How my university runs Academic Writing Month (#acwrimo)
25 October 2016 2 Comments
I was chatting with my good buddies @WarrenStaples and @jod999 the other week, as they wanted to know more about what went into the planning and running of La Trobe’s Academic Writing Month (#LTUacwrimo) in November each year.
Based on the fabulous, world-famous #acwrimo that was created by @charlottefrost in 2011, this month focuses on academic writing: the doing, the celebrating, and the learning of it.
This year will be the fourth time it has run at La Trobe, and the third time that I’ve managed many of the schedules and activities. The month culminates in the three-day RED researcher writing retreat (running for the 2nd time this year!), and has a significant social media component throughout the 30 days. As you can imagine, running an uber-packed, month-long program requires a team effort!
After much transparent prompting by @jod999, I thought it might be a good idea to share with you the layers of initiatives that we have running through our month, and how we pull it all together. I’ve had several questions about how we ran #LTUacwrimo over the past couple of years, and it would be fabulous to spread the #acwrimo love around more institutions!
So, what is #LTUacwrimo?
#LTUacwrimo is the La Trobe University-inflected version of #acwrimo. It runs through November, and it has components familiar to #acwrimo-ers the world over, such as the accountability spreadsheet. It has built up dynamics around it that mean it has a deliberately grown institutional and researcher community identity, with participants who have now been involved for several years in a row.
Here’s the introduction to #LTUacwrimo from 2016 at the RED Alert blog – it flags the month, and gives potential participants clarity around what they need to do to prepare for an intensive month of academic writing. The post draws on entries at the PhD2Published (they also have a Twitterfeed and Facebook page). Many thanks to PhD2Published for their leadership and support of #acwrimo activities every year around the world!
While part of the plan for having a dedicated #LTUacwrimo is to build up research writing culture and collegial #acwri groups at the university, it is also about inviting in others who may be interested in participating in #acwrimo but have no local network of activities. To this end, all online activities are open to everyone. This includes the tweetchats that top and tail the month, as well as the accountability spreadsheet and #LTUacwrimo weekly bulletins. Anyone can also submit entries to our photo competition, but only a La Trobe researcher can win the prize (we must draw the institutional interest line somewhere!). Check out our 2016 program for yourself!
If you’d like to run your own local set of #acwrimo activities, here are some guidelines on how we do it – feel free to take and adapt as you’d like!
- We invite great presenters to give great workshops on #acwri topics, at several of our campuses. This year, one of our workshops was inspired by a request from one of our PhD students. He wanted to know how a professional editor would approach the editing of an academic thesis, so we’ve invited in an editing professional and this guest will be conducting a hands-on workshop for us on this topic. As well as the nuts and bolts of academic writing, you could also feature workshops on writing productivity and time-management, different modes of writing as an academic (e.g. op eds, industry reports, blogging), creating writing communities, how to publish, or balancing writing with other aspects of your life. It’s a rich area to explore!
- As flagged above, #LTUacwrimo culminates in a 3-day writing retreat at our Melbourne campus. The retreat basically takes over one of our buildings and focuses on providing an enabling writing environment for three full days. It’s catered so people don’t need to worry about chasing down meals, and there are different zones for different writing group formats (more details here). I’m attending my first one this year as I couldn’t make it to the inaugural one in 2015, and – I have to admit – the idea of having 3 full days of writing is equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. I’m a regular #MelbWriteUp attendee, but that’s just one day…!
- Throughout the year, we usually have 4-5 active ‘Shut up and write’ (#suaw) groups across our campuses. They hold their sessions on various days and at various times. Their weekly activity is highlighted and continues through #LTUacwrimo. This year, we’re having a pop-up #suaw session that is taking place simultaneously across all our campuses through the wonders of video-conferencing. So, we’ll be shutting up and writing at Bundoora, Bendigo, Franklin Street, Albury-Wodonga, Mildura, and Shepparton – and having morning tea – together!
