Guest post: Starting to write for your PhD

I ran the first ‘Starting to Write for Your PhD’ workshop on Monday.  The participants were an enthusiastic and talkative group which made for a nice re-introduction to facilitating this workshop for me.

The reflective pre-course assignment and pre-course reading seemed well received.  It was certainly a useful source of information for me to help guide the discussion during the workshop.  I also think changing the Elbow and Moxley articles to pre- rather than post-course reading helped participants to begin thinking about improvements they could make to their writing strategy even before they came to the workshop.  It also helped to streamline the workshop from three to two hours (a response to last year’s participant feedback).   Even with such changes though it was a packed session and I need to be aware of this and the impact questions and extended participant discussion will have on the timings of the workshop.  It was a desire to accommodate productive conversations between participants and answer any questions raised during the workshop which prompted my decision to send an online feedback survey rather than asking participants to complete the usual UGS hardcopy feedback form at the end of the course.

In addition to covering the standard course material around the writing process, identifying challenges/barriers to writing and offering some techniques and approaches to overcome these, the group posed a series of additional and very interesting questions on the issue of constructing a ‘voice’ in their academic writing (how to do so, what is allowed/appropriate?) and the new Turnitin plagiarism checking process the University has introduced.

The latter question led to a discussion about the use of Turnitin as a formative tool which could help identify academic writing issues and areas of necessary development.  This discussion chimes quite nicely with the arguments made in a number of research papers I have recently read exploring the role of Turnitin in preventing plagiarism and helping students to improve their academic writing.  This is something I am keen to investigate further with interested colleagues from CLAD, EISU, the Colleges etc to ensure our postgraduate researchers are making the most of the tools available to them and are receiving the support they need when it comes to their writing.

I also look forward to seeing how our new ‘shut up and write’ sessions and pilot peer writing groups in Schools work out this year.  I was especially pleased to be approached by a participant at the end of the workshop about the peer writing group she plans to set up with some fellow PGRs in the School of Social Policy.  These are very exciting new initiatives at UoB!

Catherine Mills



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