Setting up academic writing communities

Academic writing with all its trials and tribulations, can sometimes be easier and more enjoyable in the company of other people. So providing students with opportunities either to write together or to talk about writing together seems to me to be an important way of overcoming some of the difficulties experienced in the writing process. There are various ways of going about establishing joint spaces for writing but I am interested in exploring options for doing a bit more than this and trying to create some kind of academic writing community.

I sometimes run writing retreats for Masters students and I’ve written about this before. Retreats are also widely used by the Higher Education Academy to support and mentor academic staff who are writing their fellowship applications. Some useful ideas for organising writing retreats for students can be found on the QMUL Thinking Writing website. Writing retreats have some similarities with Shut up and Write groups. The Thesis Whisperer offers suggestions on setting up these.

There is also lots of good advice available on the Inside Higher Ed website. Various options are described here including traditional writing groups, writing accountability groups (where you have to answer to people regularly about your writing), online writing groups, writing coaches etc. An important point made here is that we all need to work out what our actual needs are in relation to writing first.

Write Inquiry offers a toolbox of ideas to help writing and useful links and is intended for staff and students in HE who want to set up collaborative writing communities.

You could try an academic writing meet up – or set one up

The Writing Cafe at Plymouth University sounds great. It offers students the chance to come and talk to learning developers and writing mentors about their writing. It also puts on writing events.

So there are quite a few examples out there. I’m looking into organising something around writing communities with students and will update this blog with my progress during the next academic year.


It’s dissertation time again

It’s that time of year again when Masters students are busy and engrossed with their dissertations. For many of them, it is their first attempt at doing their own piece of independent research. As a dissertation supervisor and academic skills developer, I really enjoy the process of working with students as they bring their dissertation projects together – it’s really rewarding to see how many of them become so engrossed and passionate about what they are doing. As the dissertation is such a significant piece of writing, there are always challenges along the way with both the writing and the research. So each year, I look for useful resources that might be helpful to students. Often these have a different focus and they cover topics such as such as managing time when writing, writing style, putting together a coherent argument among others. Resources I’ve written about previously are listed here

Obviously, lots of universities have their own useful resources and these tend to be tailored for doing a dissertation in that particular institution.

Others I have come across recently:

Dissertation dos and don’ts from the Guardian: how to write your dissertation  

The No-Fail Secret to Writing a Dissertation – aimed primarily at PhD students but useful tips on writing every day which will also be relevant for Masters students.

Books on writing dissertations which students may find helpful:

Biggam, J. (2011) Succeeding with your masters dissertation: a step-by-step handbook. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Bitchener, J. (2010) Writing an applied linguistics thesis or dissertation: a guide to presenting empirical research. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Bolker, J. (1998) Writing your dissertation in fifteen minutes a day: a guide to starting, revising and finishing your doctoral thesis. New York: H Holt.

Furseth, I. (2013) Doing your masters dissertation. London: Sage.

Hart, C. (2005) Doing your masters dissertation: Realizing your potential as a social scientist. London: Sage.

Murray, R. (2006) How to write a thesis. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Rudestam, K. (2007) Surviving your dissertation: A comprehensive guide to content and process. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sumerson, J. (2014) Finish your dissertation, don’t let it finish you. New Jersey: Wiley.




On (not) finding time to write

As someone who teaches on academic and research skills training programmes for postgraduate students, I spend a lot of my time advising students on strategies for writing – including getting started with writing, keeping going with writing, fitting short bursts of writing into a busy schedule, prioritising writing and so on. Some of these are strategies which I have made use of myself and I have found them to be helpful e.g. the Pomodoro Technique and I have commented on these before. Unfortunately, the reality is that I find it extremely difficult to make time for writing that isn’t a 100% compulsory part of my job. In other words, I’m not that great at following my own advice. The writing that I absolutely have to do like project and evaluation reports for funding bodies gets done. It’s the other stuff like completing a paper for a journal or writing a project proposal (useful and interesting but not totally necessary) that I find hard to fit in. Sometimes I am too busy with more urgent tasks, other times I get distracted by incoming emails or people coming to talk to me. Writing requires focused attention and if it’s late in the day, I can be too tired to concentrate. Yet when I get down to it, I really enjoy writing and always have ever since I was a primary school kid. I have come to the conclusion that for me, the best piece of advice I have come across is to allocate time to writing from Silva’s book How to write a lot: A practical guide to academic writing and it only works if the time I allocate is in the morning before I begin to look at emails. So that is what I have started trying to do – allocating a short period of time to writing several mornings each week. I plan to try and update this blog with my progress.

Writing a Master’s Dissertation – useful resources

I’ve been looking around for useful websites for Masters students which include some nice tips for writing the dissertation. There is lots of stuff out there – the resources below all look helpful to me.