|Photograph by Margarida CSilva | Unsplash.com
Many of you know the value of regular writing practices, such as the very popular Shut up and Write sessions. These give you focused time to concentrate on small and achievable goals in the company of others who are striving similarly towards the clear and polished prose that is so important in a thesis. The focussed time and collegiality are crucial to success here.
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 University, Thesis Writing Circles focus particularly on aspects of academic, research, and thesis writing. These are loosely organised around people working in similar fields or on similar types of studies - all keen to improve and polish their writing.
The many benefits of this kind of writing activity have been well documented (see, for example, Weigener, Meier and Ingerslev, 2016). Participants learn a great deal about their own writing by learning to critically review the work of other writers.
They develop skills in written critique, editing and facilitating professional discussions in a supportive and collegial environment. These skills are particularly important for those anticipating an academic career, but can benefit anyone involved in writing in an academic space.
Thesis Writing Circle members benefit from sharing tips and resources and can develop long-lasting professional networks. Participation also reduces the feeling of isolation and the anxieties that often accompany the doctoral process.
Since the advent of COVID, Writing Circles have been held online, which has produced the additional benefit of allowing members to join from anywhere.
Here are some reflections from previous years’ Thesis Writing Circle participants:
“I participated in a Writing Circle in 2021 because I was interested in meeting other fellow Latrobe students as I had transferred from another university. I did not know what to expect as this was the first time I had taken part in this type of group setting. In all honesty, I was highly nervous and worried about my work being judged as inadequate. However, I had the opposite experience, finding that there was a great respect and interest shown towards each individual PhD project. I immensely enjoyed my participation in the writing circle as there was a real sense of travelling the same road together when often the opposite is true - a PhD student can feel quite alone and isolated, even more so during Covid-19 times! The benefits of participating included engaging with different material from various disciplines, freely asking questions to better understand the discipline of writing and the exchange of positive constructive feedback. Everyone was both encouraging and engaged in helping each other and trying to address areas of writing that we struggled with or needed some guidance on. I highly recommend taking part in a writing circle because you gain a lot from the experience that assists you towards progressing in your studies and feeling a part of the Latrobe university community.”
— Loredana Giarrusso
— Yvonne Ogagi
“Being a PhD research student the three key areas I set out to enhance my skills are in experimental lab work, presentation skills and writing skills. Writing as I go has been an intentional effort on my part as I was advised it makes the final thesis work easier at the end. I have always been able to write conversational English, however, writing my thesis and for publication in scientific journals has been a different ballgame and this is where the Writing Circle comes in. Through the Writing Circle, I have been exposed to different writing styles from diverse fields which has enriched my vocabulary and writing style. I have been able to also share my writing with others in a safe space where I get feedback from diverse people which helps give more insight into and refine my writing skills, making them much better. It does take some of the weight off when sending my written work to my supervisors as I know it is much better than it was when I started.”
— Made Rimayanti
“I joined the Thesis Writing Circle in April 2021, just after my Confirmation of Candidature. I thought joining this group was a simple way to break the tedium of working from home. Little did I know, this group would become so much more. It was the catalyst of my productivity, the chrysalis of my creativity. I learned how to write better and give reasonable feedback to my peers. It was one of the best decisions I made in my PhD.”
“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/”
— Jack Nunn
“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.”
— Brooke Patterson
"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.”
— Elizabeth Kennedy
New Thesis Writing Circles for 2022 – Call for expressions of interest
The Library, 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. The time commitment is approximately 2-2 ½ hours per fortnight.
New circles will be established in April. If you are a PhD student, have completed confirmation of your candidature 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. Applications close Thursday 24 March, 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.