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The Challenge

The challenge is for your group to meet virtually at least four times in February to WRITE! Whether you are forming a writing group to work on your thesis or dissertation, grant or job applications, or coursework we hope these meetings help you achieve your writing goals.

In this Quick Start Guide you will find descriptions of two types of groups you can form, a checklist of what to go over in your first meeting, and the rules for participating in this challenge that will make you eligible for a prize at the end of the challenge. We plan on announcing the groups and winners on our website and through our social media accounts.

Types of Groups

Below you will find two descriptions of the types of groups you can form. We are calling them accountability groups and feedback groups. You are welcome to incorporate elements from both, but make sure this is clear with your group from the beginning so everyone's expectations are being met.

Accountability Writing Groups are meetings for graduate students to carve out concentrated time to write. The central goal of this type of group is to encourage making a space where you are accountable to your colleagues and them accountable to you for showing up and putting in the time. If this means simply checking in at the beginning of a Zoom call and sitting in silence writing together for the next hour or so, that’s perfect.

Feedback Writing Groups are meetings where the members of your group engage in discussions critiquing your groupmates writing. There are several ways that these meetings can be designed, but the central goal is to improve your writing by listening to a colleague’s perspective on it.

At your first meeting

(Roughly an hour and a half)

  • Begin with introductions (include what you plan to work on during the duration of the challenge).
  • Discuss the type of group you're making: accountability or feedback.
  • Set meeting times. Decide if you are meeting via Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc., and who is in charge of setting up the meeting and sending the link. Create calendar invites for these if possible and share with group members.
  • Decide when and how you share group documents, if you are using them (email, shared Google Drive folder, Box, etc.).
  • Plan what each meeting will look like. If you’re choosing the accountability writing group format perhaps define a schedule you can stick to. This can include a beginning of meeting check in and discussion, followed by writing time and then some debrief time. If you are participating in a feedback writing group, decide who gives and receives feedback when, and how to make it equitable between the group. Set a schedule from week to week and a plan for meetings.
  • If you choose the feedback writing group format make sure to discuss what feedback will look and sound like for your group. Everyone has varying degrees of comfortability with receiving input on their writing and its best to set expectations from the very beginning. For reference on giving feedback best practices please read the following information.
  • Fill out the registration form for the Challenge and pick who will submit the progress form at the end of each meeting.

Progress form

After each meeting your group will submit a meetup form to document your time together. The progress form will have you submit a short three to four sentence summary about how your meeting went and what happened in it. It is ok if these statements are similar from week to week.

We also want to show off your progress and commitment to writing. Please submit at least three visual images suitable for sharing on social media during the period of the challenge.They can simply be a screenshot of your Zoom meeting, but can be as creative as a TikTok-style video.

Both your statements and images will be submitted via a Qualtrics survey. With your group’s permission to do so, we may share your statements and images on the Graduate School’s social media channels.

Submit Progress Form

We are excited for you to participate in the Graduate School’s Writing Group Challenge. This project is co-facilitated by the Graduate Writing Center and the Graduate School.

How to give feedback

Having someone review your writing can itself be an exercise in courage. The complexity of reviewing scholarly and research writing, however, also poses challenges. Reading about subject matter outside of our areas of expertise may prompt a good deal of worry about our ability to provide useful feedback. As well, writing expectations can vary among research fields, and it can be difficult simply to agree on appropriate criteria to comment on the quality of a document.

Just like writing, reviewing is a professional skill that you may hone over time. Here are some discussion points to help you tailor your feedback to any scholarly or research document:

  1. What is the writer trying to accomplish? What is the goal of the writing? Ask the writer what audiences are supposed to think or do as a result of reading the document. Understanding the writer’s purpose can highlight parts of the text that may not match, or detract from, the purpose.
  2. Who are the intended audiences and what kind of audience are they? (e.g., Specialist; Generalist; General scientific; Lay). Ask the writer who their intended audiences are and how those audiences will use the text. While the writer might not know immediately, talking through this consideration together will likely hint at some of the expectations that need to be met for the audiences to be satisfied with the document.
  3. Ask writers for the specific types of feedback they seek (e.g., relevance of the research motivation, clear justification for the research, accuracy of citation style, active rather than passive sentences, and so on). It is common for writers to feel uncertain about the quality of their work, so it is worth spending time discussing not only the feedback that they are looking for, but even more importantly coming to agreement about how you will read and review their work. This may even be a good opportunity to put the writing aside and use the time to discuss writing expectations. We often believe that a review session must involve review. Equally important is having a conversation about expectations that help us to focus our review skills.
  4. Discuss which stage the writer is at in developing the document (e.g., 1-page brainstorm, partial draft, polished draft, etc.). Tailor your feedback to be appropriate to the progress the author has made thus far. Focusing feedback on development and clarity of ideas supports writers during their early drafts, whereas feedback on things like word choice, grammar, and sentence mechanics are generally more appropriate for later drafts.
  5. Identify your own relationship to the writing as an audience type. Are you a fellow specialist? Have you never heard of the research topic before, or even the writer’s academic field? If you are a fellow specialist, you might have important information about methodologies or the literature surrounding a given topic. If you are a generalist with some familiarity of the writer’s topic, you might consider how the document follows common principles and expectations. If your own area of expertise differs from the writer’s, try sifting through jargon and technical phrases to determine whether you can understand the relevance of the topic and the research goals.
  6. Language control—using the appropriate type, combination, and amount of words according to the writer’s purpose—is a hallmark of effective scholarly writing. What passages clearly convey the writer’s intentions? Where does the writing stray or differ from the intentions of the document? As specialists, we should be able to read easily for expression and accuracy of information. As lay readers, we should be able to develop a sense of what is going on even if jargon and technical details escape our understanding.

    You do not need to be a grammar expert to evaluate language control in a document. We do, however, need to acknowledge that understanding a document is just as much a result of our ability as readers as it is the quality of the writing.
  7. When providing feedback, avoid “is/isn’t,” and embrace “how” and “to what extent?”. Too often, writers will ask reviewers if the writing makes sense. If you are the writer, that’s a good start. But if you are the reviewer, you will need to provide substance. Letting a writer know that, “yes, the writing is clear,” does little to help the writer develop their document or their writing. Instead, identify what parts of clear and the reasons why you think the writing is clear. Provide an example. Good writing is situational: a well written journal article on quantitative research will be judged differently than a white paper that shops around an innovative research idea.

    Discussing passages that work well and those which may need revision—and the degree to which you think the writing successfully meets expectations—not only provides writers with choices for revising, but also with ideas they may use when seeking feedback from advisors.
  8. Be good to yourself, and be the best reviewer you can be. Reviewing writing is a demanding intellectual task. It can trigger imposter syndrome as easily as does the prospect of writing. However, you are still a thinking, feeling, breathing human being. You do not have to know a great deal about a document’s topic—you simply have to be willing to immerse yourself in someone’s text, ask questions, and learn from each other.

    The most useful conversations about writing happen when we acknowledge that we do not have to be perfect reviewers, when we do not have to have the perfect response, and when we instead talk about our impressions and the reasons why the writing makes us respond the ways we do.

Your skill as a reviewer will improve with time.