While Caffarella and Barnett (2000) indicate that critique is
the most influential element in helping learners produce a better writing
product, critique can be an emotional event. Cameron et al. (2009) note that it
proved helpful in their workshops to discuss the emotions that emerged as
students prepared to critique and be critiqued. What emotions come up for you
when you consider someone else reading your work and offering critiques? How do
you plan to work through these feelings?I need the response to be between 150-250 words and at least 1 reference using APA 6th edition. I have included the three readings that were required this week which will be helpful in addressing the question as well as the references. The references should come from the articles provided.Studies in Higher Education Volume 25, No. 1, 2000
Teaching Doctoral Students to
Become Scholarly Writers: the
importance of giving and receiving
ROSEMARY S. CAFFARELLA & BRUCE G. BARNETT
University of Northern Colorado, USA
Data were gathered from 45 doctoral students through focus groups, observations, and
written and oral re¯ ections to ascertain their perceptions of a speci® c teaching process (the Scholarly
Writing Project), which was designed to assist these students in learning how to do academic writing.
It was found that preparing and receiving critiques from professors and peers was perceived to be the
most in¯ uential element in helping them to understand the process of scholarly writing and in
producing a better written product. More speci® cally, these students believed that two factors integral
to the critiquing process were responsible for building their con® dence as academic writers: personalized face-to-face feedback; and the iterative or ongoing nature of the critiques they received. In
addition, these students emphasized that although the critiquing process was powerful and useful, it
was also highly emotional and at times frustrating. The ® ndings suggest that, in teaching scholarly
writing, instructors should be very clear about the purposes and bene® ts of a strong and sustained
critiquing process, and assist students in learning how to both receive and give useful feedback.
University faculty often assume that their doctoral students begin graduate school as
pro® cient writers or that they will develop this skill during their program of studies. What is
shocking to faculty is that many graduate students not only do not write like scholars, but
they also may not think like scholars. This problem is particularly evident in professional
schools in which many doctoral students in the USA are full-time practitioners with very
demanding schedules and precious little time for research and writing. In general, many
faculty observe that teaching the scholarly writing process often comes in the form of `too
little too late’ . In particular, some students may not be exposed to the scholarly writing
process until the dissertation, which may have signi® cant implications for the completion of
their doctoral program. Those of us who assist students in learning the scholarly writing
process ask ourselves the following question: `Is there a better way to teach novice scholars
what we know about the seemingly mysterious process of scholarly writing?’
The purpose of this article is to describe a research study conducted in order to obtain
doctoral students’ perceptions of a speci® c teaching process (the Scholarly Writing Project,
or SWP), which was intended to assist them to improve their scholarly writing skills. From
our perspective, scholarly writing was equated with academic writing, such as the production
of dissertations and journal publications. We were most interested to learn what these
2000 Society for Research into Higher Education
R. S. Caffarella & B. G. Barnett
students found to be the most helpful processes as they engaged in scholarly writing early in
their doctoral program experience. In particular, our aim was to assist students to develop
and/or enhance the form, style, content and quality of their academic writing during the
initial phase of their doctoral study.
We begin our examination of scholarly writing by exploring the few studies we found that
investigated either the perceptions that graduate students have of scholarly writing or
programs that were developed to teach academic writing to graduate students. We then
describe the SWP and the literature upon which this process was grounded. Next, we review
the methodology used in the study, and follow this with a summary of our ® ndings. We
conclude by discussing these ® ndings and recommending ways to improve how scholarly
writing might be taught in doctoral programs.
Literature on the Scholarly Writing Process
Little attention has been given in the literature to graduate students’ perceptions of the
scholarly writing process or to what they have found useful in programs designed to teach
academic writing. We could only locate a handful of empirical studies which sought students’
opinions on the writing process (Torrance et al., 1992, 1993, 1994; Koncel & Carney, 1992;
Bishop, 1993; Torrance & Thomas, 1994), particularly the perceptions of students regarding
writing in graduate-level programs. For instance, Koncel & Carney (1992) found a discrepancy between graduate students in social work programs and faculty as to what constituted effective scholarly writing, discovering that students wanted to learn how to write more
concisely, follow a prescribed format and use correct terminology. Faculty, on the other
hand, felt that students needed to improve their ability to make solid arguments supported
by empirical evidence and theory.
Furthermore, Torrance and his colleagues have completed the most thorough studies of
graduate students’ perceptions of the scholarly writing process. They found that graduate
students’ notions were quite different `from those of novice undergraduate writers, and
approximately similar to those of productive academics. However, a signi® cant minority of
the research students reported writing dif® culties that might hinder their successful completion of their research degrees’ (Torrance et al., 1992, p. 155). They also identi® ed three
distinct strategies students used in approaching their written work: planning, revising, and
mixed strategies. Although these authors acknowledged that planning was important in the
writing process, it was `neither a necessary nor a suf® cient condition for writing success’
(Torrance et al., 1994, p. 379). Instead, `both think-then-write strategies and think-whileyou-write strategies have utility in the context of academic writing’ (Torrance et al., 1994,
As a result of their ® rst study, Torrance et al., (1992) suggested that some form of
writing training be provided to graduate students, but warned that `it is not at all clear what
form this writing instruction should take’ (p. 165). Therefore, in their second investigation,
they evaluated a training program that compared three conceptual orientations to the
teaching of writing (Torrance et al., 1993; Torrance & Thomas, 1994). They concluded that
graduate students bene® ted from short-term term writing courses; however, no one form of
writing instruction was suitable for all students. Rather, they advised that different instructional approaches should be incorporated and that students should be allowed to choose
those which ® tted their needs. Regardless, `whatever form the instruction takes, it should
focus on the production of text, and not solely on the sorting out of ideas prior to putting pen
to paper’ (Torrance & Thomas, 1994, p. 120). We agree with Torrance & Thomas (1994)
that the production of text is critical in teaching academic writing to graduate students.
Teaching Doctoral Students to Become Scholarly Writers
Therefore we designed a process, the Scholarly Writing Project, for teaching doctoral
students academic writing, which incorporated the writing and rewriting of text as a key
component of the activity.
The Scholarly Writing Project
The SWP is embedded in the ® rst doctoral core course required of all students in one
educational leadership doctoral program in North America. This writing project is one of the
two major expectations for the course, the second being that students should learn speci® c
content knowledge about leadership. The SWP had three major purposes: (1) to investigate
a speci® c area of interest focusing on the content of the class; (2) to engage in the process of
critiquing a colleague’ s work; and (3) to incorporate feedback from colleagues and instructors
in preparing a formal academic paper. Students were required to produce three versions of
a scholarly paper on a topic related to one of the themes of the course. Two drafts and a ® nal
copy of the paper were produced. A student colleague and a faculty member reviewed the
® rst two drafts and written feedback was provided for each draft in the form of a formal
critique. All faculty members who were involved in the process had had extensive experience
as reviewers for professional journals and had also received numerous critiques of their own
scholarly work; therefore, they had a good sense of what would help students improve their
scholarly products. In addition, faculty reviewed the students’ critiques to ensure that they
were also useful. Following each critique, students prepared a revised draft of their papers
along with a written response addressing the reviewers’ comments. In their response to the
critiques, students indicated how they addressed each of the reviewers’ comments, including
where appropriate their rationale for not incorporating their suggestions. In addition, students were required to meet at least once with one of the instructors in order to discuss their
paper; however, most students chose to meet with an instructor more frequently.
