to do.  I would add to the list the ability for multiple people to comment and/or edit at once. The hard check-out/check-in process is another roadblock to productivity.

  3. Hi Thursday! These are well thought ideas!
    I totally agree that collaboration tools will be here to stay and it’s imperative that we know how these tools would help us achieve the productivity we are aiming in the workplace.
    Ivan Waslh’s blog post “5 Reasons to Invest in Document Collaboration Tools” which you can find here:
    also resonates this urgency for companies to really understand what they want with their tools and what tools they really want for their business.

  4. Sharon Hurley Hall

    Interesting, Thursday. What collaborative writing tool do you use at the moment? I’ve used Google Docs with a client and it worked better than I expected.