Dissertation Writing Groups

Decorative: "Writing group," with enlarged commas for the "g"s


"On the Value of Dissertation Writing Groups" (post) outlines one professor's practice of "bring[ing] students together into a dissertation group and encourag[ing] them to meet regularly and work with one another."

  • "Writing is collaborative, and scholarly writing especially so."
  • Librarians, archivists, and others -- "the people who have been reading drafts all along, making suggestions, editing, shaping" -- play an active role in successful academic writing.

1. The Problem(s)

  • "[C]ollaboration ought to be an explicit part of graduate teaching, and especially dissertation direction. For graduate students in the bench sciences, it already is."
  • "The glorification of solitary labor permeates the imaginary ideal of scholarship in the humanities and humanistic social sciences."
  • "[G]raduate advisers often fuel the myth of the solitary writer by failing to practice anything akin to [these] meet-ups."
  • "Graduate students in nonscience fields readily and collegially accommodate each other, but they don’t have experience working on teams and aren’t used to such formal collaboration."

2. Benefits of Writing Groups

  • "[C]reates socially enforced deadlines that keep students writing"
  • "[H]elps [students] see their scholarship as something they can and should do together, cooperatively"
  • "[H]elp[s] [the adviser] keep tabs on how various students are progressing, and check in on them informally"
  • "[U]sually leads to a better dissertation, since there are more opportunities for feedback along the way"
  • Inspires writers, adviser, etc. with ideas, suggestions for improvement, etc.
  • "[G]roup’s ties go beyond cooperation to create community"

3. A Dissertation Writing Group in Practice

  • "[S]tudents and [adviser] convene each month during the school year, at someone’s house or in a conference room on the campus."
  • "A week ahead of the meeting, two dissertators send out chapter drafts for everyone to read in advance."
  • "There’s always food, the great social mastic ... dinner ... lunch ... afternoon snack ... potluck ... pizza or deli sandwiches."
  • "Once [they've] eaten (and perhaps had a glass of wine), the writers briefly introduce their work, usually to spotlight particular questions for the group."
  • "Then [they] discuss it."
  • "Afterward, everyone gives the writer written comments they’ve prepared."
  • "The writer goes home with research leads, micro and macro questions to tackle, copyedits — and, usually, inspiration."

4. Further Suggestions

  • If "you don’t have enough advisees to form a group, ... consider banding together with colleagues and their advisees to achieve critical mass."
  • "You needn’t limit yourself to your own institution, either. Look to the example of how full-fledged professors do research: They collaborate with colleagues at other institutions."
  • "Don’t let the group grow too large. You don’t want it to become unwieldy, or worse, impersonal." 
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