Tips for better group work

I’ve decided to do one final (at least for now) post on group work after the two last week – group work and group work is *rarely group work. I figure this time I should try to share some advice. So, here’s a short list of some tips for working in a group.

  • Use each others talents. If someone is a talented writer, have them take on more writing. If someone else is a genius at analyzing data, then that’s what they should do.
  • At the beginning, break the project into chunks. Decide who will be responsible for each chunk. If the chunks are too big, break them down again.
  • Come up with a time line as a team, so you have some way of gauging your progress. Make sure you build your time line so that it’ll should be finished before the deadline. This way, should things take longer, or go long, you can still tweak your timeline and finish in time.
  • Projects should be like a democracy, not a dictatorship. This means arguments and disagreements should be settled by majority opinion.
  • If there is problem that can’t be settled (and you’ve honestly tried really hard to do so), then ask someone you all know (professor, colleague, friend…) if they will be a mediator.
  • If there are such huge problems in the group that finishing the project is just not going to happen, make sure you approach the professor/TA earlier, rather than later. They’d rather sort out the problem while there’s still time to find a solution, then deal with it after the deadline has passed.
  • Plan your project to meet the minimum requirements first. Then, as you have extra time/resources, add to the project. For example, if you have to submit a paper, first focus on the content of the paper. Once that’s done, then you can focus on the design of the paper and making it look “pretty.” This way, at the very least, you’ll have a complete paper to submit, instead of a pretty document with no content.
  • Realize that it’s often hard (if not impossible) to split projects “evenly” – or at least evenly according to a definition you would’ve used when you were younger.
  • If you need a short paper, it’s usually easier to have one person write a draft, and then pass it around for editing, then trying to merge multiple pieces together. This generally requires less work, as you don’t have to spend extra time making sure you’re not repeating each other and that the paper sounds cohesive and as if it was written by one voice.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone about to embark on a group project, what would it be?

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