In developing the SWP, we tried to simulate what scholarly writing entails. Three
components were included as part of this assignment: content, process and critique. Content
focused on the ability of scholars to present an argument for a speci® c thesis that was
grounded in literature and/or empirical research (Olson, 1992; Hawley, 1993; Melroy, 1994;
Cryer, 1996). The process element acknowledged that scholarly writing was an ongoing effort
of writing and rewriting (Hartly & Branthwaite, 1989; Richardson, 1990; Dugan, 1991;
Sullivan, 1991; Olson, 1992; Curren, 1993; Lamott, 1994). Finally, critiquing consisted of
being able to receive and use critical feedback and to give helpful feedback as students
developed their ® nal drafts (Richardson, 1990; Wolcott, 1990; Ashton-Jones, 1992; Fiske,
1992; Olson, 1992; Lamott, 1994; Cryer, 1996).
Most of the literature supporting what we reviewed as important in the teaching of
academic writing came from scholars in the humanities and the ® eld of composition, who
addressed writing instruction in general or as an element of undergraduate education. In
addition, we used material written speci® cally for graduate research students, which focused
primarily on what components should be included in a research document, or on writing
mechanics or style (Rudestam & Newton, 1992; Creswell, 1994; Melroy, 1994; Bean, 1996;
Cryer, 1996). Although we found these materials useful, we also were aware from the
literature on writing and from our own experience that scholarly writing differed greatly
between graduate and undergraduate students as well as between novice and experienced
academic scholars (Hartley & Branthwaite, 1989; Torrance, et al., 1992). In addition, we
acknowledge our own biases in terms of what we consider `good scholarly writing’ based on
the traditions from our own disciplines and the context in which we write, i.e. higher
education (Baynham, 1995; Berkenkotter & Hucklin, 1995; Bazerman, 1998).
R. S. Caffarella & B. G. Barnett
In designing this study, and similar to Torrance et al. (1992, 1994), we believed that teaching
the scholarly writing process would make a difference to students’ perceptions about academic writing as well as to their actual practice of writing. Where we differed from Torrance
and his colleagues was in how we framed the major components of scholarly writing, and
when and how this material was taught. We chose to highlight three major facets of academic
writing (i.e., content, process, critiquing) and to integrate the teaching of the scholarly
writing process as an integral part of the initial stage of doctoral study. Since we wanted rich
descriptions of students’ perceptions of the writing process, our study was exploratory and
qualitative in nature. Qualitative research methods are appropriate when seeking the reactions and perceptions of individuals who are experiencing a particular phenomenon (Bogdan
& Biklen, 1992; Flinders & Mills, 1993; Miles & Huberman, 1994). Rather than attempting
to test or prove a series of a priori hypotheses or assumptions about the experiences of novice
writers, including the factors they felt were most in¯ uential in their development as writers,
our intent was to allow our students’ voices to emerge, an approach best suited to qualitative
methods (Miles & Huberman, 1994).
The subjects of our investigation included all doctoral students from an educational
leadership program housed at a university in the USA, who had been enrolled within the last
5 years (n 5 47 students in these ® ve cohorts). Two types of data were collected. One data
source consisted of documenting the reactions of one of the ® ve student cohorts as the
students experienced the SWP process during their ® rst semester of graduate study (n 5 10).
Of these 10 individuals, six were males, four were females, one student was of Hispanic
origin, and the rest were Caucasian. Nine of these 10 students were working full-time in
addition to attending graduate school. Throughout the 16-week semester, the two professors
teaching the course periodically gathered students’ written and oral reactions to the scholarly
writing process. Written responses focusing on their thoughts and feelings about the SWP
experience included having students:
provide their initial reactions to writing at the beginning of the semester (i.e. perceived
differences between scholarly writing and other types of writing, perceived strengths and
weaknesses as writers, and the assistance they anticipated needing to become competent
complete sentence stems about writing (e.g. `Doing the ® rst draft is ¼ ’ , `What I’ ve learned
about writing is ¼ ’ , `Thinking about doing a critique is ¼ );
re¯ ect on their perceptions about writing by keeping a written journal; and
complete a ® nal re¯ ection paper at the conclusion of the semester, summarizing their
overall reactions to the SWP and the course.
Also, throughout the semester, oral comments from the 10 students were solicited and
recorded. Open-ended questions asking what students were perceiving about the writing
process were posed at several points during the course: (a) near the beginning of the semester
prior to completing their ® rst draft of the SWP, (b) midway through the semester after
receiving feedback on their ® rst and second drafts of the SWP, and (c) at the end of the
semester when handing in their ® nal product.
The second type of data collection was a series of focus group interviews with the ® ve
student cohorts which had enrolled in the doctoral program over the past 5 years. Six focus
group sessions were conducted with 28 students. Interview sessions were tape-recorded and
tapes were transcribed. If students lived too far from campus or were unable to attend a focus
Teaching Doctoral Students to Become Scholarly Writers
group session, they were asked to complete a written questionnaire addressing the same
questions asked during the focus group interviews (n 5 14). As a result of these procedures,
focus group or questionnaire data were obtained from 42 of the 47 doctoral students (89%)
attending the program over the past 5 years.
The questions posed to students ranged from whether the SWP process in¯ uenced their
perceptions as writers to what was the most important lesson they learned from the
experience (see the Appendix for a list of the interview questions and questionnaire items).
For this group of 42 respondents, there was an almost equal portion of male and female
students, the majority being Caucasian. About one-third had not completed their coursework, one-third had ® nished their courses and were taking their comprehensive examinations
or were preparing their dissertations, and one-third had graduated from the program. All of
the respondents were professional educators, with about 80% being employed full-time when
these data were gathered. Since data were collected from ® ve student cohorts, perceptions
were obtained as early as 6 months after completing the SWP and as long as 4 years later.
Using the constant comparative data analysis method (Glaser, 1965), the researchers reviewed the transcriptions of interview tapes and the completed questionnaires, created initial
coding categories, and eventually developed cluster categories and overall themes.
As a result of our analysis of the SWP elements which in¯ uenced novice writers’ impressions
about writing, we found that preparing and receiving critiques from peers and professors
emerged as the most signi® cant factors mentioned by graduate students. Since perceptual
data were collected before, during and after students produced their scholarly writing papers,
we were able to examine developmental trends in students’ perceptions.
We begin by reporting doctoral students’ reactions to preparing critiques for their peer
colleagues, noting their perceptions before beginning the SWP, during the semester when the
SWP was completed, and after the SWP assignment was ® nished. Similarly, their views about
receiving written critiques are examined. Finally, the most in¯ uential elements of the
critiquing process are explored. To highlight our ® ndings, students’ voices concerning the
critiquing process are re¯ ected in representative quotations taken from their written responses, focus group interviews, and questionnaires.
As mentioned earlier, the methodology of the study allowed for the collection of data from
graduate students as they were actually involved in the SWP. To determine the developmental trends in their perceptions, students’ reactions are reported before beginning the SWP,
during the semester in which their scholarly products were being produced, and following the
completion of the project. Reactions before and during the SWP are from the 10 students
from the cohort class; perceptions after completing the project re¯ ect the responses of the 42
students who participated in a focus group interview or who completed a written questionnaire.
Before beginning scholarly writing. Most students remarked that they had little, if any,
experience prior to entering this doctoral program with writing scholarly products or with
providing feedback about their peers’ writing. Not surprisingly, there was some apprehension
about reading a colleague’ s paper and providing direct feedback. This apprehension manifested itself in two ways. First, because of their lack of experience and con® dence, students
R. S. Caffarella & B. G. Barnett
questioned their ability to provide meaningful feedback to another person. Their uneasiness
was revealed in these comments:
I do not know enough to help the writer.
