Writing as a social activity (Jennifer Sinclair)

Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison
If you’re part of a research team, you’re lucky to have a potential built-in group of collaborators when it comes to writing articles.

For many others, writing research articles or a PhD can be pretty much a solitary exercise.

But there are ways to make writing a more social event and some benefits of finding ways to make it more social. Some of the benefits are that it can make writing a more enjoyable experience and can help us keep going and on track.

An obvious example of how to turn writing into a social activity is to participate in things like Academic Writing Month (#acwrimo). You might not be sitting in a room together writing or working on an article, but you know there are other people out there who are focussing on writing. This can be helpful, especially if you can communicate with others through Twitter.

Another way to increase the social quotient of writing is to go along to any group writing events, like a Shut Up & Write (SU&W) session. In the one I usually run in the Library on a Thursday morning at the Melbourne campus, we always start with introductions and telling the rest of the group what we’re working on. In the breaks between writing stints there’s a chance to talk with other people (although it’s not compulsory). Even if the chat is just about the weather, it can be a nice change from the silence of writing. Strangely though, even the silence of the writing stints seems companionable because there are other people nearby doing the same thing.

I’ve also heard of at least two groups that have met to work their way through Wendy Belcher’s book Writing your journal article in 12 weeks. This is a formal and structured method for writing a journal article that requires quite a lot of commitment, with the focus definitely on getting that article written. It’s probably easier to sustain the commitment to a structured writing program if you’re meeting regularly with others who are going through the same process, even though you can work through the book on your own. If you’re in a group you can compare notes on how you’re going, share some ideas about how to find the time to keep at it, and informally evaluate the process.

Having a writing buddy or two is another way to add some social contact to writing. You could meet with a buddy regularly to talk about your writing progress and goals even if you’re not working in the same area. Or you could meet to have your own mini SU&W sessions. Some of the PhD students who’ve come to the Melbourne SU&W group have been inspired to use the same technique with friends and have said it’s really helped them to stay engaged with their work and make progress.

Lastly, as I mentioned at the beginning, co-authoring an article guarantees you’ll have contact with others. You’ll have a reason to talk about the work, discuss ideas and the finer points of expression and grammar.

Jennifer Sinclair is Senior Programs Co-ordinator in the Research Education and Development Unit at La Trobe University where she facilitates, develops, and delivers workshops (most recently on 'How to write an article for publication'). 

She has published articles on research development in Studies in Higher Education and Higher Education Research and Development, among others, and has a particular interest in the role of emotion and creativity in research. 

She co-founded the Sociology of Emotion and Affect thematic group of The Australian Sociological Association.


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