When word counts count: Responses to last week’s post from @thesiswhisperer and @katrinafee

Photo by Jonas Vincent | unsplash.com

Photo by Jonas Vincent | unsplash.com

My post last week – “Your word count means nothing to me” – generated a lot of agreement and some high-fiving about raising the issue of obsessing about word counts.

I’m very aware, though, that it could also have alienated some readers and, indeed, friends.

For this reason, I ran the post past Inger Mewburn (The Thesis Whisperer and thesis bootcamp devotee; @thesiswhisperer) and Katherine Firth (Research Degree Voodoo and one of the thesis bootcamp creators from University of Melbourne; @katrinafee) before I published the piece last week.

Inger and Katherine are people I like, trust, and admire. I wouldn’t be comfortable with offending them in the interests of a bloggy rant.

They both responded with typical honesty, warmth, and generosity.

I really wanted to have their voices in on the conversation, and they’ve very kindly allowed me to post their feedback in full in this follow-up post. Thank you, Inger and Katherine, for your considered comments and insight! Read more of this post

Your word count means nothing to me

A “sadistic” writing app, The Most Dangerous Writing App, recently appeared on my social media feed. It registers when you’re not writing – 5 seconds of no typing – and starts deleting what you’ve already written.

At first, I laughed and moved on. I thought it was a bit of a joke, that no-one would really use it for academic work or their thesis. If anything, I thought that people would see it as a critique of being blinkered to anything but words on the page and other ‘writing productivity’ ridiculousness.

I was wrong.

People started talking about wanting to use it at their next #shutupandwrite session, to see how it ‘might whip them into shape’. They felt they needed something to make them take their academic writing more seriously, and this app might be it.

I went a little #headasplodey.

Read more of this post

Little Chickie

Seven or eight little chickens with their mother hen

Chicks, by Rob Faulkner on Flickr

This post was co-written with Rosemary Chang. Rosemary is an academic developer. In her current role, she helps university staff with the scholarship of learning and teaching (SoTL) and teaching award applications. Her PhD research focuses on anxieties in creative writing practice and mindfulness. She tweets about uni matters, writing, and mindfulness @RoseyChang.

Jonathan: Last year, Rosemary and I were talking about her grant application. I explained that she needed to get two different types of advice – advice to make the core idea stronger (which I couldn’t give her), and advice about protecting her core idea from attack (which I could).

We talked about the central idea of her research project as being like a tiny little baby chicken. A precious and very, very fragile little chickie.

Rosemary: The ‘little chickie’ metaphor was very helpful advice. When I went to Jonathan I was in the thick of writing. My research partner and I had honed the project idea over many months. For me, it was a new area of interest. The writing process felt like molding quicksand. Although I’d written a successful grant application before, I did that for someone else. Writing my own was different. What pointers could Jonathan give me? Read more of this post

Shut up and write – so hot right now (Part 2)

The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy's cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)

The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy’s cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)

As mentioned in Part 1, I did a quick survey of various long-time members of the first #suaw crew I started with.

This first crew met every Friday morning at about 9am at Pearson & Murphy’s cafe in Melbourne, taking over the big wooden table.

Many of them still do, and I try to join them every few weeks to get my collegial fix. The fact that I occasionally turn up and face a table full of many people I don’t know makes me both happy and nostalgic. The organic nature of the #suaw sessions is their strength, and I miss seeing various colleagues regularly whose jobs and roles have changed. So, I sent them some questions about their #suaw experience.

Some respondents chose to follow my survey questions closely, while others provided narratives with their own formats.

Because of the great answers and different voices that came back, I wanted to present them in full here.

Voila Part 2!  Read more of this post

Shut up and write – so hot right now (Part 1)

The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy's cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)

The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy’s cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)

There’s no doubt that ‘Shut up and write’ (#suaw) sessions have spread happily and organically across academic institutions. The Whisperers are big fans of #suaw and have written about it with zeal a few times:

Many university graduate schools and researcher development units coordinate sessions, and consider them as crucial parts of a healthy academic writing community. Many PhD researchers know about them and look for them wherever they are. When they don’t find them, they start them. They become embedded weekly events, and can be spontaneous gigs, too.

#suaw formats are as diverse as how the pomodoro segments that organise the sessions are used. As well as shutting up and writing, my colleagues and I have been known to ‘shut up and blog’, ‘shut up and edit’, and – periodically – ‘shut up and review Australian Research Council grant applications’.

It has been almost five years since I attended my first #suaw session at RMIT’s Pearson and Murphy’s cafe. Read more of this post

Welcome to Grant Camp

Slide that says: How it works 5 minutes - what you need to do. 20 minutes - write like hell! 5 minutes - take a breather: coffee & chat. Repeat this six times! Half hour break around 3:30 pm.

How it works, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr.

Researchers often don’t have time to write a decent application.

That is, with the best will in the world, they can’t devote the time that they want to drafting their application.

As a result, research whisperers often get drafts way too late to be able to provide any useful feedback. People send me their drafts less than a week before the deadline. At that point, all we can do is make sure that it adheres to the rules and point out spelling and grammar errors. There is no time to rework fatal flaws, investigate lacunae in the literature review, restructure the budget, or add collaborators.

It is ‘Submit or Die’ time.

To try to avoid this, I’ve been running Grant Camps for my researchers. Inspired by the award-winning Thesis Boot Camp model, Grant Camps are half-day events that give applicants the time to address the major aspects of an application.

I’ve found that, while people can’t get a half a day to work on their application themselves, they can do it if I send them a meeting appointment and they plan it as part of their schedule.

So far, they have been quite popular. They don’t work for everybody, but the people that do like it keep coming back. Read more of this post

On the internet, no-one can hear you scream: A guide for virtual Shut Up and Write

SiobhanODwyer-smallDr Siobhan O’Dwyer is a Research Fellow at Griffith University (Brisbane, Australia) and the founder and host of Shut Up & Write Tuesdays, an online writing workshop for academics and postgraduate students.

Shut Up & Write Tuesdays began as a single Twitter account in 2013 (@SUWTues), and has since expanded to include two other accounts (@SUWTUK – servicing the UK and Europe; and @SUWTNA – servicing the US and Canada) with an international following.

When she’s not helping people write, Siobhan’s research focuses on the wellbeing of people with dementia and their carers. She tweets at @Siobhan_ODwyer.


Writing is a central part of academic life. We write to propose new projects, to secure funding, and to share our findings.

We also write to explore our own ideas, to critique the ideas of others, and to vent our frustrations.

Photo by Edgaras Maselskis | unsplash.com

Photo by Edgaras Maselskis | unsplash.com

But for something that’s so essential to our practice as researchers, writing receives remarkably little attention.

The academic business model views time to write as a luxury, not a necessity.

Rare is the academic or postgraduate student who has ever received explicit training in how, where, and when to write.

Because writing is an inherently private act, we rarely get to see how others do it.

Shut Up and Write, however, is starting to change all that.

Read more of this post

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