Task Requirements and Media Choice in Collaborative Writing

Robert Kraut, Jolene Galegher, Robert Fish, Barbara Chalfonte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Modalities such as face-to-face meetings permit rich communication, which involves both expressiveness and interactivity. Modalities such as text annotation or electronic mail, however, limit both. Contingency theory, as applied to collaborative writing, says that as the equivocality of the writing task increases, communication modalities that support rich communication are more likely to be used. In addition, it says that if these modalities are used, equivocal tasks can be carried out with greater ease and better results. This article explores these hypotheses using multiple data sources: an interview study tracing the history of 55 published collaborative articles, two field experiments comparing the use of face-to-face communication and electronic mail as media for collaborative writing, and a laboratory experiment comparing voice and text as media for annotating documents. Taken together, the findings of these investigations are loosely consistent with a contingency theory of media use, but they suggest that careful measures of task characteristics are needed to obtain a detailed understanding of the effects of particular taskltechnology combinations. Further, they indicate that it may be important to consider the distinction between the interactivity and expressiveness components of media richness in making decisions about what technologies to buy or build.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)375-407
Number of pages33
JournalHuman-Computer Interaction
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 1992
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Human-Computer Interaction


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