What if [the other person] has made a huge mistake and I don’ t see it? Does that
make me a poor writer?
Who am I to judge another [person] when I myself am doing poorly in the process?
Second, although questioning their ability, there was a sense of excitement about the process
and what they would learn. This more curious and enthusiastic viewpoint was clearly
communicated by one student who wrote:
I am excited and optimistic [because] I have seen the title of the paper ¼
I will learn a lot.
During scholarly writing. As they gained some experience in providing feedback to their
peers, new insights about the critiquing process emerged as well as some continuing
concerns. On one hand, the opportunity to critique a peer’ s work raised the level of concern
about how their feedback would be accepted and provided a way for them to compare their
own work with a peer. These reactions are re¯ ected in students’ own words:
I’ m anxious to see how my feedback was accepted and [if it] made any difference
in my partner’ s paper.
I was unsure of the reaction concerning some of my comments and did not want to
upset my colleague.
I was relieved to read someone’ s paper and compare it to my writing ability.
On the other hand, the initial self-doubt of their capability to provide meaningful feedback
to peer colleagues still lingered. Comments such as `not wanting to give poor advice’ , `not
being able to provide more con® dent help’ and `feeling inadequate’ were expressed repeatedly, indicating a continuing questioning of their ability to critique one another’ s work.
After ® nishing scholarly writing. When students had completed the SWP and had the
opportunity to re¯ ect back on their experience of doing critiques, there was far less emotional
reaction than before beginning the process or when they were engaged in it. Emotionallyladen words such as `nervous’ , `uneasy’ , or `queasy’ were not used to describe the process.
Nevertheless, students continued to express some reservations and concerns about their
contributions and revealed some new insights about their own writing. Their lingering
concerns ranged from the type or level of feedback that they should provide, up to the
continued questioning of the value that their critiques had for their partners, which are
evident in these comments:
It was hard to get [students] to give feedback at a deeper, more substantial level.
I’ m still a little spooked about how much feedback to give a peer.
What level of feedback should I give? There’ s only so much feedback that I think
people can handle at a time.
This was my fear ¼ I would read over [the paper] two or three times and go `it’ s
perfect’ [and] I can’ t ® nd anything wrong with it. I’ d give it back to them with `great
Teaching Doctoral Students to Become Scholarly Writers
job’ written across the top. Then they get it back from one of [the professors] and
it’ s ripped to shreds. And it would just con® rm that I don’ t understand any of this
and I don’ t have a clue as to how to do [critiquing].
Besides these lingering self-doubts, students expressed positive aspects of having conducted
reviews of their peers’ writing. The major advantage of reviewing one another’ s work was the
learning that took place. As the emotional fears of critiquing subsided, the most common
reactions were the opportunity to compare other peoples’ writing with their own work and the
new information they gained about a topic by reading other papers.
Over time, students’ reactions to critiquing one another’ s written products revealed some
changes in their attitudes and some lasting impressions. As they gained experience in
providing written feedback to their peers, graduate students’ anxiety and apprehension
tended to dissipate. Although feelings of comfort with the critiquing process emerged, they
never lost the sense of their lack of ef® cacy as reviewers. Many students commented about
their perceived lack of credibility as reviewers long after completing the process. On a more
positive note, some of these students’ earliest perceptions about the value of the process,
especially as a means for comparing their work with a colleague, grew stronger the longer they
were involved in peer critiquing. In order to contrast these ® ndings on students’ reactions to
preparing critiques, we now turn our attention to the students’ views about receiving critiques
from peers and professors.
Just as for preparing critiques, students’ perceptions about receiving critiques throughout the
semester were obtained. Once again, these data were collected at different points in timeÐ
before, during and after completing the projectÐ in order to determine developmental trends
Before beginning scholarly writing. The novelty of receiving ongoing feedback from peers and
instructors raised initial concerns and excitement among many students. Once again, emotions ran high in anticipation of receiving feedback from several people. In a similar manner
to their early reactions to preparing critiques, students’ feelings ranged from insecurity with
their draft to keen interest in how others saw their work. Their emotions are best captured
in their own words:
I’ m afraid of the feedback and I wonder if the person reading mine would even be
interested in the topic.
[I am] very disappointed about my own writing.
I’ m anxious, but not in a bad way. I am actually interested to see what is said.
[My] feelings are dependent on who the reader is. Somehow, I’ m not as anxious as
I thought I’ d be ¼ Perhaps it’ s the release of letting [the paper] go.
During scholarly writing. As they were receiving their critiques and were having to respond
to feedback provided by peers and professors, students voiced growing comfort with the
process. Comments such as being `genuinely glad to receive suggestions’ and `[my] fear and
anxiety have been reduced by the way we approached critiquing’ surfaced. However, most
students remained apprehensive about responding to feedback, especially when two profes-
R. S. Caffarella & B. G. Barnett
sors had different reactions. The following comments re¯ ect the tension and con¯ ict students
felt in reacting to feedback:
I feel awkward responding to a critique. I’ m not sure how much time to spend on
I felt that the paper was really coming together, but after receiving the second
feedback, boy was I wrong. The feelings I had ¼ ® rst [I was] mad, really mad. Then
I met with [the professor] later in the week, I had cooled down. After I met with [the
professor], I knew I had to start all over again.
I detest having to deal with feedback from both professors.
I feel really uncomfortable having to choose [between two professors’ critiques].
As these reactions indicate, the greatest sources of dissonance arose in not knowing how best
to respond to various suggestions, especially con¯ icting feedback from different professors.
Students’ uncertainty regarding the resolution of contradictory messages from faculty seemed
to underscore the lack of con® dence in their writing ability. Without a sense of assurance and
ef® cacy about their writing, students had great dif® culty explaining to professors why they
were reluctant to follow their suggestions.
After ® nishing scholarly writing. Upon completing the scholarly writing project, strong emotions still emerged regarding being critiqued by others. One student commented with a
metaphor, indicating that receiving critiques was `scary ¼ like an intellectual striptease’ .
`Frustration’ is probably the best word to describe some of the students’ feelings, frustration
with a lack of assistance from a peer reviewer and frustration with having to respond to
con¯ icting feedback from different professors. These emotional reactions are evident in the
I really disliked the type of feedback I received from my colleague. I felt that the
student colleague was disagreeing with my topic, rather than critiquing my work.
My [peer partner] didn’ t have the con® dence from experience to understand what
I was writing, so it really wasn’ t very helpful.
and that became kind of tough because of being a novice scholarly writer, which
[professor’ s] advice to take.
One of my frustrations was that I felt ¼ if I chose what [one professor] said, then
I was going to have to discount what [the other professor] said. And my ego and
humility said I’ m not going to blow that off. This [professor] has a doctorate who’ s
way up there. I can’ t blow [the professor] off. I felt really uncomfortable having to
Despite these frustrations, many students were more comfortable with receiving feedback and
more con® dent about their ability to write a worthwhile scholarly piece:
You begin receiving approval from people who really are expert and doing the very
thing they are asking you to do ¼ But I found sharing the paper with both a peer
and faculty members to be really pro® table personally, from the standpoint that I
can say that I submitted this to a pretty high authority on writing skills and research
skills and got some approval. So, I walked away feeling pretty good.
[Receiving critiques] boosted my perception of myself as a scholarly writer. The
Teaching Doctoral Students to Become Scholarly Writers
verbal and written feedback I received regarding my thoughts and writing about the
topic added validity to what I perceived to be an issue worth studying.
