The impact of process structure on novice, virtual collaborative writing teams

Paul Benjamin Lowry, Jay F. Nunamaker, Aaron Curtis, Michelle René Lowry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Asynchronous-distributed (AD) collaborative writing (CW) is an important form of the growing trend of distributed work. However, AD CW typically results in multiple process losses. We argue that using advanced writing technologies designed for AD work alone is not sufficient by itself to overcome these losses. Instead, adopting high levels of process structure delivered in the form of explicitly written procedural scripts can improve the results of AD CW groups. We performed an experiment with over 500 participants working in groups supported by advanced CW technologies that were designed for AD work. Participants were given six weeks to conduct their work. We found that high levels of process structure in novice AD CW groups that worked on a moderately complex task created significantly better outcomes than did groups using low levels of process structure. Groups with high levels of process structure had better results in terms of production, document quality, satisfaction, relationships, and communication. In no case did low-structure groups outperform high-structure groups. This research supports our hypothesis that increased process structure delivered in the form of a repeatable process script can decrease process losses and increase process gains in novice AD CW groups. We conclude that it is not sufficient to give novice AD writing groups CW technology and time to conduct their tasks; these groups also need appropriate procedural support, which can be provided effectively through written scripts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)341-364
Number of pages24
JournalIEEE Transactions on Professional Communication
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2005


  • Asynchronous-distributed (AD) work
  • Collaboration
  • Collaborative writing (CW)
  • Distributed group work
  • Internet-based work
  • Process structure
  • Self-sustaining groups

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Industrial relations
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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