I am a STEM undergrad. Many of my upper division assignments are group reports with a lot of writing (literature reviews, lab reports). A lot of my cohort does not seem to have college level writing skills. Their tone is too casual for scientific writing and oftentimes their writing is convoluted with no logical progression. In a few of these classes, the TAs and professors will give general writing advice but it doesn't seem to be enough.

To deal with this issue, I will usually:

  1. Rewrite the worst portions for them, and overlook other sections even though I consider it unacceptable quality (gets the point across but is difficult/frustrating to read).
  2. Ask them to do non-writing tasks like data analysis and I'll do most of the writing

I am now with another group member whose writing skills are not the best. I don't think it's efficient for me to redo their writing and they might feel like their contribution is being ignored. Their writing is bad enough that I might need to rewrite most if not all of their sentences. Should I give them writing advice and ask them to rewrite? How should I bring this up with them?

I don't think my standards are too high but should I just lower my standards?

  • 1
    "I don't think my standards are too high but should I just lower my standards?" I'd say that depends on how important the grade for this work would be to you. Is the other team member aware that you consider their writing skills subpar? Do they agree with that assessment? What is your primary goal? Best grade? Least amount of work? Some balance between these? Teaching your teammates? Improving your teamwork skills? ...
    – user9482
    Oct 29, 2021 at 6:16

4 Answers 4


Talk to them.

If you want to help them/they want your help
First, do make sure that your writing skills are as good as you say they are (I have no reason to doubt this, but it is important to verify this yourself!). If this isn't the case your advice will be ignored/deemed arrogant.

Then, talk to them about it. Be clear, in a non-accusatory way, that this might be an issue for the grade and since it is a group project, you want to ensure this is handled properly. So, don't do this:

Your writing is not good enough. I'll rewrite your contribution later.

But word it like this:

Hey, I've noticed that we can still improve the writing in our paper. Do you want to work on this together to make sure we catch everything?

You are in university, and this is a collaborative effort. Make it a learnable moment for you both! They can learn more about writing. You can learn how to teach/collaborate more effectively. Of course, they can say something like "no, just rewrite it yourself if you don't think it's good enough". But then your message didn't come across.

Because your current strategy, while perhaps efficient, is not always sustainable in a post-undergrad (be it industry or academic) setting. You will always have to collaborate, so preventing colleagues from working on certain tasks will ensure that they do not improve. Helping fellow students to improve is probably not your main priority right now, but if they are open to it, it can be valuable for you both.

If you don't want to help/they don't want help
If they are not willing to learn from you, and your grade is in danger, then you need to be more direct and confrontational. Do emphasize taking their contributions into account. It will be a bit more straightforward:

We need to fix the writing, otherwise our grade will suffer. If everyone is okay with this, I will do this. I will make sure to keep the concepts that you contributed in there as clean as possible. I'll share the final version X days/hours before the deadline, so everybody can check if I didn't change/remove anything important.


Although no one really likes to be criticized, I think it is better for all parties involved to tell the people in question that their writing skills are subpar (or at least that you think they are). Try to be nice about it though, and be aware that poor writing skills (either in one's native language, or in English, the lingua franca of the academic world) are not uncommon (even in higher level positions).

It is exactly for this reason that many universities offer scientific writing courses. Maybe you can see if your institution offers them as well, and provide this info to your coursemates. Significantly improving writing skills is a lengthy process and will not happen fast enough for your course, though.

In my experience, it is often easier (and less time consuming) to write a completely new text, instead of trying to rewrite an already badly written one. So why not play to everyone's strengths and do as you suggest: if no one objects, ask the others to do more of the practical work and concentrate on the writing yourself.


There are a couple (at least) of mistakes that novices (say, undergraduates) make about group work.

The first is to divide up the work and then later integrate the pats written by individuals. this actually adds work to the process, rather than simplifying it, since the integration is a significant step.

The second mistake is to assume that everyone takes the same role and does the same thing (on their piece if the above division is also assumed). People work alone on their own part and do the same tasks that "team" members do on theirs.

This is counterproductive.

One of "my" favorite papers was a group work. Two of the team developed the pedagogy and explored it. The rest of us analyzed it and gave them feedback. One of us did the actual writing over several iterations with feedback from everyone else. He happens to be the best writer in the group. Note that everyone took a different role and the role of writing went to the best writer. The author order listed the two that developed the structure as "first".

The second feature of the above is that we all worked together, with frequent (constant) communication. There was no "integration step" and each author played a role best suited to their skills. My role was quite minor overall, though I was able to contribute some insights.

So, my suggestion is to not divide a group project into "chunks" with people taking the same role as everyone else on their chunk, but to divide it into roles that contribute to the whole. Also, to work together, closely together, throughout the process.

If you really want to improve the writing skills of someone else and you have those skills, then I'd suggest that you pair up with them on writing a piece. You do most of the actual writing, and your partner asks questions and contribute things from their primary skill set, whatever it is. Or let them write a bit and comment as it goes along, suggesting alternatives as they go. And, yes, this is really pair programming adapted to writing.

But improving their writing may not be essential for the project if you give appropriate roles to people rather than "chunks".

Hint: You won't improve someones writing (or other) skills by complaining that they do it poorly. Not in the short term anyway, though some kinds of criticism can result in a long term inward look and commitment to change in a person. This has happened to me a couple of times. I recall one in math and another in taichi. But the process it induced in me took a long time to come to fruition. But neither of these was from teammates in any sense, but from teachers. That is their proper role - to induce change and improvement.


This may not be an easy task but a man must try his best for the better of himself and hos fellows around. I am saying that the way you care about their feelings is nice but with that there are ways you can speak to them that they would understand what you are passing across. All this are interaction techniques one needs to apply when working with people. I didn't know this techniques when I was the leader of a group assignment which needs enough research, so I ended up doing the whole group work on my own and delivering it for them to access. After they told me they read it, they did not even give any feed back on it to show that they did not have enough reading or writing skills to correct any mistake even when there was one. After this group work, I went further to understand how to interact with people like that during a group work. Here are some important steps:

  1. Understand the kind of people you are working with: This is to say take your time to understand the kind of person you are working with (if he or she is an understanding one or arrogant one), know the level they are on compare to the task at hand and throw crazy ideas that would not hurt the individual but would bring out the serious part of the individual.
  2. Don't make your self the boss: Do not let your group mate or the person you are working with notice your presence or don't try to be right every time. Give each member time to talk if they want and ask if the are ok with what is to be done or there are any suggestions or contributions. Bring your self down to their level to understand or get their plight and bring them down so they can also know what is on the table and undertaand your own plight.
  3. Correct with care: What does this mean? When you have done the above, your group mate will understand that they need to work and if a work is now brought to you for your opinion, you can now correct them calmly by teaching them and referring them to materials that would help them during the course of the group work.
  4. Lastly, decide: Decide what? Decide between your partner the result from all your collective research and bring them together to get the final result. This can only be achieved if step 1,2 and 3 are carried out appropriately. It should be noted that step 3 can not be carried out without accomplishing the first two steps. In conclusion this step will be accomplished if one know the signs that give an accomplished group leading such as sincerity by partner, respect from partners and so on

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