Collaborative Writing Considerations
(Added lecture notes for CIS 447/732)

Murray Turoff

All rights reserved
Ó Murray Turoff 1997


The following are the unique considerations in creating a collaborative writing systems:

Critical Considerations
Collaborative Documents
& in
Computer Mediated Communications


Document Organization & Structure

Human Roles & Privileges: Writers, Reviewers, Editors, Approvers, etc.

Status & Synchronization: Determination, Tracking, Notification

Meta Processes: Communication Protocols, Consensus Processes (Approval/Voting)

Problem Solving Processes


Professionals who do writing of any type use complex conceptual maps to structure their creative process within their problem domain. Such structures are quite complex. There are some traditional ways of aiding the creation of struc ture such as "outlines."


Document Structures


"Classical" Document Structures


Current Cognitive Understandings


Requirement for Structures


Consider a historian writing a book as Ted Nelson did in the sixties. We see that the structure used is highly non linear in nature. This is one of the observations that helped Nelson formulate his ideas on Hypertext.


Hypothetical Hypertext Organization for a Historian

(Nelson, 1965)


In the software development process, if we focus on just the early interface design phase we find a fairly complex problem domain structure just to represent the elements that go into designing the interface. This whole early phase of t he design of a system actively involves the application designers, the system designers and users who are professionals in the application.

The significant point here is that the underlying problem domain structures that are evident to the individuals must be made available and understood by the members of the group working on the problem. Following is a structure for o nly the interface elements. This would be very meaningful to the Interface (system) designers who must communicate with the users, requirement developers (to determine what is needed), and implementation model designers (to determine what is feasible).

The problem domain structure for the interface designer can become a communication structure for the group if it is tied into one of the more detailed requirements database structures and has added a generator for mocking up the scr eens so the users can directly perceive the results. As a result we would now have a collaborative discourse structure that is tailored to the application domain and which can be the bases of a computer mediated communication system (CMC) discussion struc ture.

The fundamental limitation of the current generation of CMC systems is that they do not allow the group to tailor the discussion structure to fit their collective conceptual map of the problem domain.



The User Interface Design Process within the context of the Software Development Life Cycle.





If we propose to use Hypertext as a general data base approach then we need to have a fundamental typed structure that operates at the system implementation level and then allows the users to specify their own problem domain on top of t his structure. The use of conceptual level synonyms would allow any user problem domain structure to be mapped to the fundamental structure. In the following structure, based upon Guilfordís model of the human intellect, we present a possible structure fo r accomplishing this.


Highly Typed Node and Link Hypertext Structure


General Hypertext Morphology (Turoff, Rao, Hiltz, 1991)






Divergent Production









Convergent Links

Divergent Links


























Sample Synonym Maps







definition, reference, fact, fundamental, footnote, support


gathering, aggregation, set, heading, conglomeration, class, group


analogy, relation, model, axiom, assumption, theorem, law, belief



generalization, pattern, system, template, overview



question, problem, concern, change, vision


action, implication, policy, observation, recommendation, conclusion, decision



Convergent Links




clarification, definition, explicit, expansion, qualification, relevance, articulation, underlie, reference


parent-child, naming, subset, combine, form, assemble, collect


similarity, correspondence, equivalence, concurrence, correlation, index key,



sequence, order, chapter, document, list, trail


change, option, transform, revision, choice, modify, version, modification,


influence, support, cause, conclusion, implication, induction, endorse, pro, deduction, evidential


Divergent Links





footnote, detail, fact, background



conflict, con, refute, diverge


expression, conjecture, emotional, artistic, tentative, conjectural, vague



subsection, split, fork, offshoot, appendage


deviation, creative, shift, novelty, alter, divergence, transposition


goal, idea, value, belief, objective, norm, question


The above approach would allow the system to maintain an ability to make inferences about what the group is doing and aid them to understand the resulting discourse. Exercises like cutting all the divergent links would allow the users to access if their is any sub clusters of nodes and links evolving from the structure could be provided as analysis options to the users of system supporting a morphological model such as the above.


The following diagram is an example of a collaborative Hypertext template that could be used to guide a discussion on planning a new project and all the various tasks and substasks involved.








Another example of a general non linear collaborative structure is the concept of the group calendar. This can become the bases for both numerous tailored communicated structures to support every type of project possible in an organizat ion and all the included application domain.



