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What Is Collaborative Editing?

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden

Collaborative editing is an editing method in which more than one person contributes to the process of editing a text document or lines of computer code. In many cases, editors work together simultaneously on the same document using word processing programs that allow multiple users to access and edit a single document on the Internet. In other cases, a document's author passes the document to one editor, who passes it on to another, until several people have given their input on the document. Many word processing programs have a function that allows contributors to track the changes that they make to a document separately from the changes of all other contributors. The original writer, then, is able to see which changes each contributor made to the document.

Simultaneous collaborative editing of a document allows contributors to make and discuss changes in real time. In some cases, this simply involves a group of editors sitting around a table editing a document. This is seldom practical, however, so simultaneous collaborative editing tends to involve editors working with an online word processing program that allows all contributors to make and discuss changes. Each member of the collaborative editing process is generally able to see which contributions the others made. The main drawback of simultaneous collaborative editing is that all collaborators must coordinate their schedules in order to work on a document at the same time.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Collaborative editing does not need to be simultaneous, however. In some cases, each editor finishes his contribution and passes the document, usually in digital form, on to the next editor. In others, the document is still available on the Internet for many people to edit, but the contributors do not all edit the document at the same time. This method of collaborative editing eliminates the need for extensive scheduling. It also makes discussion among editors a somewhat more difficult and less direct process.

There are many advantages to collaborative editing, particularly when it is based on the editing of a single online document. Different editors can give several different points of view, giving the writer a better idea of how different people will respond to his writing. Groups of editors are also more likely to catch small errors than a single editor would be. Editing a single document and tracking all changes removes the need to keep track of multiple versions and drafts of a given document. All of the suggested changes and different versions are available in the same document, so there is little risk of suggestions being lost or of important changes failing to make it to the final version.

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