Contrasting students’ earliest perceptions about receiving critiques with their thoughts
when the process was ® nished revealed some consistent reactions as well as some developmental changes. A strong sense of emotion ran through students’ responses from the
beginning of the scholarly writing process through to the completion of the project. Emotions
that began as apprehension and anxiety about how others would view their written work
turned into frustration and sometimes anger with the quality of the feedback they received
from peer reviewers and/or with the dilemma of how to reconcile different feedback from two
professors. At the two extremes, feedback either lacked quality and substance or it was
contradictory and very dif® cult to resolve. Over time, however, the quality of the feedback
received and the supportive manner in which it was delivered allowed most students to view
their own writing more objectively, leading to increased con® dence in their writing ability.
Most In¯ uential Elements of the Critiquing Process
These reactions of graduate students suggest that their lack of experience with such an
intensive and ongoing writing assignment contributed to their anxieties about how to provide
helpful feedback and how others would critically evaluate their writing. As was noted earlier,
concerns about their critiquing expertise and how to reconcile con¯ icting feedback did not
completely vanish; however, students expressed noticeable growth in their critiquing and
As students spoke about giving and receiving feedback, they felt certain factors were
responsible for building their con® dence as critiquers and writers. Foremost among these
elements were the personalized, face-to-face feedback they received and the iterative or
ongoing nature of feedback. Personalizing the process allowed students to comprehend better
how to improve their written products without feeling personally attacked. Similarly, knowing
that multiple drafts would be completed reduced the pressure to create a perfect product the
® rst time. These two elements are captured in students’ voices:
The piece that helped me the most was sitting down before I started writing and
talking through the outline with one of the instructors.
Face-to-face feedback and not correspondence, not e-mail, not drop me a note
[helped the most]. It was a hammer it out back and forth discussion.
I ® gure the whole concept of a second draft [helped the most] ¼ I’ m used to going
back for a second opinion, but not from the person [from whom] I got the ® rst
Discussion and Recommendations for Practice
Before discussing our ® ndings, we should be clear about the limitations of this investigation.
First, this was a limited sample of graduate students from a single doctoral program. As a
result, these ® ndings cannot be generalized to doctoral students in other graduate programs
where scholarly writing is being taught. Second, our methods for collecting data assumed
students were being honest and forthcoming. We have no reason to believe they were not
truthful in responding to their SWP experiences; however, we have little evidence to refute
this potential challenge. With these cautions in mind, we now discuss what students told us
about their scholarly writing experience.
R. S. Caffarella & B. G. Barnett
For the graduate students in this research study, the critiquing process was perceived as
the most in¯ uential element in helping them to understand the scholarly writing process and
producing a scholarly product. Yet, for these students, being asked to provide feedback on
their peers’ writing as well as receiving multiple critiques of their own written products were
novel. Despite the power of critiquing evidenced in this study, there is very little literature
describing this process and its importance in developing scholarly works. Rather, what is
stressed about scholarly writing are structural elements, such as the components to incorporate in a scholarly paper and the mechanics of writing. When the critiquing process is
discussed at all, it tends to be addressed in a paragraph or two and as more of an `aside’ ,
claiming that scholars should get someone to review their drafts prior to submission or that
students should receive feedback as part of the dissertation process (e.g. Richardson, 1990;
Rudestam & Newton, 1992; Olson, 1992; Torrance et al., 1993; Creswell, 1994; Cryer,
1996). (Exceptions to this are the books by Wolcott  and Lamott , which are
discussed later.) In addition to the brevity and lack of clarity about what the critiquing
process is, we only found two empirical studies related to teaching the scholarly writing
process to graduate students (Koncel & Carney, 1992; Torrance et al., 1993; Torrance &
Thomas, 1994). Although these authors did not discuss the critiquing process per se, they
con® rm our ® ndings about graduate students in professional schools needing and wanting
feedback about their writing by noting that the:
shared revision approach may be especially appropriate for writers at a postgraduate level. Apart from its apparent bene® ts for productivity, it creates a peer-support
environment which many students are likely to ® nd valuable, given that studying for
a research degree can involve considerable isolation. (Torrance et al., 1993, p. 182)
Not surprisingly, there was initial apprehension and anxiety about preparing and receiving feedback. These feelings tended to wane over time, but did not completely disappear.
With time and practice, the scholarly writing process eased students’ fears about critiquing
one another’ s written work and increased their sense of ef® cacy and self-con® dence as
writers. Nevertheless, feelings of self-doubt lingered, especially regarding their inadequacy as
reviewers and their inability to resolve con¯ icting feedback from professors. As Wolcott
(1990) so astutely observed, `Timely and useful feedback on writing is hard to give and hard
to take’ (p. 43). He advises writers to anticipate disagreements in the feedback and how these
might be resolved. He also stresses that feedback implies nurturance, which most authors
crave, and draws attention to what has already been completed, in contrast to where writers
may want to go with their material. Therefore, Wolcott advises writers not to seek feedback
too soon in the process, and to `select readers with care and instruct them as to the kind of
criticism [they] believe will be helpful’ (p. 44).
Perhaps the most striking difference between students’ perceptions about providing and
receiving feedback was found in their emotional responses. As they gained experience
providing critiques, their comments became much less emotionally charged. Over time,
students’ initial nervousness and anxiety gave way to a sense of growth, especially the ability
to compare and contrast their work with their peers. In stark contrast, emotions about
receiving critiques ran high throughout the process, and were still quite evident long after
completing the assignment. For some students, frustrations with the type of feedback they
received appeared to fester over time. Not only were they disappointed with the lack of useful
feedback from their peers, but a few students also were extremely frustrated with the problem
of dealing with con¯ icting feedback from different professors. In contrast, other students
perceived receiving the critiques in very positive emotional terms, voiced by such sentiments
Teaching Doctoral Students to Become Scholarly Writers
as believing other people were quite supportive of their ideas, receiving approval for their
work, and generally feeling quite satis® ed with their progress.
The current literature on critiquing, and especially on receiving critiques, almost totally
ignores the positive and negative emotional aspects of receiving feedback on one’ s writing.
Rather, the typical advice given is to be non-defensive when receiving feedback and to learn
how to manage negative feedback with grace (Rudestam & Newton, 1992). Only two of the
studies we reviewed even hinted at the fact that receiving critical feedback can be very
dif® cult emotionally for writers (Fiske, 1992; Lamott, 1994). Of these two, Lamott (1994)
does the best job in exploring the emotionality of receiving feedback on one’ s work. In her
personal re¯ ections, she relates the following:
My ® rst response if they have a lot of suggestions is never profound relief that I have
someone in my life who will be honest with me and help me do the very best work
of which I am capable. No, my ® rst thought is, `Well, I’ m sorry, but I can’ t be
friends with you anymore, because you have too many problems. And you have a
bad personality. And a bad character.’
Sometimes I can’ t get words to come out of my mouth because I am so disappointed ¼ Criticism is very hard to take ¼ But these friends usually talk me into
going through the manuscript with them ¼ so by the end, I am breathing a great
sigh of relief and even gratitude. When someone reliable gives you feedback you
now have some true sense of your work’ s effect on people. (pp. 166± 167)
Lamott (1994) also observes that whereas writing alone can be less painful, receiving
feedback from others helps improve her work. The students in our study echoed the
sentiments of Lamott (1994) and Fiske (1992), namely that the feedback process can be
highly emotional and frustrating. Therefore we believe that, when teaching novice scholars
about the scholarly writing process, it is important to acknowledge their emotions, both good
and bad, as legitimate and healthy reactions since they are developing the skills needed to
become successful writers.
