Writing Accountability Groups: A Tool for Enhancing Research Productivity (Geoff Dickson)

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Researchers are writers. The inability to write efficiently and effectively can impede career development and progression.

Writing does not come easily for most, and its challenges explain so much of the research-related procrastination I see in myself and in my colleagues.  

I know I work better when I have clear goals. A goal is an observable and measurable end result that you intend to achieve or accomplish. A well-planned goal also includes a timeframe. An effective technique for achieving goals is to make them public. 

Putting these elements together, I created a Writing Accountability Group (WAG).

A WAG provides a forum for scholars to set weekly writing goals and share it with other members. There is no strict definition of what a WAG is, and neither is there a set formula for how they best operate. Some WAGS focus on member outputs whereas others focus more on writing habits.

I have been facilitating (some might say ringleading) a WAG within the Department of Management, Sport and Tourism at La Trobe University since early 2020. 

The WAG has helped me publish, and publisher sooner, which ultimately enables me to publish more. There is also a certain peace of mind that comes with being organised and feeling productive. I don't enjoy working hard, day in and day out, only to feel that I'm falling further behind every day. The WAG helps me to work hard and I'm far less likely to think that I am going backwards. In addition, I've welcomed the opportunity to learn more about my colleagues and their research. As someone who is much closer to the end of their career than the beginning, it's sobering to understand the challenges of early and mid career researchers.

Every Monday morning (we purposefully chose the beginning of a working week), group members evaluate their success or failure with a self-judged score out of 10 in relation to the goals they set the previous week. In doing this, they also reflect on the reasons why this might be so. They then commit to the next week's goals. Weekly goals are tracked using a shared Google Doc. 

As facilitator, I try to use one of the reasons for succeeding/failing to generate a teachable moment, where I draw upon my wider knowledge of productivity, habit formation, and deep work. The WAG is scheduled for 30 minutes and, most weeks, we are done in less than 20 minutes.

Importantly, there is no review of writing content, and the WAG is not a "shut up and write" community. You could think of it more as a collegial check-in point. The WAG can usefully complement other writing and research productivity initiatives.

For me, WAGs work for at least two reasons. The first is that people are motivated by the pursuit of goal achievement. The second is that weekly WAGS break down the rather large challenge of an article or thesis into smaller chunks of work, something that makes procrastination on this front less likely.

That said, WAGS are not for everybody. For some people, no matter how friendly and non-judgmental the group, the idea of publicly stating goals can be an intimidating process. 

Let me finish where I started: researchers are writers, writing is a challenge, and procrastination is easy. 

The good news is that WAGs can increase researcher productivity and are easy to establish and facilitate.

The success of the WAG in my department is exemplified in its sustained membership. Nearly 12 months on and we still have a cohort of members that is more or less identical to those that started with the group. We are happy to welcome new members to our group so if you’d like to join us, just send me an email. The WAG was established post-COVID, so Zoom is the only way we know how to roll. We'll re-assess this when the campus comes back to life! 


Geoff Dickson is a sport management academic within the La Trobe Business School. 

He spends a lot of his time thinking about, and a lot less time actually writing about, the challenges of sport in the 21st century.