Thursday, 21 November 2013

Day Eight - with a little help from my friends...Peer Power

It is now Week 2, Day 3 of the November Writing Challenge. We hope that your writing program is still going according to plan. How many words are you writing each day? Or do you measure your productivity in the number of hours you spend writing? Keeping track of your progress can be an effective way of measuring your successes and identifying when problems are emerging.

Today’s Writing Challenge guest blogger is Dr Fiona Bird. Fiona is the Head of the Department of Zoology at La Trobe University. She has published internationally on the ecology of marine mudflats, with a particular emphasis on burrowing ghost shrimp.  Her most recent work is in the area of assessment.   In this piece, Fiona highlights the importance of her peer-writing group to being a successful academic writer. Time must be scheduled explicitly for writing; as she explains, structure and support of this nature has made her a more productive writer.


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Becoming a better, more productive writer with the help of friends


Fiona Bird

I like to write and I particularly enjoy the gradual reshaping of a piece from its first to final draft. I have written more this year than any other because for the first time ever, I have made time to write. Time for writing doesn’t just appear in your diary, it needs to be planned, booked in advance and committed to. One way is through regular participation in a peer-writing group. I meet once a month by email/phone with two colleagues from other institutions. We commit to a morning of writing by emailing our goals for the session to each other and then meet at lunch time via a phone conference call to discuss our writing progress and any hurdles we experienced. We provide each other with advice and encouragement and celebrate our achievements. We comment on manuscript drafts when requested and challenge each other to try new approaches such as writing more stylistically. I have become a better, more productive writer because of my participation in this peer-writing support group.

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Having both early and more developed drafts of your writing read and commented on by your peers can be hugely valuable. While opening up your work to the critical eyes of others early in the writing process can be angst-inducing, it is far better to receive their comments and questions while writing and thinking is still very much in motion and you are not entirely invested in the shape and content of a piece of writing. We suggest that you provide your reader with some cues about what you would like them to provide feedback on, if you’d like their general observations or more specific suggestions and the stage of your research and writing. In her book, ‘Academic Writing Retreats: a facilitator’s guide’, Barbara Grant, provides a really useful framework for the peer-review of drafts – for both the reviewer and the reviewees. She also describes some great writing group activities. You can find her book here. Robert Brown’s ‘Eight Questions’ might also help you to clarify and hone your ideas when you are planning or revising a piece of writing for publication. As Fiona suggests, your peers can be of great support to you during the writing process. The sense of being part of an intellectual community, where every member is striving to make a contribution to knowledge, can be reassuring when the going gets tough or when motivation wanes. 

It would be great to hear any tips you have about the process of peer-review. Post in the comment section below to share.

Good-luck and keep writing hard!

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