- Hold a celebratory final event. We are collaborating with the Student Union, through their postgraduate representatives, to hold a final afternoon tea (or similar) to see out the month and officially close it. It’s a great chance for local participants to get together and catch up, talk about how they went, and add more layers to their #LTUacwrimo community experience.
- Our blog, The RED Alert, carries a large load of #LTUacwrimo promotion and content. There are set posts that flag how you prepare for the writing month, participating in the tweetchats, and announcing the annual #LTUacwrimo photo competition (submissions through Twitter). If you have a look at the #LTUacwrimo tagged posts, you’ll see what I mean.
- As well as leading participants through various feature writing month activities, the blog carries academic writing-themed posts for the whole month. The topic range of these posts can be broad and have included how to deal with criticism of your writing, writing a PhD, getting things done, writing for Wikipedia, being accountable…the list goes on. How is this done? Well, in the lead up to #LTUacwrimo, we solicit the themed posts and request submission in good time so that the posts can be edited, formatted, and scheduled for one of the writing month weeks. This can take some prep and research on who might be a good (and available!) writer for particular topics.
Online / social media
This is where I’d say the majority of #LTUacwrimo action happens, and that if participants weren’t a part of these things, it’d be a much less exciting – not to mention lonelier – month for them!
- The heart of #LTUacwrimo (and any #acwrimo participation generally) is the writing goals spreadsheet. Ours is here, and anyone can join us. Signing up achieves several things:
- it makes you quantify your writing goals for the month of November,
- you become part of a community that’s striving for their goals together,
- you get weekly #LTUacwrimo bulletins from me that are incredibly exciting and uber-fantastic (I’m the motivational queen, no?),
- the spreadsheet allows you to log your achievements/progress as the month goes on.
- Our Twitterstream (@LTUresearchers) uses #LTUacwrimo all month (and in the lead-up) to signal activities and conversations that are relevant to academic writing and the community that’s developing around participating in the challenge.
- Tweetchats top and tail the month. The first tweetchat discusses preliminary challenge topics including how everyone’s prepared for the month, how and why they set their particular goals, and ways they’ve tried to ensure they’ll have constant writing time during November. It is one element in bringing together the #LTUacwrimo cohort. The final tweetchat focuses on how everyone went, things they’d like to celebrate and challenges they may have faced. This last tweetchat is also a perfect way for remote or regionally based participants to see the month out together.
- As mentioned above, our annual photo competition takes place on Twitter. That is, all submissions are via Twitter and must be posted there to be considered an entry. There is a provision for non-tweeters to email me an entry (that would then be posted to Twitter by me) but this is something that no-one’s requested yet! I love the photo competition because it’s on theme but requires participants to use different creative skills in their submissions. Many entrants have a lot of fun in their interpretation of the themes, and that’s always a good thing!
So, there you have it. That’s how we run Academic Writing Month at La Trobe University. I should say that this framework of events and opportunities for cohort-building did not happen in one go. The very first year, there was the:
- blog (set up purely to host #acwri entries) and
- the accountability spreadsheet.
The second year, we ramped it up to have the:
- photo competition,
- invited speakers,
- pop-up #shutupandwrite session in our Melbourne campus bookstore,
- and associated social channel buzz.
The third year – last year – we had our biggest year yet, with all of the second year activity AND holding the inaugural 3-day writing retreat.
This year, it’s all of the above and, instead of having the pop-up #shutupandwrite in the bookstore, we’re doing a whole-of-university session.
If you have other ideas or activities for an Academic Writing Month that you’d like to share, comment below! The Phd2Published crew are always on the lookout for resources and toolkits (see the bright pink icons on the right of their front page) to help others who are planning #acwrimo programs and activities. I’ll be contributing to their resources when I can.
La Trobe’s version of Academic Writing Month was created by Dr Jeanette Fyffe (Manager, RED [Research Education and Development] team) in 2013. She tells me that she had the idea, springboarding off #Nanowrimo, before she realised that #acwrimo (formerly #acbowrimo – academic book writing month) was even a ‘thing’. I believe her. She’s like that.