This coming semester, the SCS Writing Lab will be piloting a new offering: writing groups! Writing groups are very common in graduate school, especially when students are writing those final capstones, theses or dissertations. They are composed of students (either within the same field/program or across fields/programs). These groups can offer accountability, feedback, and support throughout the process of large writing projects.
What is a writing group?
A writing group is a small group of 3-5 students who meet regularly (often weekly/biweekly) to support each other in their writing. They may also have a facilitator in the form of a writing lab consultant or a faculty member (at SCS, groups will be facilitated by a consultant).
What do students do in writing groups?
It’s ultimately up to the group! There are generally three ways a group can function:
Accountability – students meet together to write. They might have a weekly meet-up at a coffee shop when they turn off social media, open their laptops and write. Or they might do something similar over a Zoom call–everyone is virtually “present” while writing. It provides a formal schedule for a writing block, which can be helpful for students who tend to procrastinate or have trouble with time management.
Feedback – students provide feedback to one another on their writing. Often, they rotate who is getting feedback each week, and the one who is receiving feedback sends their work to the group a couple of days ahead of the meeting. Groups can be disciplinary (everyone in the same field) or interdisciplinary (everyone in different fields)–more on this later.
Support – students meet to share their experiences in writing/research and swap strategies. They may also offer emotional support, as this time can be very stressful!
In practice, groups often combine some element of all three of these functions as they get going.
How much work is involved?
This is again up to the group itself, but we do recommend some amount of regular meetings to get the full benefit of a writing group. This could be anywhere from an hour of writing every week at a coffee shop, to 3 hours biweekly at a library to provide feedback. It is up to the group!
Should a group be disciplinary or interdisciplinary?
There are advantages to each, but we actually recommend interdisciplinary groups! Here’s why: while a disciplinary group has shared knowledge and expertise in terms of content, this can actually act as a hindrance in feedback or support writing groups. Sometimes, knowing the content well can get in the way of focusing on the writing.
For feedback groups, research has shown that when students do NOT have content expertise when leaving feedback, they leave better writing-focused feedback (Brooks-Gillies, Garcia, & Manthey, 2020). Feedback in interdisciplinary groups focuses more on organization and clarity than in disciplinary groups, which tends to get mired in small details. The lack of content knowledge allows students to read beyond the content itself to pay attention to how it is presented and explained.
For writing support groups, students sometimes find it helpful to be able to share setbacks and frustrations with uninvolved third parties, who are not familiar with programs, professors or classmates.
Disciplinary groups can certainly be helpful when it comes to content and research. Classmates may have some field-specific strategies that are helpful, and they can give feedback on content in a way that non-experts wouldn’t be able to. But, in many cases, the opportunities for this already exist in the form of classes (and let’s not forget the ultimate source of expert content feedback: the professor!).
What is the role of Writing Lab consultants in a writing group?
Lab consultants will act as facilitators to help students initially set up their group, guiding them through issues like deciding on the primary focus of the group and the frequency & structure of meetings. Consultants can attend meetings if students would like that continued structure, or they can just occasionally check in on the group’s progress and experiences. They can also act as writing resources for the group, answering questions or even preparing miniature workshops as needed.
How can I join a writing group?
Complete our interest in writing groups survey and we will help you connect with a group and get started!
How can I learn more about writing groups?
Some great writing group resources can be found at:
UNC Chapel Hill’s Writing Center
UCLA’s Graduate Writing Center
Brooks-Gillies, M., Garcia, E., & Manthey, K. (2020). Making due by making space: Multidisciplinary writing groups as spaces alongside programmatic and institutional spaces. In M. Brooks-Gillies, E.G. Garcia, S.H. Kim, K. Manthey, & T.G. Smith (Eds.), Graduate writing across the disciplines: Identifying, teaching and supporting. (pp. 191-210). The WAC Clearinghouse.