In speculating about the difference in students’ emotional reactions when preparing
versus receiving critiques, we have two observations. First, this difference may be a result of
the personal investment involved in producing a scholarly product, especially for doctoral
students. Although providing feedback to other graduate students builds mutual trust and
support for many students, they are keenly aware that their ultimate success in the program
will not be assessed by the quality of their peer feedback. Rather, they know that their own
writing will be critically evaluated throughout their program of studies, culminating with a
dissertation. The fact of the matter is that graduate students, and most professionals, are
judged on what they write. With the stakes so high regarding their writing ability, it is not
surprising that graduate students are so emotionally invested in how their work is critiqued.
Second, if writing is a personal act (Lamott, 1994), then students’ feelings of self-worth as
productive scholars and learners may be tied to this process of having their work publicly
critiqued. Therefore the critiques they receive may take on a very personal meaning,
validating their worth as writers and scholars, questioning their ability to write, and leaving
them to ponder on whether or not they should continue in a doctoral program.
In examining the literature on scholarly writing, what became apparent even in the
limited material that was available on the critiquing process was that almost all of this
literature came from ® elds outside of professional schools. Other than Wolcott’ s (1990) book,
the process of giving and receiving feedback as an important component of the scholarly
writing process is allotted only one or two paragraphs or is ignored altogether (Madsen, 1992;
R. S. Caffarella & B. G. Barnett
Rudestam & Newton, 1992; Torrance et al., 1993; Creswell, 1994; Melroy, 1994; Rossman,
1995; Cryer, 1996). Considering our students’ impressions about the value and importance
of feedback, we were surprised that critiquing has not received more attention in the
literature. Our recommendation, based on our students’ observations and our own experiences as faculty, is that treatment of the scholarly writing process should include more
in-depth material about both giving and receiving feedback. This might include guidelines as
to what skills reviewers should possess, what types of feedback to include in the critiquing
process, how to handle con¯ icting feedback from different professors, and an acknowledgement that being critiqued is both a rational and an emotional process for most people,
especially for novice scholars.
In summary, our students perceived that the critiquing process was one of the most
in¯ uential elements of the scholarly writing process in terms of both learning about the
process and improving their ® nal product. As one student observed:
the interaction that I had with others regarding my work ¼ at ® rst it did not seem
® tting that I would incorporate into my scholarly writing project an idea or
suggestion made by someone else. I felt that I should somehow give credit to them
¼ Exchanging works in progress not only helped me learn about the scholarly
writing process, but it gave me the con® dence to hand my work to another [person].
Therefore we would suggest that, as professors work with their students in teaching the
scholarly writing process, they listen to the voices of their students and incorporate into their
teaching and mentoring of students throughout their doctoral programs advice on how to
both provide and receive feedback in an effective and helpful manner. Furthermore, we
recommend that faculty carefully consider what the critiquing process is intended to achieve
and prepare materials for students which will help them incorporate this process into their
practice as students and professional educators.
Correspondence: Rosemary S. Caffarella, Professor, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, 421 A Mckee Hall, University of Northern Colorado Greeley, Colorado 80639, USA
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R. S. Caffarella & B. G. Barnett
Appendix. Focus Group Interview Guide
Please introduce yourself, and tell us where you live and work, and where you are in your doctoral
program in terms of course work.
Did the scholarly writing assignment in Doctoral Core I in¯ uence your perceptions about the scholarly
If YES: What elements of the scholarly writing assignment most in¯ uenced these perceptions?
If NO: Why did your perceptions not change?
Did the scholarly writing assignment in¯ uence your perceptions about yourselves as scholarly writers?
If YES: What elements of the assignment most in¯ uenced these perceptions?
If NO: Why did your perceptions not change?
Has completing the scholarly writing assignment assisted you in:
Your other classes?
The comprehensive examination process?
The writing of the dissertation?
If YES, probe for speci® c examples.
If you have not reached the comprehensive exam and/or dissertation phase of your doctoral study, do you
anticipate that your scholarly writing experience will be helpful to you in those aspects of the program?
Has what you have learned from completing the scholarly writing assignment in¯ uenced your work as a
If YES, probe for speci® c examples.
What was the most important thing that you learned from completing the scholarly writing assignment?
Should we continue using the scholarly writing project? If so, what might be changed?
Journal of Geography in Higher Education,
Vol. 33, No. 2, 269–284, May 2009
Demystifying Academic Writing:
Reflections on Emotions, Know-How and
JENNY CAMERON*, KAREN NAIRN** & JANE HIGGINS†
*School of Environmental and Life Sciences, The University of Newcastle, Australia, **Department of
Geography, University of Otago College of Education, New Zealand, †AERU, Lincoln University, New Zealand
ABSTRACT Writing is the foundation of academic practice, yet academic writing is seldom
explicitly taught. As a result many beginning (and experienced) academics struggle with writing and
the difficult emotions, particularly the self-doubt, that writing stirs up. Yet it need not be like this.
In this paper, strategies are discussed for attending to the emotions of writing, and developing
writing know-how and a stronger sense of identity as a writer. It is argued that addressing all three
aspects of writing—emotions, know-how and identity—helps demystify the academic writing process
and helps novices on their journey to becoming academic writers.
KEY WORDS : Academic writing, emotions, academic identity, writing know-how, voice
Writing is the foundation of an academic career. From the initial PhD thesis to the writing
of conference papers, journal articles and books, academics are—perhaps above all else—
writers. But writing is an academic craft that is rarely explicitly taught (Blaxter et al.,
1998; DeLyser, 2003; Antoniou & Moriarty, 2008). As a result many beginning academic
writers struggle, and not just with technical writing skills but with the emotions that
writing stirs up and with the challenging process of developing a sense of self as an
academic writer. Little wonder that the struggle to write can turn away aspirants and erode
the confidence of those in the early stages of their career. Yet it need not be like this. As we
discuss in this paper, there are strategies to help novices tackle the emotional ups and
downs of writing, expand their knowledge of the writing process and undertake the related
journey of becoming academic writers.
These strategies are based on two workshops we initially ran with graduate students and
early career academics in 2005. We have continued to develop and refine these strategies
by running additional writing workshops, talking with early career and more senior
colleagues about their experiences of academic writing, reviewing published work on
Correspondence Address: Jenny Cameron, Geography and Environmental Studies Discipline, School of
Environmental and Life Sciences, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, 2308, Australia.
ISSN 0309-8265 Print/1466-1845 Online/09/020269-16 q 2009 Taylor & Francis
J. Cameron et al.
academic writing and incorporating the strategies into our own supervision and writing
approaches.1 So rather than present a detailed description of the initial writing workshops,
we reflect on strategies developed in the context of these workshops and refined through
our ongoing supervision and writing practices.2 We offer the strategies for supervisors to
consider in their own supervision and mentoring practices (whether individual supervision
sessions, or group interventions such as writing workshops, writing groups, writing
retreats and so on) and for those who struggle with writing (whether graduate students or
Our interest in the craft of academic writing comes from our observations and
experiences of the writing struggle. As human geographers and social scientists more
generally we understand writing as a messy and iterative process of bringing ideas into
being. We see our graduate students struggle with this process—with getting ideas onto the
page in the first place and then refining and revising the ideas through rewriting.
