Collaborative writing groups: Part One by Karen Strickland
Posted by atarrant

It’s November, it’s #acwrimo, it’s that time of year when we academics are looking for best forms of practice when it comes to our academic writing. Karen Strickland, Senior Lecturer & Senior Teaching Fellow at Edinburgh Napier University reflects on her experiences of face to face and online writing groups for providing support and time for writing. You can view her Linked.in profile here and follow her on Twitter (@strictlykaren).

Do you struggle to write on your own, watch deadlines pass you by and never quite get round to turning that thesis or conference paper into an article? Collaborative writing might be just the approach you need. Collaborative writing groups are a useful approach which can help you develop your experience of writing for publication and help you meet deadlines and targets for writing.

Writing groups offer the potential for shared experience of writing together either on the same article as co-author, or as a buddy experience, working alongside each other to develop unique articles. I have been interested in collaborative writing approaches for some time, as I think they are useful approaches which help to develop capability of newer writers and thus develop capacity. There are a number of ways you can write collaboratively such as co-authoring, writing in groups or signing up to a writing workshop or retreat. In this blog post I will share my experiences of a few of these approaches and suggest ways in which you can create opportunities for group writing. I have split these broadly into face to face and online groups.

Earlier this summer a group of staff from Edinburgh Napier attended a three day residential writing retreat.  The retreat was facilitated by David Baume PhD SFSEDA FHEA who is an independent international higher education researcher, evaluator, consultant, staff and educational developer and writer. The retreat allowed participants time to focus on preparing articles for publication or papers for conference presentation without the usual interruptions of daily working life. The format was a structured, facilitated retreat with opportunities for peer and facilitator support throughout giving a very supportive and collegiate feel to the event. The facilitator used his experience to guide participants in the peer reviewing and publishing process, from choosing the publication outlet to dealing with reviewer’s comments.

The first morning of the retreat, after a little discussion around the focus of our articles we were challenged to go away and write 500 words by lunchtime. We had to come back and report our progress, so the pressure was on from the start! The focus and setting of goals was crucial to the success of the retreat as we worked though the three days, revising and re-drafting our papers. By the end of the three days the participants all completed advanced drafts of their work. Overall this was a very enjoyable and productive experience.

The legacy of this retreat is that we have also continued to meet on a monthly basis on the first Wednesday of the month on the top floor of the library which has a computer room and easy chairs with uninterrupted views of Edinburgh Castle. This helps to provide on-going time for writing and the chance to meet up and discuss writing and peer review. Peer support really is the key to this writing group.

The value of face to face groups are that you get the immediacy of the group interaction, however you need to set ground rules, such as, how long to set aside for social chat at the beginning and end of the sessions. The social aspect of the writing group is worth emphasising but care needs to be taken not to let this eat into writing time.

It is not always possible to meet face to face, and it also limits the reach so how about online writing groups?

A colleague of mine at Edinburgh Napier University leads an open online writing course which has been offered over the past two summers for individuals who are interested in writing for technology enhanced learning.  This initiative was called WriteTEL and was led by Dr Keith Smyth. This initiative invited writers to plan, draft and review an article for publication, whilst being supported by a member of the WriteTEL team. A series of online webinars were provided, with guest experts who had considerable expertise to share in how to write for publication and get published.

This approach worked really well for individuals who perhaps had recently completed a project or had an idea for an article and just needed some support and guidance along with way. We also had participants from all over the globe. Time zones are an obvious challenge for synchronous webinars but recording the webinars meant that participants who were unable to log in could catch up whenever it was convenient.

What do these approaches have in common?

Goals for writing are set at the outset, for example:

  • Deadlines; short and longer term deadlines with goals along the way
  • Opportunities for review by a critical friend
  • Peer support and sharing expertise

What can you do?

Find colleagues with similar interests and set up your own local group, you don’t have to meet face to face, why not use a blog or twitter like local #acwrimo?

atarrant. Posted by atarrant


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