Group Calendar (downward and lateral structures)


Milestones, Deadlines

Meeting Lateral: All similar meetings

Project History, History



Agenda Item

Background Lateral: Prior meetings

Discussion Prior same agenda item

Collaborative domain structures

Lateral Structures:

Related Report

Links to Specifics

Current Report Draft

Document Structures

Related Budget Data

Database Integration

Approval/Voting Meetings


The application domain will include the need to link in an integrated manner all the information resources (data bases, models, analysis routines) right into the discussion structure.


Group Calendar



For complex discussion in application domains there is also a need to the see the evolution of the ideas and concepts that led to the final results. In a meeting that one participates in one understands the results because of seeing the ideas emerge and the agreement/disagreement (consensus) process that takes place. Similarly in the asynchronous group communication domain one needs to be able to follow the evolution of the group process at the meta level as well as the content leve l.


Understanding Complex Discussions & Complex Drafts



The emergence of visual reality in asynchronous systems leads to the possibility of expressing the time oriented evolution of conceptual maps of an on going discussion and the incorporation of various voting and scaling methods would al low people to view the evolution of concept and the factors that make it more or less acceptable to the group.


In a three dimensional virtual world (e.g., Alphaworld) let us imagine something akin to a complex organic molecule that results in a three dimensional construction. There are two types of nodes or atoms, the resolutions and the arg uments; and there are three types of links or relationships: pro, con, and opposition. Any member of the group may add to the collaborative construction using these building modules. The actual contents of a node can be explicit and/or linked via HTML to material elsewhere.


An early Delphi structure was the Policy Delphi (Turoff, 1972) which relates to the ideas of a Hegelian Inquiry Process (Churchman, 1971). Versions of this have occurred in the literature of software development as dialectic require ment formulation structures (e.g. gIBIS), (Conklin & Begeman, 1989). In essence these are structures to organize a constructive debate about a topic and the results sought are collective group insights into such things as desirable policy resolutions, feasible actions to take, and important software requirements. Such a group communication activity can be specified by a semantic Hypertext structure as shown next.



A Discourse Structure for Debating and Argumentation






A Possible Voting Construction

Three Dimensional Representation



Note that there are four collaborative dimensions associated with the material: Desirability, Feasibility, Importance, and Validity. To provide greater understanding of the discussion, these could be used to dynamically reorder the spatial dimensions of this material as viewed by the individuals such as illustrated above. For example, each of the four scales are finite (-1 to +1) interval scales and visualized as the side of two buildings. One building houses arguments with the impo rtance and validity voting distribution scales as two of its dimensions: importance and validity. The other building houses solutions with its two sides representing the desirability and feasibility distribution scales. The third dimension (a wall) is sha red and represents the proportion of the eligible votes that have been cast. Until a voting threshold (sufficient minimum number of votes) is obtained, new solutions or arguments lie on the ground in the accompanying yard of construction materials. Links are represented as rubber bands. One can organize lists based upon links to get linear relationships and views of the discussion or utilize the links to view only various subgraph constructs of the discussion structure.


One can log the history of the positions of these nodes and view via animation the actual historical evolution of the discussion. In most successful Delphi and Nominal Group Techniques it is usual to expect 30-50% of the initial vot es to change in successful group processes.


We very much agree with Torgersonís (1958) view of scaling as the science of creating and developing measuring instruments for human judgment and to make it "visible." While we will be using appropriate scaling methods for voting an d estimation processes, an alternative view of the total discourse construction in this space is as a brand new type of scaling instrument for measuring group processes. As such it may open new avenues for research to extend the concepts of scaling beyond its current domain. Note in this measurement construction the nodes receiving the "best" votes (moving towards 1 on a finite interval scale of 1 to -1) will be moving closer and closer to the origin. In the actual construction we would, of course, be usi ng semantic representations of these interval scales (e.g. very desirable to very undesirable).