This struggle is not just familiar because we encounter it in almost every supervision
session with graduate students; it is familiar because it is the same struggle we experience
as writers. Indeed it was because of our struggles to write that we were initially interested
in running a writing workshop as this offered us a way to understand more about the
academic writing process. The struggle to write is also familiar because when we ask our
colleagues about writing we also hear them talk about the difficulties of writing (and these
are not just early or mid-career colleagues, but colleagues who are highly experienced and
well published) (see also Cloke et al., 2004, chapter 11).
To learn more about this struggle and how to address it academic writers can turn to
some excellent publications on the process of scholarly writing (e.g. Huff, 1999; Craswell,
2005; Murray, 2005, 2006) and writing more generally (e.g. Elbow, 1981; King, 2000;
Trimble, 2000; Williams, 2007). As well there are materials on academic writing
interventions such as peer writing groups (Lee & Boud, 2003), writing programmes that
foreground the feedback process (Caffarella & Barnett, 2000; Mullen, 2001), writing
seminars (DeLyser, 2003) and writers’ retreats (Grant & Knowles, 2000; Moore, 2003).
However, these resources tend to focus on what we call writing ‘know-how’, ranging from
technical knowledge about how to construct sentences and paragraphs to the more elusive
understanding of techniques to get started, keep writing and approach rewriting. Less
attention is paid to the emotions of writing, particularly the overwhelming emotions of fear
and anxiety that can cripple early writing endeavours (but see Cloke et al., 2004,
chapter 11; Caffarella & Barnett, 2000; Lee & Boud, 2003). Perhaps even less is said about
the critical shift in academic identity that novices need to make. This identity shift entails
positioning oneself not as inexperienced student but as writer and academic with a
legitimate voice and contribution (but see Grant & Knowles, 2000; Mullen, 2001).
In contrast to most resources on academic writing which focus on one or two elements
only, in this paper we present academic writing as an intertwining of three equally
important elements—the emotions of writing, a sense of self as a writer and writing knowhow—and we reflect on strategies for addressing all three.
We start with the challenge of academic writing, and explore why it is that beginning
academic writers at the PhD and post-PhD level find the process such a struggle. Here we
attend to the differences between undergraduate and graduate approaches to writing, and
demonstrate why feelings of self-doubt inevitably accompany writing at the graduate
level. We then elaborate strategies to help address these feelings of self-doubt (and the
other challenging emotions that writing stirs up), as well as strategies to develop writing
Demystifying Academic Writing
know-how and a sense of self as an academic writer. By attending to all three aspects of
writing we can help demystify the academic writing process.
The Challenge of Writing
Writing is a challenge for most writers, but for novices it is particularly challenging
because they have limited experience of the writing process. They have not yet developed
a more experienced writer’s understanding of writing or ability to deal with the emotional
pitfalls of writing. As a result writing can fill novices with feelings of dread and self-doubt.
Beginning academic writers tend to be familiar with an undergraduate model of writing
that is far removed from the writing process most experienced academic writers use. Most
undergraduate writing is based on a “static writing model” (Richardson, 2000, p. 924), a
linear journey of doing research, and then writing up and reporting on findings. In this
model, writing is the final “mopping-up activity” (p. 923) of communicating to an
audience what the author already knows. This approach to writing presumes that language
is an unproblematic medium through which we transmit reality. Experienced academic
writers know otherwise. Experienced academic writers know that they create meaning
through the messy business of writing and rewriting, or what Torrance and Thomas (1994)
call the recursive model of writing. Thus theorists now talk of the “written-ness of
research” (MacLure, 2003, p. 105), and writing as “a way of ‘knowing’—a method of
discovery and analysis”, and a way of “‘word[ing] the world’ into existence” (Richardson,
2000, p. 923). For beginning academic writers this approach to writing can be daunting.
When meaning starts to slip away it is all too easy for novices to doubt themselves, to
believe that they do not understand the topic sufficiently or that they lack the necessary
writing skills. Conversely, more experienced writers are familiar with the elusiveness of
meaning, and how writing and rewriting bring ideas into being.
These feelings of self-doubt that beginning academic writers experience are
compounded because the recursive nature of academic writing is largely hidden.
Graduate students and early career academics are not usually exposed to other academics’
draft work. They see academic work in its most finished form—the published refereed
journal article or the published book—when all evidence of the recursiveness of writing,
of the numerous iterations that a piece of writing usually goes through, has been
obliterated. So working alone, and with others’ polished work as the standard, it is not
surprising that many novices become filled with self-doubt. They experience their own
writing in all its messiness, while the work they are reading seems to spring fully formed
onto the page. They can only compare their apparent lack of writing ability (and apparent
lack of knowledge) with the seeming ease with which others produce publishable (and
knowledgeable) works. Even early career academics who have finished their theses can
still experience writing in this way. They are often not yet working within a network of
collaborators and co-authors, an experience that will make clear to them that more
experienced authors also struggle with writing.
Self-doubt is also generated through novices’ own internal voices. As Elbow (1981)
argues, the process of writing requires two conflicting skills—creating and criticizing.
Elbow highlights how these skills are needed at different points in the writing process.
In general creativity is needed to get words onto the page and criticism to revise these
words. Yet beginning academic writers are more familiar with one of these skills—
criticism. They have been well trained in undergraduate essays that ask them to ‘Critically
J. Cameron et al.
discuss . . . ’. They will have had few opportunities to ‘Creatively develop . . . ’. In
addition, criticism is what characterizes the academic stance. Gibson-Graham (2006) for
example highlights how so much academic thinking relies on a critical and judgemental
stance, and how creativity is undermined by “impulses to squelch and limit” and the
shutting down of possibilities, novelty and “half-baked ideas” (p. xxviii). Familiar with a
context that seems to applaud and reward criticism it is easy to see how beginning
academic writers struggle with the initial creative stage of getting ideas onto the page. The
moment an idea is even half-formed on the page, the critical voice can step in too early
calling into doubt the legitimacy of the idea (and the legitimacy of the writer) (see also
Cloke et al., 2004, p. 339).
Thus beginning academic writers face a considerable writing challenge. They are
developing their understanding and practice of writing as a messy process of writing and
rewriting that brings ideas into being, and can be thrown into turmoil when they cannot
seem to ‘get it right’ the first time. They only have others’ finished work to compare theirs
with; generally they do not see the messy drafts of their peers and supervisors. And their
own critical voice tends to be far stronger than their creative voice. More experienced
writers have learned through practice that meaning is seldom already present but has to be
created through multiple rewritings, and they have developed techniques for managing
their critical and creative voices and allowing both to contribute to the writing process.
Without this sort of procedural know-how, it is easy for beginning academic writers to
become filled with self-doubt, anxiety and fear, and to feel as if they will never become the
academic writers that others seem to be. In what follows we discuss strategies to help
remedy this situation. These strategies are aimed at addressing the debilitating feelings
beginning academic writers so often experience, developing academic writing know-how
and ideally contributing to a stronger sense of self as an academic writer.
Confronting Writing Emotions
Human geographers (and researchers in other social science disciplines such as sociology)
are increasingly attending to the role of emotions in the research process (e.g. Anderson &
Smith, 2001; Bondi, 2005; Davidson et al., 2005). Researchers show how geographers
have not only silenced and ignored the emotions but even penalized expressions of
emotion (e.g. Lorimer, 2003, p. 213). The discussions, however, largely focus on the
emotions associated with the area of research study or the emotions of the
researcher/researched relationship. By focusing on writing we can attend to emotions
that are ‘closer in’, to emotions experienced in the intensely personal relationship with the
self during the writing process.
