Virtual Writing Retreat Anthusia 1-5 February 2021

Report from online writing retreat

2021.02.18 | Mia Korsbæk

Leuven University and ESR Evelien Storme organized a virtual writing retreat for the ANTHUSIA ESRs from February 1-5, 2021. Funding came from the leftover budget from Summer School 2. 

The facilitators were Prof. Ruth Albertyn and Dr Christel Troskie-de Bruin who are affiliated to Stellenbosch University and have been involved in teaching, supervision, and research in Higher Education over the past three decades. They are involved in research and development facilitation in Africa and work across disciplines on topics related to research and scientific writing.

During this five-day virtual writing retreat students received guidance and mentoring in a safe space dedicated to writing and review with clear guidelines for application. Input was provided and participants then crafted their article with one-on-one discussion, review and feedback from the facilitators during the writing process.  

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Thank you for the opportunity to work with an enthusiastic, diligent group of early career researchers during this virtual writing retreat. There were initially twelve people who registered but some needed to withdraw before the time. Seven students followed the full writing process during the week. Unfortunately the workshop could not take place in the usual face-to-face format, but the writing cycle approach was adapted for the virtual platform. Despite interaction being compromised to a certain extent, the participants utilised the learning opportunity and made good progress on recrafting and refining their articles. The majority of the participant’s articles followed the ethnographic format and two of the participant’s articles followed a more traditional research article format due to the requirements of their selected journals.

By the end of the workshop, we had read and given feedback to all of the participants on the majority of their articles. Whilst we have seen the full draft of two participants, we did provide those who had not completed the conclusion and abstract, the opportunity to submit the full article after the workshop ended. It seemed that the timing of the workshop was appropriate for the stage of their studies as these ECR have the insight and maturity for the level of writing necessary for publication. We were impressed by the novelty of the work and the quality of the writing of the participants.

Six of the seven participants completed the evaluation form after the workshop and their verbatim comments are included:

Participants’ experience of the writing cycle approach of input, application, feedback from the facilitator and then revision

It was great. It was very well structured.

The writing cycle approach was very well structured, clear and helpful.

Helpful and efficient.

Very detailed and structured, making article writing a step by step process worth scrutinizing with a sense of segmentation really interesting.

This was really great - I was impressed by how quick the facilitator's response always was and just how sincere they were.

The structured approach whereby you discuss a section in the morning and then start the work on that section works really well. My draft article needed a lot of work, and therefore I spend a lot of time reworking and less on revision.

Progress made on each participant’s article during this week

I learnt a lot, but I also realised I needed to work more in the content of the article.

I feel that I have made a lot of progress during this week: part of that progress is visible already on paper and in the article, but part of that progress is (still) invisible and much broader in nature. I think it has really helped me to have a week of focused writing, alongside equally struggling colleagues, with dedicated input and trainers who are aware of all the possible pitfalls that one can get oneself stuck in during the writing process.

Good progress, although some work still remains I know what to do with it.

I feel, more informed and assured based on a journal's criteria.

I made significant progress. While I already had a first draft, the workshop helped me to think more about my writing style, argument and vocabulary (why it's not always a good idea to use jargon and long sentences). This helped me to produce a much better second draft - one that I'm much more proud of!

My draft transformed and the writing techniques and instructions as to how to sell, pitch, emphasis novelty etc were extremely helpful.

Relevance of the input to the participant’s academic development

It's very relevant. It also helps to reflect on my thesis.

Although I did not hear anything 'new' in the training, it does really help to receive this training while getting towards the end of the PhD trajectory and being able to put everything immediately into practice. In that sense, this training has been very relevant to my academic development.

Very relevant, learning how to appropriately develop an article for a specific journal and editor.

Very structural and increases the chances of academic footprint creation in my field.

The input was of great relevance because it always looked at the structure, 'flow', logic etc. These are things every young scholar needs to develop on.

