So you wish you had a co-author? 5 tips on what it takes to collaborate

BYU-Venn-Diagram_800x390A number of people have said to me that I’m lucky to have a co-author and I couldn’t agree more. Finding the right people to work with is not easy, and in this respect I guess some luck is needed. Still, there’s more to a successful collaboration than just luck.

1. Initiative
Collaborators won’t come knocking on your door, so you’ll have to take some initiative. People are often happy to work by themselves in academia and don’t see the need for a collaborator. If you want to work with someone, therefore, you might have to make the first move.

2. Common interest
The first thing to establish is what interests you have in common. For this you need to reflect upon what it is that you are bringing to the table with your background, perspective and expertise. Is this something you already share? If so, why would they need you? A great starting point for a collaboration is a new area for you both where your research backgrounds are complementary but your interest overlapping.

3. Respect
You don’t have to agree on everything to co-author with someone. But you do need to have a great deal of professional respect for each other. Without it, the foundation for a true collaboration is lost. So if you think you or someone else knows better than your co-author, they will wonder why you wanted to collaborate with them in the first place.

4. Trust
In any co-authored work there will be parts that go beyond your own area of expertise. This is only natural, since you wouldn’t write something together that you could have written on your own. Then it’s essential that you have professional trust in your co-author’s expertise within their field. This is particularly difficult for researchers who are used to working on their own and trust no one but themselves. Collaborating across disciplines then becomes next to impossible.

5. Flexibility
There might come a point in the co-authoring where there is something that you simply cannot agree upon. As long as a piece is co-authored, each party should stand behind it once it’s published under their name. In my experience, a long and heated discussion might end in an almost insignificant change in the text. But sometimes you must be willing to delete a whole paragraph or section, even your favourite one. In such cases some degree of flexibility is needed.

When a collaboration works, it’s twice the fun as working on your own – and at least twice the result.


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