My Writing Group Genesis Story
Towards the end of my first year in my PhD program, I created a virtual writing group with four other PhD students in my field from two other universities. This group has proved to be a valuable resource throughout my program. I have made four wonderful friends, networked with well-known senior researchers, increased my writing output, and improved my writing/research ideas.
Each writing group is unique and should be structured to best fit group members' needs. Before I began creating our group, I read through the material on UNC's Writing Group Starter Kit (see link below) and Dr. Sohui Lee and Dr. Chris Golde's "Starting an Effective Dissertation Writing Group" to better understand the basics of a good writing group. Next, I reached out to PhD students at my same stage and invited them to start a group with me (see email invitation draft below). I had met these students during my first two academic conferences and thought they would all get along well together. I wanted to make the group as democratic as possible, so I educated myself on the potential writing group structures and presented my overarching goals for the group (establishing friendships/expanding social networks; improving writing and reviewing; creating accountability for writing goals). We all then discussed how we wanted to structure the group to accomplish these goals based on tips from the resources provided below.
Our group decided to meet every three weeks. Each meeting, we start by reviewing our past goals and setting goals for the new cycle. We then discuss any submitted writings from group members. These writings might be a 125-word abstract, a future conference submission, a theory section, or an entire manuscript, for example. We share feedback and seek to help our group members strengthen their writing and arguments. We continue with each submitted writing. (We normally have one or two writings to review per meeting.) Finally, we ask for submission for the next meeting.
After some trial and error, we decided to treat the review process like a mini journal. Each semester we choose one editor who takes responsibility to receive and distribute writings. The editor picks one or two people to give it an in-depth review and reply with reviewer comments (like in a journal), and the other group members read the writing at a more surface level and come prepared to talk about it at the group meeting. We believe this process is making us better writers, organizers, and reviewers. Again, we have found this process works well for us, but you may find something you like even better for your group. Be flexible and creative.
Occasionally, we invite accomplished researchers in our area to visit our group and speak with us for 15-20 minutes about writing top-tier research. Usually we ask them to share what they have learned or their best advice, but other times we have specific questions for particular guests. This has helped us improve our writing while simultaneously network with top scholars in our field.
Our group continues to morph depending on our needs and demands. It is something we all look forward to each month, and I have no doubt we'll continue our group well past our PhD program.
I would strongly encourage all early PhD students to start or join a writing group. To make this a little easier, I have included resources to help you start your own. These are emails, links, and files I used to create our group. Hopefully you find this information to be helpful: