International Doctoral Education Research Network (IDERN) Online Meeting, 26 Aug 2020


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By Cally Guerin

One activity of the DoctoralWriting blog is to report on conferences and events we’ve attended. Of course, this year that has been hugely disrupted: most of us have seen our favourite meetings cancelled and have consequently missed out on the interactions with our research community that are usually a source of inspiration and encouragement. Luckily, online alternatives are appearing to fill that gap.

On 26 August, the first online meeting was convened for IDERN, the International Doctoral Education Research Network (this group had previously planned to meet in Denmark in June 2020). The topic was “Distance supervision and its discontents: what do we need to understand?”, facilitated by Gina Wisker (University of Bath), Swapna Kumar (University of Florida) and me (Australian National University). We had about 60 attendees from 17 different countries around the world.

Any discussion of supervision inevitably touches upon issues around doctoral writing, and this meeting was the same, even though writing wasn’t our specific focus. The sudden shift to online supervision in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that many supervisors have been forced into developing different practices for working on writing with doctoral candidates.

Writing development online

A number of people in the meeting commented on the advantages of supervisors and candidates working on-screen together to edit and revise documents via the screen-sharing function of Zoom or in Google Teams. Each person at their own computer could more easily see exactly what was being done – which words were being manipulated and reasons for vocabulary choices; how the sentence was being reshaped to shift the emphasis or enhance the flow between ideas; and where paragraphs were being moved to foreground the central argument. This allowed for more detailed input and deeper learning than simply seeing the decisions recommended in track changes. The easy recording of online meetings was also reported as an advantage.

Online writing groups have proliferated in 2020. While various forms of writing groups have been steadily increasing in recent years, we have seen lots more Shut Up & Write sessions offered by institutions and also organised at local research group level this year. Opportunities to have company when writing in lockdown or when forced off campus have also taken advantage of the social contact between members – the talk before and after writing sprints is seen as very beneficial.

Online seminars were also mentioned during the meeting. These appear to be experienced as less hierarchical than traditional face-to-face events. Interestingly, it was noted that less confident participants tended to engage in the chat instead of remaining silent as they would under normal conditions. Perhaps these doctoral writers can find their voices through writing rather than speaking in such forums: they have time to think about the words and grammar, time to check the writing before posting to the group. Simply doing more writing – wherever that happens – is also likely to build confidence and better skills over time. More opportunities to write surely equals more opportunities to learn how to write well.

Online supervision practices

The following platforms and software were reported as useful for facilitating online writing supervision:

  • Slack to communicate across different research groups in the same field
  • Google Docs for mind-mapping with sticky notes
  • Padlet for brainstorming and creative thinking
  • MS teams for keeping material in one place and thus reducing lengthy email threads; and also for easy sharing of archived texts and facilitation of asynchronous chat

While talking about issues around wellbeing in remote supervision during the pandemic, Gina Wisker observed that thesis writing has in fact been hugely comforting for some doctoral candidates. Writing is one of the very few things that students (and supervisors) may feel they have control over in 2020; for some, writing can provide structure and purpose, as well as making some progress with their project.

If any of our readers were part of this meeting, I’m keen to hear your impressions of the conversation. There was a lot going on, and it would be great if you can add to this brief summary.


Should doctoral writers do free work for academic journals?


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By Cally Guerin

Doctoral writers are often keen to publish their work in highly ranked journals, thus entering the debate about whether or not academics should publish their work in journals run by the big publishing companies. This contention continues, especially with regard to COVID-related research. Those powerful academic publishers are accused of exploiting the voluntary work of researchers and scholars through the administrative and editorial load they undertake in organising and performing peer review, in making decisions about manuscripts, in corresponding with authors, and in finalising the published articles.

Even though I have many sympathies with the open access movement and applaud the efforts to make publicly funded research freely available to the public, I still do unpaid work for journals owned by big publishers. There’s value for me in reviewing submissions and in handling articles as an associate editor. I want to explain my reasons for doing this free work so that doctoral writers make informed decisions about what is right for them.  

Continue reading

A, the, an or some? Articles with abstract nouns in doctoral writing



By Susan Carter

Whenever I correct articles in doctoral writing, I get tangled trying to explain why, and often, like now, can only conclude that English is a sod of a language with tricky slithery rules that you simply have to learn and apply. Rules with English grammar do not always have an apparent logic. Those little prefixes to nouns, the troupe of articles, are as troublesome for many doctoral writers as getting journal articles published is for others.

It’s quite hard sometimes deciding whether a noun needs an article, and which one it might need. That is because many nouns in research writing are abstract, sometimes influenced by theory. It’s sometimes hard to tell whether abstracts are countable or uncountable, for example.  This post grapples with the task of suggesting how to make those ‘to article or not to article’ decisions. Continue reading

Introductions and conclusion: How same, how different?


By Susan Carter

Introductions and conclusions bookend or mirror each other. But they also differ from each other in significant ways. Doctoral writers need to be aware of the generic expectations of introductions and conclusions.

Recently, I was in a workshop with academic writers revising their introductions and conclusion. We were working on identifying strong rhetorical moves in these two significant sections, talking about what sort of moves, syntax, and word choice equated with persuasive beginnings and endings. The idea was that once we itemised what was strong, we could all improve the style and power of our own drafts. Continue reading

Best 8 of 8 years of thoughts about doctoral writing


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by Susan Carter, Cally Guerin and Claire Aitchison

It’s now the 8th anniversary of the first DoctoralWriting SIG post. To celebrate this with a quietness that befits doctoral writing in the time of Covid 19, we’ve chosen what could be regarded as the eight top posts, with links to these posts so that you can view them if you haven’t already. That slyly evasive passive verb ‘could be regarded’ of the last sentence is deliberate: it was a tough job choosing 8 bests from 344 posts, and other options would be equally defensible. So, although we have numbered these to ensure there really are 8, the order has no significance whatsoever.

First criteria for our choice was most viewed. Views give an inkling of what people in the doctoral writing community are looking for. We think that this signals more than just how cunningly baited the click bait was, and points instead to topics that are troublesome or that matter to doctoral writers and those who support them. We began the best eight with the three most viewed posts. The most viewed by far and away (209, 377 views) was, surprisingly … [DRUMROLL] Continue reading

Creative arts and industries: the practice-based arts voice


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By Susan Carter with Fiona Lamont

Fiona Lamont is a Research Services Advisor at the University of Auckland. Her job entails assistance to researchers, and often these are doctoral writers.

Over the Covid 19 lockdown in New Zealand, Fiona and I (mostly Fiona) facilitated a digital workshop for students from the University of Auckland’s Creative Arts and Industry Faculty (CAI). That faculty spans disciplines where practice, performance or the production of artefacts make up the majority of the candidate’s original contribution. But candidates must also submit a dissertation or exegesis.

The need to write a doctoral dissertation when you are a skilled musician, artist, dancer, choreographer or architect means crossing semiotic systems, and that can be a frustration. To what extent could that dissertation itself map onto the creative work? Structure and voice in writing seem like the dimensions where the best fit between creative practice and text could be considered. Continue reading