While the debating structure seems rather simple and straightforward, consider a very common planning structure used in many successful corporate planning Delphi exercises. One starts with a trend which could be highly quantitative such as the amount of a productís sales over the past five years, or it could be semi subjective, such as the number of terrorist type bombings in the U.S. (realizing that unsolved acts might or might not be judged in this category). The participants are asked to make a forecast for the trend and to indicate the assumptions they are making about the future that will influence the trend. This is displayed as another non-linear discourse structure in the following figure.. They are also asked to express any uncertainties (i.e., things they donít think will occur but which would change the projection if they did). All these are taken as potential assumptions which the group votes on for degree of validity. The validity vote is used to rate all the assumption s into an interval scale and to distinguish three basic categories: Very likely, Very unlikely, and uncertain. It is the uncertain ones that are focused upon to further distinguish between those that can be controlled by actions the organization can take and those that can not be influenced by actions that can be taken. In some cases it is important to explore how to measure or observe whether an assumption has come true (e.g. the development of a new military system or competitors product).



Planning Delphi Discourse Structure



Note that these action nodes are exactly what starts the debating structure and the two structures are really now one combined structure. There are many such discourse structures (Linstone & Turoff, 1975) that combine to more co mplex structures and as such represent a potential toolkit for collaborative Hypertext. A more complex example is a structure for the design of interfaces (Balasubramanian & Turoff, 1995, 1996) that has 17 typed semantic nodes and 39 typed semantic li nks. This is being developed and evaluated in a current thesis effort as an aid to the creative phase of the design process for designers and to aid in capturing the design rationale. A later effort will be to evaluate it as a discourse structure between users and designers for the development of the functional requirements. The more specific the problem domain and the greater the expertise of the members of the group, the richer the discourse structure necessary for problem solving becomes.


Note that one can add a significance dimension to the three dimensional model above in the negative Z direction and that assumptions would like in a single plane along the voting and validity access. One could add the scales of importan ce to the assumptions and to the measures. Two ordered category scales for rating each item is a very common design in Delphi structures and about the limit of what people can handle when there are true independent scales to fully rate the item.


Hopkins classic study (1987) shows that one can use the conceptual design models of individuals to determine their actual degree of expertise about a problem domain. I would hypothesize that it may be a far better way to examine a stude nt for their competency in a given problem domain. In the future it may begin to replace the standard exam in courses. However, such

conceptual diagrams are very difficult to grade unless one can utilize a data structure that can reflect content and be used to compare differing diagrams (such as the Guilford model above)


Extending Daft & Lengelís Media Richness Theory

The objective of this approach is to allow groups to arrive at collaborative and explicit mental models for complex problems. The ability of an information form or process (a "communication medium") to allow this to occur in an effective manner has been termed "media richness" (Daft & Lengel, 1986). Media richness concerns reducing the uncertainty (lack of information) and equivocality (ambiguity) in various decision making environments, such as business organizations. They lay out a continuum from left to right of seven communication media: rules and regulations, management reporting information systems, special reports, planning, direct contact, integrators, and group meetings. The following figure reproduces the essence o f Daft and Lengelís original figure 2 (Daft & Lengel, 1986). Information structured as the forms or processes towards the left (or communication media) are less rich and more impersonal. These are increasingly better suited to reduce uncertainty by pr oviding clear rules and information. Information structured as the forms or processes towards the right are richer and more personal. These are increasingly better suited to reduce equivocality because more direct contact among players better resolve ambi guity.



Daft and Lengelís Original Communication Medium Continuum

While widely cited, Daft and Lengelís article views computerized support for structuring information only in terms of producing standard management reports. These reports reduce uncertainty but help little to reduce equivocality . Group meetings on the other hand, reduce equivocality, but involve too much interaction to convey a lot of data for reducing uncertainty. Daft and Lengel do not consider computerized decision support or group support tools in their discussion. Many rese archers therefore believe that Daft and Lengelís media richness theory actively rejects computer support for reducing equivocality. We believe it merely needs to be updated to encompass the now-common computer tools of the past decade, as well as the coll aborative hypermedia environment. Our proposed infrastructure, which encompasses a variety of group support tools to promote common understandings among the group members, clearly provides a richer environment than non-computerized and simple reporting sy stems or analysis support systems. CMC clearly provides communication media richness and be used to resolve ambiguous management problems and can be at least rated as effective as face-to-face meetings if not better. This is a wide open area for both deve lopment and evaluation research.


Historical Perspective on the design of non linear application domain discourse structures.


by Linstone and Turoff, 1975

by Hiltz and Turoff, 1993, MIT Press


Specific References


Balasubramanian, V. and Turoff, M. (1995) A Systematic Approach to User Interface, Design for Hypertext Systems, Proceedings of the 28th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Computer Society Press, Volume III, 241-250.