This is a workshop every phd student should have - full stop. I cannot imagine I would have missed out on all of this if we hadn't had the chance to participate in this week's training. The trainers had done their utmost best to become familiar with the journals and the discipline's very own writing style, but perhaps more examples could have been used focusing on integrating ethnography into the article as this doesn't always follows the rigid structure of intro, methods, discussion, conclusion...

Relevance of the input to each participant’s current article

It did make me rethink whether my target journal was the most suitable one for my article.

The input to my article was very helpful: it helped me see that there is a part of the argument that I need to draw out further and I also learned ways of cutting words without cutting content, which is very helpful to me.

Highly relevant, as I hope to have it published in the coming months.

Very helpful and specific to my current ethnographic writing style.

Absolutely useful. It drew my attention to things I overlooked/took for granted and showed me how I can become a better, more effective writer.

Very helpful input.

Aspects of the input sessions which were most helpful

I think all the presentations are useful.

I really liked receiving an overview of the goal and form of the particular section/part of the article that you would be working on that day. That just put your head in the right space for writing. I also really liked the references to academic literature on which the tips and tricks were based. And I really liked when Ruth and Christel would give examples of their own experience or previous training participants and how they were able to use what was being taught.

How to divide up the work in sections to work on, and how to read them back so as to assess whether I actually do what i promise i will do.

The group sessions with my assigned article expert.

Personally, the Results/Discussion session was the most important. The examples used by the facilitators helped to illustrate their points very well, and to see how one could improve their writing.

Flow and capturing reader's attention.

Aspects that could be emphasised less during the week

Sometimes the input sessions dwelled quite long on the 'formal' characteristics of article sections. Technically we have heard all this before, but it is useful to hear it again, quickly. In that sense the input sessions could be less long or perhaps a little bit more interactive, even though I know this is difficult to do via ZOOM. But in general I feel the schedule of the training was very well-balanced and I liked the flexibility to make changes to it in consultation with the group.

Nothing specific really. If anything, a bit fewer examples from quantitative articles since we were all anthropologists, but this is no major thing.

The quantitative bits as an academic from a heavily qualitative field I found all the aspects to be of relevance. In fact, I wish the workshop ran over 2 weeks instead of just one :)

Not really any particular ideas about this

Recommendations for future writing retreats

Perhaps having a mandatory 14.00 session would actually be good. Just to check in and have everybody speak on what they're currently working on? (This recommendation is for ZOOM retreats). I also think it could be useful to set up two additional ZOOM rooms, so that both Ruth and Christel can have their own instead of having to discuss who can 'use' the general link at particular times. This would increase flexibility.

No changes.

Talk more about the editing of drafts. I think its a good idea to get a professional editor but its not always clear on what basis one should choose an editor (for example, language proficiency, familiarity with the discipline, experience as a language editor etc.).

As above - perhaps even more tailored to the discipline (in our case - including ethnographic material in the article). The course is intensive, especially if one's draft article needs a lot of rewriting. I would even think you could easily add 2 days to the workshop to fully complete the cycle, and spend sufficient time for feedback and revision of the conclusion and abstract section as well. But I appreciate that we can send the final draft to you for a final look.

General comments about the workshop

I found it very useful and I really appreciate how Ruth and Christel were well prepared, fun, attentive and knowledgeable.

Very inspiring and helpful workshop, highly recommended.

Lively, sensitive to academic demands and open to independent workings.

It's really impressive how despite being conducted over Zoom, this workshop was so impactful! I found the experience to be enriching in ways I had not imagined - the facilitators were not anthropology scholars and so their critique was unique in that it came from people outside of the discipline or field of study. There is great value in that kind of critique because one's work needs to be comprehensible to an audience wider than fellow anthropologists. During the course of the workshop the facilitators were always available if one needed assistance or advice. This was a workshop that I wish every PhD student could attend. It was intense but very much worth it!

Thank you Ruth and Christel - this was one of the most useful workshops I have ever attended and I wish every phd student the chance to spend the week writing with you. No doubt my writing will be better after this week.

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