How to streamline editing collaborative manuscripts with #openscience & some #zennotes hacks


Within the team, we share and edit very collaboratively. Often, individuals participate not as co-authors but as ‘friendly’ referees to improve our work and to ensure that we kept informed of evolving ideas within the lab. Graduate students in the lab and I also sign an agreement when we begin collaborating to ensure that our expectations are aligned and mutually acceptable.  One of the elements is the two-week rule.  We indicate that will do our best to turn around materials to one another within two weeks AND to give our collaborators two weeks before deadlines to make their contributions or write support letters or provide associated materials. We also have a few new rules to support a more healthy work-life balance.  No emails on weekends, wait till Monday, and do not ask for things over the weekend.  One of the challenges I have recently faced as a collaborative editor, is changing gears between editing different manuscripts.  I have noticed that the longer I wait to edit, the harder it gets, and the longer I continue to wait.  I have also noticed that retroactive interference is a big deal for me now that I am getting older and more toasty.

So, here a few ideas to deal with these issues.



1. We stick to the two-week rule turn-around time. Waiting too long makes everything slower, and we forget previous revisions. I am VERY guilty here. My turnarounds vary from 1 day to 6-8 weeks for poor Alex Filazzola.

Guideline: Do our outmost to adopt a two-week turnaround time for me and for you too. Do not include weekends in count.

Incentive: If we miss the 2-week window (we use shared, online calendar to track back and forth), I put $50 into a fun, lab account such as amazon for us to spend on lab stuff (like coffee pods and yummy treats). If you student misses deadline, a $25 penalty? Same fund for the lab.

2. Take one extra day before you send to collaborators, read it one more time from scratch. Use the highlight function only, not track changes, to ‘highlight’ any bits that you need clarification on.

Help the collaborators be more rapid and direct their attention to give you the help you need. MAYBE even make a list of Qs for the collaborators to consider when you send the ms back.

Guideline: Highlight needs for collaborators a priori.

3. Include alternative versions of figures (i.e., Riis you do not include or other effect size measures you calculate but did not use in ms), the data (ALL) plus summary data you used for plots, and code in a g-drive folder in case your collaborators want to look at. For instance, Alex was way ahead me, did Riis etc, had them ready to go, but I had to ask from them and wait a day bc of email lags. SO, let’s streamline that.

Guideline: Provide supporting materials that you helped you write manuscript to collaborators because it can also help them revise.

4. Prep cover letter, look up referees whilst you wait, and get the data ready to publish on figshare (for derived datasets) or knb for primary datasets. Recently, I have also discovered that writing the cover letter has really helped me hone my ideas on the value of the manuscript, even more so than that abstract, and that I have then returned to the manuscript and improved it.

Guideline: Prepare datasets & cover letter for publication whilst you wait.


Workflow tools
We currently flip ms docs back and forth. I like because I work offline a lot to minimize online shopping, twitter, and other distractions. I recognize some of the available tools also support offline mode then syncing. However, there are some limitations. We could consider using the following tools instead:


Google docs with commenting and the associated tracking function



Here are a few blog posts to consider:

5 Ways to Collaborate on Documents Online in Real Time

How to Collaborate on Documents Over the Internet

The big goal here for me is to be present, in the moment, and on the ball for each and every editing instance.  Plus, minimize stress and put some more zen into my writing & editing.