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Writing Accountability Part 2 by Jennifer Lim: How It Measures

In the second of two posts about Writing Accountability (the first of which introduces the initiative and you can read about here), Jennifer Lim explains how writing progress can be effectively measured and managed. Jennifer’s post is part of PhD2Published’s new Academic Writing feature.

For accountability to work, measuring and monitoring progress are essential too the writing process. Monitoring your own progress helps in recognizing current productivity status and finding ways to improve it. Setting an ultimate goal and daily writing plan to achieve it is important for improving writing productivity. Progress measurement is of great interest to me. As there is no strict rule about how writing progress should be measured, in the Writing Accountability initiative, I find it amazing that everyone has different ways of measuring their personal progress. Here are some examples of how to measure writing progress in order to develop accountability.

Word Counts/Targets

Although some measurements are similar, there are still many different ways of doing it. The most practical method is word count. Whether the final writing achievement is a few thousand words of an article or more than 10,000 words of a dissertation or thesis, word count is the best way to measure and monitor writing progress towards an ultimate writing goal. It is also best to break down the ultimate writing goal into smaller daily goals. Let’s say you need to write at least 12,000 words in 6 months and that most probably you do not plan to write over the weekend. This equates to at least 100 words per day in order to achieve 12,000 words in 6 months. By having this daily writing goal of 100 words, you have a clearer writing plan to help to achieve the ultimate goal and can diminish the overwhelming feeling that a larger word count often creates. If writing 100 words a day is too easy, set it higher or to a limit that you feel is challenging enough to motivate you to write daily.

Time Measurement

Writing is not the only thing one does as an academic however. A lot of time is also spent on reading, making notes, data collection and data analysis etc. Should we not measure those that actually contribute too the final product of our writing? What is the best way to measure these? I personally think the daily time spent on these activities should also be considered. This helps to minimize the feeling of unproductiveness if no significant words are written on those days when other academic activities take precedence. So, another good way to measure daily progress is the total time spent. Set a minimum time that you are willing to spend on a daily basis to work on your academic activities, including reading, literature review, etc. Your time target should be reasonable and something that you can achieve such as 1 or 2 hours a day. Setting a target too high will only decrease your motivation if you can’t achieve any at the end of each day.

Combining the two

It is viable to combine both word count and time spent measurements as the daily goal. In that way, you can measure word count when you are writing and time spent when you are working on other relevant academic activities. I also find it is beneficial to record daily progress together with some comments about what has been achieved or lack thereof so reflection is possible for self improvement. Another example of measurement is from Sarah Ford (who Tweets as @Sarah_M_Ford). She has a unique formula of calculating ‘score’ to measure her daily progress (learn more about it here).

Other than using the spreadsheet for progress update in writing accountability, there are also some #AcWri enthusiasts who like to blog or tweet about their writing goals and progress. The #AcWri community on Twitter provides great peer support where people are sharing writing advice and encouraging one another in the writing process. If you work better with pressure, the #AcWri community can also act as (positive) peer pressure. Seeing others progressing well when you are not provides encouragement to  improve your own productivity. Either way, participating in the #AcWri community will only benefit your progress and increase your motivation. Knowing you are not alone in whatever obstacles you are facing provides good solace. The key to accountability is: knowing what you need to achieve and making sure you put in the effort to achieve it. Regardless of how you measure your progress, all you need to do is to find the best way to achieve the ultimate goal by setting targets that are reasonable and achievable.

Writing Accountability Part 1 by Jennifer Lim: How It Works

Today’s post complements our new #AcWri project and is written by Jennifer S. H. Lim, a Computer Science graduate, currently working on her final submission of her dissertation as part of the fulfillment for her Master in Computer Science at University of Malaya, Malaysia. In the first of a two part series, Jenn introduces her now established academic writing initiative. She also blogs about her studious life and tweets as Studious Jenn @mystudiouslife.

I love writing. I use it to share ideas and information with the hope that it engages people in conversations that generate more ideas. That’s why I also love blogging, where I can write freely about topics that interest me whenever I like. However, academic writing is a different story. I still write topics that interest me but the need to actually write is more intense than merely writing a blog post. Academic writing projects are usually longer and more time consuming and no matter how much I love writing, when it comes to writing academically, the process can become overwhelming. Most of the time, writing just doesn’t happen at all. Procrastination ensues and then I just panic and write  last minute, which doesn’t meet any quality control.

This approach just doesn’t work well for me, especially at the point when I needed to write at least 10,000 – 30,000 words of a dissertation over a period of time. Although there was no set due date in that situation, I knew that the longer I delayed writing, the longer I would take to finish it. My biggest problem is that when there is no one to ‘force’ me to write I eventually procrastinate more. Hence, in order to succeed, I have to take actions. I need to be the one who ‘forces’ myself to write and I must be accountable for my own progress and success. This is the reason I started the Academic Writing Accountability initiative, where writing goals are shared in a spreadsheet and progress are updated daily. This initiative revolves around a Twitter community made up of anyone who is interested in academic writing and is willing to share their writing progress. Hopefully, this initiative helps as many people as possible to become more productive in writing to achieve their goals.

It all started when I was feeling ‘blocked’ while I was writing my last few dissertation chapters. I thought I couldn’t write because I didn’t have enough time to write for long hours due to my full-time job. When PhD2Published started the Academic Book Writing Month (#AcBoWriMo) project last November however, I was glad to join so many in the initiative to achieve my goal. My writing goal at that moment was to complete two chapter and by the time November ended I had completed Chapter 4 and started Chapter 5. I realized that such an initiative had actually helped me progress better even though I didn’t achieve my goal completely. I still continue to be in touch with the writing community.

Eventually, #AcWri was formed because there were still people (including me) who were keen to continue the writing initiative. One day, I was tweeting about how to improve academic writing productivity. After some tweets, I suggested using Google spreadsheet to share productivity progress so we can keep track of our own goal and progress online and at the same time let others  hold us accountable. Once the spreadsheet was created, a few of the #AcWri regulars joined the initiative by sharing their ultimate/daily goals and their updated daily progress.

Why writing accountability? I have a few beliefs that motivated me to start this initiative:

  1. Daily writing habit is essential for academic success and this habit can be cultivated through practice. This is the practice where you become the one to ‘force’ yourself to write daily.
  2. Be accountable for your own writing by publicly sharing your writing goal: ultimate goal (i.e. complete a dissertation) and daily goal (i.e. write 500 words). By sharing your goal, all will know what you are trying to achieve and you are being hold accountable for achieving your goals.
  3. Productivity will increase when it is being measured or monitored. By keeping a record of what you have done, it’s good for reflecting and planning to improve your productivity.
  4. Peer support is the best motivation in academic writing. Knowing you do not struggle alone in the writing process is helpful.

Does accountability in writing work for everyone? The answer will vary among individuals but most importantly, you can just give it a try and see for yourself. It works wonderfully for me. My ultimate goal of completing dissertation chapters and a journal article was achieved using this initiative. Regardless of what you choose to do, be sure it works for you in achieving your goals. If you have any other ideas about increasing writing productivity, I would love to hear from you.