Through our workshops, supervision sessions and discussions with graduate students
and colleagues we consistently hear writing talked about in terms of disabling emotions
like anxiety and fear. For example, Table 1 contains statements from one of the initial
writing workshops when participants (12 graduate students and early career academics)
brainstormed the challenges of writing. These academic novices spoke of the challenges
by using words imbued with emotional weight, words like self-doubt, insecurity,
intimidation, struggle, courage, exposure, fear, critique, judgement, approval and pressure.
Participants also brainstormed writing highlights (identifying highlights like ‘opportunity
for creativity’, ‘solitude’, ‘a moment of learning’); however, the process of brainstorming
challenges and highlights was very different. Participants found it easy to identify
Demystifying Academic Writing
Table 1. Examples of the challenges of writing
The challenges of writing
† Intimidating to start (frightening)
† Getting ideas
† Are the ideas worth talking about?
† Doubt about relevance of ideas
† Struggle to accumulate material
† Courage to ditch material
† Lack of skills
† Lack of confidence
Proper construction of ideas
Own voice is exposing
Fear of critique
Judging/comparison in relation to other writers
Judging against other people
Marking and approval
Pressure of other people’s expectations
Own judgement call
Source: Selected statements from a brainstorm on the challenges and highlights of writing by 12
participants at one writing workshop, September 2005.
challenges; the difficulties literally rolled off the tongue. Identifying the highlights was not
so easy. There were silences. Some could not identify any highlights. Paradoxically,
academic aspirants like the graduate students and early career academics at this writing
workshop seem to dread the practice that is the very basis of the career and identity they
One strategy for addressing this paradox is to provide opportunities for novices to both
hear how others feel about writing and to express their own feelings that are too often
silenced. In our writing workshops we tend to start with the simple exercise of asking
participants to brainstorm writing highlights and challenges. Without fail, participants find
it far easier to identify writing challenges (such as those in Table 1), but at the same time
they are surprised and relieved to hear how their feelings about writing are shared by
others. For example, Table 2 contains feedback from participants at the end of the two
Table 2. Feedback on brainstorming of writing highlights and challenges
At the end of the workshop:
† [E]veryone struggles with writing
† Everyone experiences the same self-doubt and struggles when writing as I do
† [E]veryone, even experienced writers, can find writing a slow and at times painful experience
† Everyone . . . experiences problems related to writing. So my case is not hopeless
† Feelings of self-doubt and insecurity when trying/attempting to write are normal
† The challenges, struggles, fears that I feel when thinking about writing are shared by many—this
† [A]ll writers are created equal. Experts and geniuses suffer from the same problems as me
† I am not alone in my struggles
Three months after the workshop:
† I really enjoyed the beginning discussion about what we loved about writing and what we
struggled with. I actually found this really liberating to know that some of the experiences I have
other people do too. Because I find writing quite an isolating experience, it has made me feel more
connected to other people (emphasis added)
† I certainly felt better about myself as a writer after the workshop—all the issues and problems that
I have seem to be shared with others
Source: Selected statements from feedback at the end of the writing workshops and three months later.
J. Cameron et al.
initial writing workshops and three months after each workshop.3 The comments highlight
the depth of isolation and anxiety that writing can evoke. Participants ‘confess’ to having
felt hopeless, abnormal and pain, and to having struggled with fear, insecurity and selfdoubt. But the feedback also highlights how simple activities, like the brainstorming
exercise, can have a powerful and revelatory impact, as participants find that their own
fears about writing are shared by others.
The consistency of feelings like self-doubt, anxiety and fear around writing indicates
that these are not individual attributes (or flaws). Indeed writers like Bondi (2005) caution
against equating “emotion with individualized subjective experience” (p. 433). What,
then, is the broader context for these feelings? What shapes these emotions of writing?
Williams’s (1976) work on emotions as “structures of feelings” provides one insight.
Williams shows how individually felt emotions are socially shaped by historical, political,
economic, cultural and social conditions. In the academic context we might therefore
understand individually felt emotions like self-doubt, anxiety and fear as shaped by the
practices of critique, judgement and competition found, for example, in assessment tasks
that range from the marking of undergraduate student work through to the ‘marking’ of
colleagues through exercises such as the Research Assessment Exercise in the UK and
Performance Based Research Funding in New Zealand. Bondi (2005) provides another
insight. She argues that emotions can be thought of as both personal and relational, as
something occurring between people. This approach draws our attention to the
‘betweenness’ of writing relationships such as the relationships between supervisor and
graduate student, editor and author, reader and writer, colleague and colleague, for
example. As supervisors who see the writing struggle of so many of our graduate students
we are particularly interested in how the supervisor and graduate student relationship can
impact on student writing. What do we say to graduate students about writing (and their
writing in particular)? What do we not say? How do we say things about writing? This
paper is part of our process of reflecting on what we as supervisors can bring to the
betweenness of the supervisor/student relationship. And here Williams and Bondi
contribute important insights that we combine. Williams provides an account that can help
us understand the conditions under which we labour and how this is associated with a
particular set or structure of familiar feelings, while Bondi reminds us that such feelings
are part of what we bring (or transfer) to relationships such as the supervisor/student
So in our relationships with graduate students we can provide opportunities where,
rather than banishing emotions, we might talk of how we manage our feelings of selfdoubt, fear, anxiety. Indeed, the point is not to erase difficult emotions from writing but to
find in them their productive potential rather than paralysis.5 We can also acknowledge
how we work in an academic context which, on the one hand, generates feelings that can
block writing efforts while, on the other, demands that we write. Equally we can provide
opportunities where other writing emotions might be spoken about such as creativity,
absorption, excitement, even breakthrough, accomplishment and success. The
opportunities for addressing these mixed emotions of writing include group settings like
writing workshops, peer writing groups, writing seminars and writing retreats as well as
the settings associated with each individual supervisor/graduate student relationship.
A second strategy for addressing the disabling emotions of writing is to get novices to
confront the thing that they fear perhaps above all else: having their lack of skills and
ability exposed. We can do this by getting novices to present their draft work early in
Demystifying Academic Writing
the writing process, when it is incomplete and when ideas are only partially formed. In the
initial writing workshops we asked participants to bring along a draft piece of writing to
swap with others. This exercise proved to be emotionally confronting, but also rewarding,
as comments from the end of workshop feedback show:
[Exchanging drafts was] by far the most agonizing part of the workshop, but it was
also extremely rewarding.
The sharing of writing was very, very powerful and painful. It was so great to get a
totally different ‘take’ on the material I am grappling with. (emphasis in the original)
[I learned about] the value of exposing my worst writing to a sympathetic critic!
Bringing a piece of work to work on despite my apprehension about that—was very
practical, gave a focus and a deadline to get something written!!
The initial feelings of dread are captured in words like agonizing, painful, exposing and
apprehension. Caffarella & Barnett (2000) similarly found that participants in their writing
programme felt intimidated by having to exchange draft work. One of their participants
captured the fear by describing it as being “like an intellectual striptease” (p. 46).6 But even
though participants in our workshops and in Caffarella and Barnett’s programme found it
daunting and confronting they also found it a useful exercise, one that showed them the
value of sharing writing at an early stage. For example, at the end of the writing workshops
participants commented that they learned about “the value of exchanging material in
whatever condition it is in” and “the importance of getting feedback on early drafts from a
variety of perspectives”. And in the feedback three months after one of the workshops one
participant noted how this lesson had not only stayed with them but how they were putting
it into practice:
I realized . . . that I don’t let other people read my work until it is a fairly well
polished draft . . . I am learning to let go of the need for something to be close to
final draft before sharing with others—this has resulted in me feeling more free
to change my ideas and to ditch concepts that aren’t working. And I also think that it
makes people feel more confident to offer suggestions and criticisms as they don’t
feel that they are reading a final draft that can’t be changed in a substantial or
significant way. So now I am getting much better value out of the feedback . . . as
people are more willing to raise questions or to debate issues with me which in turn
improves the quality of what I write and the strength of my argument.
