Running an Effective Dissertation Writing Group
March 3, 2015
Forming a writing group is a great way to combat the feelings of isolation that can come with dissertation writing. By sharing your work in a writing group, you can get feedback in a supportive, low-stress setting. As an additional bonus, reading your peers’ dissertation work can be a great source of inspiration and motivation that can help you work through your own rough patches. While writing groups cannot replace professional dissertation editing services, they can be extremely valuable resources for getting regular feedback on your work and further developing your dissertation.
For a writing group to be effective, it’s important that you and your fellow group members set ground rules and establish common goals. Here are some tips for running an effective dissertation writing group.
What will you do in your writing group meetings? How often you will meet? Will you meet in person, or by videoconference? How long will your meetings be? I’m part of a writing group that meets online every other week. For each meeting, two members of our group submit some work-in-progress, up to thirty pages in length. We meet for 1.5 hours, and spend 45 minutes talking about each submission. Your writing group may work differently. You might want to set a different length limit: perhaps 10-page dissertation chapter excerpts are all that your members have time to read. You might want to have shorter, weekly meetings; or longer monthly meetings. It’s important to find a format that works best for the needs your group.
Set the Tone
The first time your group meets, have each member talk about the kind of feedback they find most helpful. Some dissertation writers may come from departments that encourage aggressive, highly critical forms of feedback. Others may come from departments where the culture is to give more positive feedback. Be frank about the kind of feedback that works best for you, and be sensitive to the kind of feedback that others want to hear so that your dissertation writing group can come to a consensus about the tone that will work best for the group and help everyone improve their dissertations.
Set a Schedule
Whether it’s once a week, or once a month, schedule regular meeting times. Never end a meeting of your dissertation group without knowing when the next meeting will be: setting dates in advance will help people feel more committed to the group, will provide writing deadlines and goal dates, and will decrease the likelihood that people will flake out at the last minute. Be mindful, too, of how you use your time during meetings. Make sure to devote an equal amount of time to discussing each participant’s work, and take care to respect everyone’s busy schedules by not going over time.
Stick to Your Deadlines!
Decide how far in advance of a meeting members should submit their work to the group. If your meeting is on a Monday, for instance, consider making the deadline the previous Friday, so that dissertation group members have the weekend to read and respond. Establishing and sticking to this deadline is crucial. All dissertation writers are busy with competing commitments. In the interests of group harmony, it is important to respect the time that your group members are devoting to reading your work. One way to show that respect is by submitting your dissertation excerpts to your group in a timely manner.
Take Advantage of the Cloud
Consider setting up a shared folder in Dropbox, Google Drive, or a similar cloud storage service. Participants can upload their writing samples to the shared folder, rather than submitting them to the group via email. Some email clients can’t handle large, dissertation-chapter-sized files, so using cloud storage is a good way to avoid email bounceback and to keep all of the dissertation group’s materials in a centralized location.
Test your Software
If you’re meeting remotely and using Skype, Google Hangouts, or another videoconference platform, make sure to test your software before your first meeting! It can be very frustrating to start a meeting late because a participant is having technical difficulties.
Guide your Readers
When it’s your turn to submit an excerpt of your dissertation to the group, give your readers some guidance. What specific elements of your writing are you looking for feedback on? Are there particular portions of your submission that are new, rough, or that you’re particularly concerned about? By giving your readers suggestions about what to read for, you can help them give you more constructive feedbackand dissertation help.
Dissertation writing can be a drag. A writing group can not only help you with your scholarly work, but can be a much-needed social outlet! Make your writing group fun. If you’re meeting in person, consider meeting at a new coffee shop each time; or take turns bringing snacks. Treat your writing group as an opportunity to escape from your desk.
Writing groups can make the dissertation process much easier and can help you work through writing-related challenges. For in-depth line- and copy-editing, though, you can’t necessarily rely on your peers. Dissertation Editor provides professional editing services that go above and beyond what a writing group can do. For some, especially those completing online PhD programs, it can be difficult to find colleagues to form a writing group. You may also want one-on-one feedback and attention that a group setting can’t provide. If you’re in such a situation, Dissertation Editor’s consultation service is the ideal solution.