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New Software Programs Aim To Support Group Writing Projects

It’s hard enough for most scientists to organize their thoughts and present them logically on paper. But when a group gets together to create a document—a departmental grant application, for example, or a jointly authored research paper—the complications tend to increase geometrically. Typically, one member of a group drafts a document. Then the other participants circulate the work in progress, scribbling notes in the margins and throughout the text. By the time the annota

Richard Dalton

It’s hard enough for most scientists to organize their thoughts and present them logically on paper. But when a group gets together to create a document—a departmental grant application, for example, or a jointly authored research paper—the complications tend to increase geometrically.

Typically, one member of a group drafts a document. Then the other participants circulate the work in progress, scribbling notes in the margins and throughout the text. By the time the annotated document returns to the writer, it is embellished with suggested revisions, comments, and questions. If any of the scrawl is unreadable, the writer is forced to contact the whole group again to untangle the comments.

While a computer software package won’t prevent disagreement or bruised egos, some packages can smooth the group authoring process considerably and help avoid misunderstandings. The best example I have found of this emerg- ing software genre is For Com ment, published...

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