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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Group Project Survival Skills

The purpose of this guide is to provide advice on how to develop and organize a research paper in the social sciences.

Introduction

Participating in group projects can be difficult because it requires that everyone in the group contribute in a fair and equitable way to ensure the assignment is completed on time. Just as in the real world, however, if fair distribution of work in a group project does not occur, there's a very real possibility that everyone will suffer the consequences. Below are proactive, generally non-confrontational strategies you can use to encourage participation if a member in your group is not productive or participating effectively.

Group Project Survival Skills

Surviving the Boss

Does a group member insist on always having it his or her way? Unfortunately, learning how to work with someone who doesn't want to collaborate is an important skill. So what do you do? First, try some friendly but direct negotiation. Let the group member know what the rest of the group doesn't agree with, and offer some compromises that allow everyone to have some of what they want. Keep in mind that some people who come across as bossy usually don't realize it, and that this person may be easier to work with than you realize. However, if you have someone who refuses to negotiate, you may have a problem. One strategy is to accept the differences of opinion and report them in the final paper or presentation. Although you should take the higher ground and be polite, stand up for yourself and do not let the bossy member filibuster the debate. If a boss continues to dominate discussions without contributing to moving the project forward, get the professor involved.


Burdett, Jane. "Making Groups Work: University Students' Perceptions." International Education Journal 4 (December 2003): 177-191; Cohen, Elizabeth G. and Rachel A. Lotan. Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom. 3rd edition. New York: Teachers College Press, 2014; Folger, Joseph P. et al. Working Through Conflict: Strategies for Relationships, Groups, and Organizations. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, 2009.

Group Project Survival Skills

Surviving the Chatterbox

Let's face it, some group members see project meetings as a great time to socialize and gossip. This is particular true if group members already know each other. To some degree, this is okay because it can encourage good communication and a group of people who like each other will work well together. However, if a group member is steering everyone off task and wasting valuable meeting time, this is a problem. Communicate with a chatty group member and politely tell them that the group needs to stay on task. It may be helpful to create strict meeting agendas to help facilitate efficiency. You also might suggest a fun social outing after the group meeting or project is over, as in, "Let's concentrate and get this done, and then we'll go out for pizza." Such things can be a great motivation to get work done while, at the same time, keeping everyone focused on the task at hand.


Burdett, Jane. "Making Groups Work: University Students' Perceptions." International Education Journal 4 (December 2003): 177-191; Cohen, Elizabeth G. and Rachel A. Lotan. Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom. 3rd edition. New York: Teachers College Press, 2014; Folger, Joseph P. et al. Working Through Conflict: Strategies for Relationships, Groups, and Organizations. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, 2009.

Group Project Survival Skills

Surviving the I'm-Just-Too-Busy

Group projects pose special problems for students who are balancing school with a full time job, family, or other major commitments. A good strategy is, when you first meet, share schedules among group members concerning when there are particularly busy times in each person's schedule [e.g., other papers due, internships, mid-term exams, rush, etc.]. Despite this planning, things do come up. If a member of your group is in this situation, your group will not be successful unless you make accommodations. For example, you can arrange to have as few meetings as possible and instead communicate through email. You can also assign these busy students tasks that have flexible deadlines and can be completed at times that are convenient for them. Communicate with group members about what they need, and understand that reasonable accommodations are expected when you are working with a group. Note, however, that if there is a pattern of a group member declaring that, "I'm just too busy" [particularly if it always seems to happen right before work is due] consider asking that your professor intervene to determine what the problem is. In some cases, a group member being "too busy" may be a function of that person not managing their time effectively or prioritizing their social activities over their academic obligations. Since these are personal, private issues, your professor should meet with the individual student to resolve them.


Burdett, Jane. "Making Groups Work: University Students' Perceptions." International Education Journal 4 (December 2003): 177-191; Cohen, Elizabeth G. and Rachel A. Lotan. Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom. 3rd edition. New York: Teachers College Press, 2014; Folger, Joseph P. et al. Working Through Conflict: Strategies for Relationships, Groups, and Organizations. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, 2009.

Group Project Survival Skills

Surviving the Nattering Nabob of Negatism

There is a Chinese proverb that says, when the winds of change begin to blow, some people choose only to build shelters while others choose to build windmills. Most opportunities to learn in college are based on the level of time and energy you put into doing the work. Unfortunately, some people choose to "build shelters" around their learning opportunities by being perpetually negative or simply saying no to everything without volunteering an alternative solution [e.g., "that'll never work," "we can't do that," "that's a dumb idea," etc.]. Such behavior can also include annoying non-verbal cues like heavy, repeated sighing, rolling the eyes, frowning, looking exasperated, and so on. This negativity can spread, and undermine the group's ability to focus on the task at hand. One way to manage a negative group member is to acknowledge the issue that's driving their negativity but to ask what they find positive and build upon that to move everyone forward. If the answer is "nothing," though, remain positive and enthusiastic. Hopefully, over time, your positive energy will rub off on the other group members rather than allowing the negative nabob from sapping the group's energy and focus. If the negative behavior persists, ignore it and tell the person you’d prefer to move on to more productive subjects and/or consider encouraging them to seek assistance from the professor.


Burdett, Jane. "Making Groups Work: University Students' Perceptions." International Education Journal 4 (December 2003): 177-191; Cohen, Elizabeth G. and Rachel A. Lotan. Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom. 3rd edition. New York: Teachers College Press, 2014; Folger, Joseph P. et al. Working Through Conflict: Strategies for Relationships, Groups, and Organizations. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, 2009.

Group Project Survival Skills

Surviving the Slacker

For most students, this is the group project's worst nightmare. A group member who refuses to pull his or her weight can really drag everyone down, and it's infuriating to know that someone who didn't contribute may benefit from your hard work. So what do you do when you have a slacker? First, if a pattern of slacking off appears, find out if there's a real problem. Perhaps this student isn't really a slacker, but simply someone with an overloaded schedule. Or perhaps this student is avoiding the group because of a lack of confidence about their ability to contribute. If there's a reason why the student isn't contributing, try to offer some reasonable accommodations. For example, if your "slacker" isn't contributing because she has a huge paper due next week, allow her to sit out for awhile until it's finished. It's important to be firm with a slacker. Confrontation can be difficult, but it might be necessary. Inform the student politely that the other group members are feeling overburdened and would like him or her to pitch in more. However, if persistent firmness doesn't work, consider getting the professor involved. Professors should only be consulted when there is a serious problem because you need to learn how to deal with group problems yourself [it's one of the reasons group projects are assigned]. Nonetheless, a group member who neglects their work is a serious problem, so if you try to deal with the problem yourself and nothing happens, go ahead and get help.


Burdett, Jane. "Making Groups Work: University Students' Perceptions." International Education Journal 4 (December 2003): 177-191; Cohen, Elizabeth G. and Rachel A. Lotan. Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom. 3rd edition. New York: Teachers College Press, 2014; Folger, Joseph P. et al. Working Through Conflict: Strategies for Relationships, Groups, and Organizations. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, 2009.