Balasubramanian, V., Ullman, David, Turoff, Murray, A Systematic Approach to Support of the Creative Phases of the User Interface Design Process, Accepted HICSS 31, 1978.

Conklin, J., & Begeman, M. L., 1989, gIBIS: A Tool for All Reasons, Journal of the American Society for Information Science 40, 3, 200-213.

Churchman, C.W., The Design of Inquiry System: Basic Concepts of Systems and Organizations, 1971, Basic Books, New York.

Daft, R., & Lengel, R., Organizational Information Requirements, Media Richness and Structural Design, 1986, Manage. Science. 32(5), May, 554-571.

Delbecq, A. L., Van de Ven, A. H., & Gustafson, D. H. (1975), Group techniques for program planning: A Guide to Nominal Group Techniques and Delphi Processes Glencoe, IL, Scott, Foreman.

Hiltz, S. R. and Turoff, Murray, (1985), Structuring Computer-Mediated Communication Systems to Avoid Information Overload. Communications of the ACM, 28, 7 (July): 680-689. Reprinted by DATAPRO for Corporate Distribution.

Hopkins, R.H., K. B. Cambell and N. S. Peterson, Representations of Perceived Relations Among the Properties and Variables of a Complex System, IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, (SMC-17:1), Jan/Feb 1987, 52-60.

Kim, Youngjim, Murray Turoff, and S. R. Hiltz, A Coordination Structure in Distributed Group Support Systems: A study of system Restrictiveness with Coordination Mode and Leadership. Accepted HICSS 1998.

Lendaris, G., Structural Modeling, IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, SMC-10:12, Dec. 1980.

Nelson, T. H., (1965), A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing and the Inderminate, ACM 20th National Conference Proceedings, 84-99.

Rao, Usha, & Turoff, Murray, (1990), Hypertext Functionality: A Theoretical Framework, International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, Volume 4, Number 2, 333-358.

Rao, G.R., Suresh, B. A., Turoff, M. and Hiltz, S. R., (1994) Issues in the Development of a Computer Mediated Communication System Framework for Collaborative Medical Decision Making. Proceedings of the 16th IEEE Engineering in Medicin e and Biology Society, Maryland, November 3-6, Vol. 16, pp. 1354-1344.

Torgerson, W. S., Theory and Methods of Scaling, Wiley, 1958.

Turoff, Murray, Virtuality, invited paper for special section of CACM, Volume 40, Number 9, September 1977, pp. 38-43.

Turoff, Murray, Jerry Fjermestad, Ajaz Rana, Michael Bieber, Roxanne Hiltz, Collaborative Hypermedia in Virtual Reality Systems, Proceedings of the third Americas Conference on Information Systems, August, 1997.

Turoff, Murray, & Starr Roxanne Hiltz, (1995) Software Design and the Future of the Virtual Classroom, Journal of Information Technology for Teacher Education, Volume 4, Number 2, 1995, 197-215.

Turoff, Murray, (1990), Computer Mediated Communication Requirements for Group Support, Journal of Organizational Computing, Volume 1, Number 1.

Turoff, Murray and S. R. Hiltz, (1995), Computer Based Delphi Processes, in Michael Adler and Erio Ziglio, editors., Gazing Into the Oracle: The Delphi Method and Its Application to Social Policy and Public Health, London, Kingsley Publ ishers, pp. 56-88.

Turoff, Murray, Rao, Usha, & Hiltz, S. R., (1991) Collaborative Hypertext in Computer Mediated Communications, Proceeding of the Hawaii International Conference on Systems Science, Volume 4, January, IEEE Computer Society, 357-366.< /P>

Turoff, Murray, S. R. Hiltz, A. N. F. Bahgat, and Ajaz Rana. (1993), Distributed Group Support Systems, MIS Quarterly; December 1993, 399-417.

Turoff, Murray, J. Foster, S. R. Hiltz, and K. Ng, (1989), The TEIES Design and Objectives: Computer Mediated Communications and Tailorability, Proceedings of the 22 Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Vol. III, 4 03-411. Washington, IEEE Computer Society. Reprinted in Nahouraii and Petry, Object-Oriented Databases, IEEE Computer Society Press, 1990.