|Photograph by Margarida CSilva | Unsplash.com
Many of you already know the value of regular writing practices, such as the very popular Shut up and Write sessions. These sessions give you focused time to concentrate on small and achievable goals in the company of others similarly striving towards the clear and polished prose that is so important in a thesis. In February, Geoff Dickson also wrote about how effective Writing Accountability Groups can be to help keep writers on target with their goals.
Another really useful way to develop both your writing and editing skills is to join a Writing Circle. Writing circles (sometimes known as writing groups) involve meeting regularly with a group of other writers to review and discuss each other’s work. At La Trobe, thesis writing circles focus particularly on aspects of academic, research and thesis writing and are often organised around people working in similar fields or on similar types of studies.
The many benefits of this kind of writing activity have been well documented. Participants learn a great deal about their own writing by learning to critically review the work of other writers. They develop skills in critique, editing and facilitating professional discussions in a supportive and collegial environment. Members also benefit from sharing tips and resources and can develop long-lasting professional networks.
Since the advent of COVID, writing circles have been held online, which has produced the additional benefit of allowing members to join from anywhere, all over the world.
Here are some reflections from last year’s thesis writing circle participants:
The writing circle came at a perfect time. Just as I was writing up multiple papers for my PhD, it was great to meet other people at various stages of their PhDs and get practical support with writing. Learning how to appraise the writing of others and give feedback is just as important a skill as writing, so it was great to develop those skills too. Once COVID came, the peer support took on a new level of importance, helping reduce the sense of isolation, and it is the funding of services like this that makes La Trobe University a great place to study. The practical support I got from this writing circle meant I was able to finish a paper for a project called ‘Standardised Data on Initiatives’ (STARDIT) - which you can learn more about and read here: https://ScienceForAll.World/STARDIT/Beta/
I was pleasantly surprised how much I gained from joining the writing circle for a few months. The process of reviewing the work of peers on topics unrelated to my research was a great way to learn to analyse the writing itself as opposed to the content. This enabled me to have a more critical eye when reviewing my own work. Learning to provide different levels (e.g. micro to macro) of feedback was beneficial for own writing, learning to review my colleagues work, and begin peer reviewing for journals. Seeing that my feedback was consistent with others improved my confidence in how much I have learnt throughout my PhD. This also helped with my own writing efficiency, as I was able to back myself and not deliberate over words or sentences for too long! The circle provided me with motivation to write via feedback from other members, sharing experiences, or just from having time away from writing my thesis to be able to return to my writing with a clearer mind.
I joined the circle in the last year of my PhD Candidature, in anticipation of improving my writing and to meet others in a similar position.
I was finding the HDR endeavor to be a difficult and lonely pursuit and the engagement with the group provided me with much-needed encouragement, effectively affording a ‘time-out’ pause to reflect on my writing, to share manuscripts and learn from like-minded HDR colleagues in similar situations. It was an intersection of subject matter, writing techniques and an additional layer of personal support, particularly in the last 12 months of the Covid-19 lock downs. The time spent in writing circle group gave me renewed incentivization and was a very much looked forward to and happy two hours spent during my week.
My writing has improved enormously. The guidance from members of the group – their thoughtful comments, suggestions and recommendations - set me on an elevated pathway for writing, which I’m not sure I would have found otherwise. I received recommendations on readings and resources that were invaluable. The feedback from members of the writing circle improved my writing, particularly as we didn’t necessarily know each other’s subject area, so it had to be ‘readable’ and make sense. My supervisors have given me a lot of very positive feedback on the improvement on my writing since the writing circle group.
I would highly recommend joining a writing circle group. It has been a highlight of my PhD.
New Thesis Writing Circles for 2021 – Call for expressions of interest
The Learning Hub, in conjunction with the RED team, is now calling for expressions of interest to join a thesis writing circle this year. Writing circles involve meeting regularly with a group of other writers to discuss and review each other’s writing. Thesis writing circles involve a specific focus on academic style, argument, cohesion and coherence. Participants develop their own writing and editing skills in an informal, supportive and collegial environment, build new networks and share ideas and resources.
Two new circles will be established in April – one focussed on research projects/theses based in the ASSC college, and one focussed on studies in the SHE college. If you have completed your confirmation milestone and would like to join a writing circle, or would like more information, please email Dr Lynda Chapple firstname.lastname@example.org. Expressions of interest should include a brief statement about your discipline and the nature of your project, and a short statement of how you hope a writing circle might benefit your thesis writing. Applications close Friday 16 April, 4pm.
Lynda has worked in Academic and Language Skills Advising and as a Lecturer in English for many years, both in Australia and overseas. She can be contacted through the Learning Hub, or directly at email@example.com.