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Professors As Writers

Writing Groups


What benefits do writing groups have?

Meeting in small writing groups is an effective way for scholars to develop manuscripts, increase productivity, alleviate stress, and get constructive feedback. Such groups provide commentary, deadlines and accountability, all of which can help you write more fruitfully. These incentives make joining a writing group—particularly one that is well-planned and run—worthwhile.

How do PAW Writing Groups work?
You’ll fill out a short, on-line survey with information about your research methods and interests, types of writing you do, and reasons for wanting to find a writing group. Your information will be matched with other individuals who have similar writing interests or concerns. Then, you’ll be contacted with a short list of faculty colleagues whose scholarly profile is similar to your own. At that point, you can contact the other members to arrange an initial meeting to discuss how the group will work, find convenient meeting times, and so on. For a list of suggestions for sustaining an effective writing group, see below. For further information about Writing Group formats, see the General Guidelines.

How can I sign up?
To connect with others who want to find a group this fall, answer this [short, on-line survey] about your research methods, theoretical perspectives or writing concerns. Within two weeks of the deadline, you’ll receive an email identifying colleages with similar writing interests or concerns.

Fall Deadline: Currently suspended
Spring Deadline: Currently suspended

I tried a writing group before and found it didn’t work for me. What strategies help create a sustainable group?
First, decide what short-term personal goals you have in mind for your own writing. Five minutes of planning can clarify your objectives and help streamline further preparations. For example,

  • What manuscripts do you want to focus on and how would you prioritize them? Why?
  • Do you want to complete a draft, no matter how rough, by the end of winter break (and for what venue)?
  • Which grant proposal(s) are you planning to write, and by when?
  • What kind of feedback are you hoping to get from the group—a focus on the big picture, feedback on transitions, tone or how reviewers might respond, suggestions for clarifying or smoothing out the writing, or some other aspect?
  • If you are revising a draft returned to you by an editor, what major changes do you intend to make? By when?

Next, keep in mind that the most effective writing groups are typically composed of 3-5 colleagues from related disciplines or who are writing for similar forums (whether journal articles, grant proposals, chapters or books, and so on). Highly interdisciplinary groups can also flourish if group members’ writing goals are compatible. Consider your own goals: Would they be better met if the writing group was composed of readers familiar with your discipline—readers who could focus more on content, method, or theoretical underpinnings—or those unfamiliar, who might address instead argument, style or clarity?

At the first meeting, plan to discuss the following items, though not necessarily in this order:

  • Establish a regular meeting time and location. When, where and how often will the group meet? As difficult as it may seem to find a regular meeting time that suits everyone’s schedule, setting weekly, monthly or twice a semester meeting times now will help you keep them. If a convenient time seems difficult to find, consider creative solutions: plan a breakfast meeting or a late-afternoon meeting in a restaurant during the after-lunch lull.
  • Once you’ve decided on a place and a regular meeting time, choose who will share his or her writing first, who second, and so on. Decide, too, how you will exchange your work with each other and how far in advance of the meeting. Encourage each writer to include with the writing sample an email or memo briefly explaining the goals for the project and pointing the readers to specific areas or concerns to focus on in their feedback (See General Guidelines for suggestions on what to include).
  • Discuss your individual goals (see #1 above) with the group and collectively develop and record a set of group goals for the semester or year.
  • Decide collectively on ground rules for the group and ask someone (or volunteer) to type them up and distribute to the group. Though it might seem self-evident, it’s important to clarify in writing such items as “Each writer will submit his or her work ahead of time,” “Each reader will read and respond to each piece of writing before the meeting,” or even, “Group members will strive to provide constructive critiques using a helpful tone.”
  • Select a group facilitator and a note-taker, whether for a set period of time or as a rotating position. Explicitly naming individuals to fill these roles will help keep the meetings on track and will allow each writer to listen intently without having to make detailed notes him or herself.
  • Consider the pros and cons of different writing group formats as you select one to use for your group meetings. A standard format, in which the writer circulates the entire chapter, article or grant proposal at least a week before the meeting, requires a certain amount of each reader’s time but provides in-depth feedback. Other formats, such as the Reader-Response Group Process, can be less time-intensive but also provide less feedback or feedback only on short pieces of writing. If your group is interested more in accountability, you might also take time during each meeting to share specific writing goals you plan to accomplish before the next meeting, and to report back how you each met or revised those at subsequent meetings.
  • Whether your group uses one of the suggested formats or creates a process all your own, the General Guidelines offers a list of recommendations to keep in mind.

Supplementary Material
General Guidelines
Reader-Response Group Process