Tag Archives: Academic writing

Ways to structure a writing group

writing group
Photo courtesy of Alan Cleaver via Flickr

This week I met with folks who are interested in forming a writing group; many of us did not know each other and we were brought together by the lovely Sara Harris of UBC’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences.

The meeting has prompted me to write about two different writing group structures I have been a part of, in the hopes that the ideas below may help others who are starting a group and/or looking for peer support in their writing.

1. Face to Face Regular Writing Group with Feedback

For a period of approximately four and a half years starting early in my PhD, seven of us from the same cohort decided to support one another in our writing.  Once we agreed that we wanted to have weekly, face-to-face meetings (same day, time and location–for the most part) and that we wanted to get feedback on our written work, here is how we tackled some of the logistics:

Meeting coordinator: This position rotated and relied on one of us volunteering to set up a Google doc for a 2-month period.   The Google doc had weekly dates and a line for “writer/presenter” and another for “reviewer”.

Attendance: We knew that there was no way all of us could make it to all the meetings.  So, in the Google doc listed above, we indicated which meetings we could attend and whether we wanted to be “reviewer” or “writer/presenter” at the meeting.  If less than three people signed up as reviewers, it was up to the writer/presenter to decide whether she still wanted to have a face-to-face meeting or whether she would be happy to receive feedback via email.  She could also decide to sign up for another date when more reviewers would be present.

Writer/Presenter:  Each of us would decide to sign up as a presenter when we knew (or believed) we would have a piece of writing ready.  Writing could be a conference proposal, a section of a paper, an outline, or any other text that might benefit from a critical friend.  The presenter would send out her writing to the attendees a minimum of two days before the meeting. Normally, the presenter would include brief instructions about what she was hoping to get feedback on, specifically (i.e. organization, clarity, flow, argument etc).

Length of work: As a group, we agreed that the maximum length of the text to review was 5 pages.

Feedback: Each reviewer would provide feedback to the writer/presenter.  Some would note their feedback on a hardcopy, others would use track changes, and others would speak their feedback only.

Meeting structure: Our meetings were 1 1/2 hours long. We would do a very quick check-in, and then get right to feedback.  We would go around the table and individually give our feedback to the presenter.  We used “leftover” time to talk about life, including writing, studies, work, parenting etcetera.

Our group started to fizzle once most of us had completed our PhDs. However, while it lasted, it was terrific!

2. Occasional Face-to-Face Writing Group with “Calls for Feedback” Online

In another type of writing group I belonged to, five of us from the same department decided to support one another (three of us were completing PhDs and two were doing their Masters) in the following ways:

  • Meet monthly for approximately one hour to check in and get a sense of what writing projects were on the horizon and when people would want feedback.
  • Follow up the meeting with a quick email outlining who would be sending out writing and who would be reviewing that writing in the coming month.
  • On the agreed upon date, writer would send reviewers the writing with any special instructions for feedback.  Reviewers would provide feedback within required time frame (negotiated between writer and reviewers).
  • Between meetings, if one of us had a piece of writing that we hadn’t anticipated needing feedback on, we could email the group with “Can anyone help me?” Group members could individually decide whether they could take on additional reviews.

Due to a number of different circumstances (graduated from program, moved away etc), we have not been meeting monthly for the past two years or so. Nevertheless, we still occasionally  email each other with writing requests and someone always volunteers to review.

Academic Writing

Professional Growth: Academic Writing

I have a strange fascination with academic writing. I love to read about it, learn about it, and think about it. Actually doing the writing is also part of the work (but I wouldn’t quite call that part a “fascination”!).

I have a regular writing practice which involves 30 minutes/day for 5 days week. I normally manage that by waking at 5 am, writing first, and then moving on with my day. I especially enjoy working on a piece of writing with others. Some of my favourite writing-related resources can be found here.

In addition to writing for peer-reviewed publications, I have a blog and publish posts in LinkedIn.

Below is a list of workshops/webinars I have attended to grow as a writer:

  • Providing Effective Feedback on Writing Assignments. Offered as part of the CTLT Institute, this 2 hour workshop provided us with techniques for being able to be more efficient and effective when we provide feedback to students on their writing.  Facilitators: Jackie Stewart and Meghan Aube. Loads of great follow up resources here.
  • 30 Articles in 30 Days. Punchy 4-hour webinar offered by Emphasis on Excellence. This was fun and inspiring and engaged the participants creative writing work.  This was a reminder that almost everything we do/think/consider can be written up and be of value to others. (April 22, 2016)
  • Blogging for Academics. In this webinar, Mark Leccese offered some advice for bloggers. Key ideas for me: (1) finding your voice is hard; (2) consider blogging for other blogs.Offered by the Text and Academic Authors Association (February 2016)
  • An Introduction to Academic Blogging. In this webinar, Dr. Lee Skallerup Bessette, spoke about her own path into blogging and some of the lessons learned which may help others as they start to blog.  This webinar prompted me to start blogging. Offered by Academic Coaching and Writing (May 2015)
  • Go Organic! Growing Your Writing Process From Seed to Harvest. In this webinar, Dr. Cassie Premo Steele  used metaphors and images of the four seasons to teach us about moving our work from “the seed of an idea…into a sustainable harvest”. Offered by the Text and Academic Authors Association (January 2015)
  • Leverage our Experience: Write More, Publish More, Stress Less.  Facilitator: Dr. Dannelle Stevens. Pre-conference workshop offered at POD (November 2014).
  • Habits of Highly Effective Writers. October 29, 2012. Facilitated by Dr. Helen Sword from the University of Auckland.
  • From Academic Researcher to Commercial Writer (Workshop offered as part of the Graduate Pathways to Success Program. Facilitator Simon Clews. Wednesday, October 19, 2011)