The Research Support Group is a group of researchers at the University of Aberdeen who meet once a month to write and support one another in their writing - like EdJoWriWe but for staff and more sustainable! Several members of the Research Support Group have been kind enough to write to us about what they have learned and gained from their involvement. Today, we're publishing an article by Prof Patience Schell.
The Research Support Group is organised by Prof Schell and Dr Karen Salt.
We are grateful to Dr Andrew Simpson (University of Aberdeen) for putting EdJoWriWe in contact with the Research Support Group.
I’m in the early days of being part of a writing group, which I was eager to join partially because I’ve always been self-reflexive about my process of research and writing. The writing group has evolved out of the initial suggestion of my colleague, Dr Karen Salt, and then discussions with the other group members about how they write. These discussions included details such as ‘I like to spread my papers out, so I need a lot of space’; ‘I must have an internet connection, as I look things up regularly’; ‘I want to make this writing part of the work day, not evenings or weekends’. From these different concerns and styles, we’ve created a group that has been meeting fortnightly for two hours during the semester. We book a university room, preferring rooms high up which have views onto the North Sea, and we write, read or tidy footnotes alongside each other. We usually start with a quick catch up, and end discussing how the session was for each of us. Periodically, we meet over a glass of wine or food to have a more sustained discussion about the research goals we’re working towards.
What’s been the most important change to my writing to come out of this group is that the research/writing time is in my calendar, not just a notional ‘research day’ in my head, and if I don’t show because something ‘important’ has come up, there are people who know that I’m letting my work down and to whom I have benign accountability. This semester, we’ve increased our sessions to weekly, but our attendance has become less regular. We will need to discuss if the problem is that we changed to weekly sessions without enough notice in the semester (and thus will have better attendance if we book the time in around our teaching before the semester starts) or if weekly is simply too much.
As a new appointment to Aberdeen, I have been prompted by the change in institutions to think more about various aspects of my working process for myself and for my colleagues. Thus far, I have come to three conclusions. 1) As academics and PhD students, we do not discuss process enough. All too often, fora on research methods or teacher training talk at us, but don’t allow us time to talk to each other. Time to talk about process with each other, including discussing of seemingly trivial details, is vital. 2) We do not make use of the research out there which tells how to improve our working process. For instance, various colleagues have recommended How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing, in which psychologist Paul Silvia offers an evidence-based plan about how to be productive as an academic writer. His suggestions are simple: schedule your research and writing daily and don’t cheat on that schedule; keep track of what you do; stay attentive to your writing goals and, ideally, get yourself a group who will help you keep to your writing goals. I recommend reading the book yourself, as believe it or not, it’s laugh out loud. Research like that which Silvia draws upon shows that our university colleagues, all over the world, are spending their time developing methods to make us better and more satisfied scholars. It’s up to us to apply their findings. 3) Small changes can make an enormous difference. The writing group has helped me keep my writing focused, because those intense bursts of writing have made my other writing times more productive. Tracking my productivity, as Silvia suggests, is proving a powerful incentive to keep my writing regular, and regular writing builds up quickly. Having a notebook devoted to each project, which I’ve done for years, allows me to work on multiple projects at once, making it easier to pick up where I left off and record stray ideas. Even better, all this ‘keeping track’ gives me an excuse to buy lovely Moleskin notebooks, and using these notebook actually motivates me. Successful academic writing is about successful process, and being attentive to what works for you, while being willing to try new approaches.
 Paul J. Silva, How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2007).