Others found value in being able to see others’ draft-quality work: “Reading other people’s
work and seeing it wasn’t much better than mine was reassuring”; “Reading another
person’s draft work—would have liked to read more—seeing things in draft (apart from
own work) is relatively rare”.
The feedback from participants, particularly about their emotional vulnerability, has
alerted us to some important cautions around encouraging novices to share work that is at
an early stage. In a group setting, pairing less with more experienced writers offers
important learning opportunities about receiving and giving feedback that novices may not
get if they are paired with other beginners. But this can exacerbate less experienced
J. Cameron et al.
writers’ anxiety. Indeed, several graduate student participants from the first writing
workshop identified that they had found it daunting to be paired with more experienced
academic staff, so at the second workshop we altered the programme so that participants at
a similar academic stage (i.e. Masters, PhD and post-PhD) debriefed with each other after
the exercise. The emotionally confronting aspect of exchanging drafts needs also to be
acknowledged. Following Caffarella and Barnett (2000) we endorse the idea that the
emotions—“good and bad”—need to be discussed beforehand as a “legitimate and
healthy” part of the process of swapping drafts and giving and receiving feedback (p. 49).
We have also found that participants needed to be encouraged to bring genuine early drafts
and not finished or near finished work. This is important so that all participants are in a
sense exposed on as ‘equitable’ terms as possible. In both group settings and one-on-one
settings it is important to give quality feedback. In the initial workshops and in our
ongoing supervision and writing practice we use the guidelines offered by Gottschalk and
Hjortshoj (2004, pp. 69 –71) on how to respond to draft work. They suggest strategies like
describing what an author has done rather than prescribing what they should do, describing
the experience of reading the draft, finding material in the draft itself that might provide
the basis for rewriting, and limiting editorial changes.7
In our experience novice academic writers find writing an emotionally daunting task,
one that is characterized by feelings of fear, anxiety and self-doubt. We believe that it is
important to confront rather than ignore these emotions, so that novices are not left on their
own to contend with feelings that can erode confidence and paralyse writing ability.
To confront the difficult writing emotions we suggest two strategies. The first is to reassure
novices that their feelings are shared by others, both novice and experienced writers; and
the second is to give writers (novice and experienced) practice in confronting their worst
fears about writing.
Learning Writing Know-How
Earlier we proposed that graduate students and even early career academics find academic
writing difficult because they are more familiar with the static undergraduate model of
writing than the recursive model of writing used by most academic writers; and because
they are more familiar with academic criticism than academic creativity. But there are
strategies for developing procedural writing know-how (that is know-how about the
recursive and creative features of the academic writing process). As well there are
strategies for developing a second type of writing know-how: technical know-how
(such as structuring an argument; sentence and paragraph construction; use of passive and
We have already discussed one way to develop procedural know-how concerning the
recursive nature of academic writing, that is by having novices share draft work that is in
an early stage of development. As we found in the writing workshops, this type of exercise
can help demonstrate to novices that writers inevitably start with a rough draft that goes
through not just one or two but numerous iterations in order to generate and clarify ideas
and arguments. In the writing workshops we prefaced this exercise with storytelling,
taking participants through the procedural know-how we put into practice when
Demystifying Academic Writing
developing one piece of writing (such as how we deal with writer’s block; how we move
between processes of reading, writing and thinking; how much we rewrite not just in terms
of the number of drafts but the degree of difference between drafts; and even how we use
techniques like having a regular and disciplined writing schedule, but also making sure
that we get away from the computer, especially for regular exercise and regular breaks).
This exercise of telling the usually invisible back-stage story of how a piece of published
writing is created is a way of reassuring novices that writing involves false starts and dead
ends, and that these apparent diversions and failures are not mistakes to be eliminated from
the writing process but are constitutive of writing. In another exercise we took participants
through a summary of a paper in each of its versions showing how the title and section and
sub-section headings changed as the piece went through multiple drafts (and particularly
how the changing titles and headings reflected the move from description to argument).
These strategies to demonstrate the recursive nature of writing were commented on by
participants at the writing workshops (see Table 3). These comments show first how
novices are grappling with the shift from a linear or “static writing model” (Richardson,
2000, p. 924) to the recursive approach used by experienced writers, and second how
novices welcome learning about procedural know-how as a way of making this transition.
For us this is a strong indication of how important it is to expose novices to the recursive
nature of writing, whether through the sorts of exercises we used in the writing workshops
or by other means such as writing groups, and giving students copies of our own initial
drafts of published material (in workshops or during supervision sessions).
Along with procedural know-how regarding the recursive approach to academic
writing, novices are also developing their creative voice, a voice needed to balance the
more familiar critical voice when initially generating ideas, and when reworking ideas and
restructuring writing in the recursive process. Paradoxically this creative voice can be
developed by mimicry. One form of mimicry is to copy the techniques that others
recommend. Trimble (2000), for example, discusses various strategies for fostering
Table 3. Feedback on procedural know-how regarding the recursive nature of academic writing
At the end of the workshop:
† [D]rafting is important—it won’t come out perfect the first time
† Practice makes it perfect. More drafts and more reviews help to improve the quality
† Be brave, be bold—there is always chance for another draft
† [I]t isn’t all over when you’ve got the first draft out . . . it is necessary to rewrite and not
necessarily painful—[I’m] trying to embrace the process instead of hating it!
† [I learned about] the relationship between thinking and writing (writing as generating ideas)
† [I learned about] going from data to theory and back again, and how I might be able to vary my
usual way of working which tended to be rather linear
† [I learned about] other people’s ideas and difficulties and how they addressed them, e.g. going
backwards and forwards between theory and data
Three months after the workshop:
† I would also say that I relish the actual writing process more since the workshop. I worry less
about taking time to chew on ideas, but I also don’t wait till I have all the ideas to start writing . . .
I guess I now think about the research and the writing—not just writing as the presentation of
research, but writing as producing something someone else might hopefully engage with and
Source: Selected statements from feedback at the end of the writing workshops and three months later.
J. Cameron et al.
creativity in writing, including free writing, zero drafting and note pasting. In the writing
workshops participants prepared by reading sections of this work beforehand and then
during the workshop they worked in small groups discussing the various techniques put
forward by Trimble. This is also the sort of material that can be recommended to novices
to read. A second form of mimicry is to imitate what others do in their writing. In terms of
fostering the creative voice this can involve reading others’ writing not for content, but for
how the authors write, for how they present and progress their ideas and arguments.
In the writing workshops we did this by asking participants to prepare beforehand by
selecting a piece of academic writing that they particularly ‘loved and adored’, and
identifying why. In discussing these pieces of writing during the workshops
participants commented on features that we expect in academic writing such as clarity
of writing and argument, and the seamless integration of research data with theory, but
they also commented on more unexpected creative elements—the use of humour, the use
of evocative (and sometimes provocative) language, and how authors made readers
feel included as part of a conversation. This reading strategy is a way of opening out the
writing repertoire of novices (and more experienced writers) and developing
their confidence to compose and express ideas and arguments with a more creative
Three months after the workshops participants gave feedback that provides an insight
into how they are developing their creative voice:
I’ve become much more reflective of my own writing practice—much more aware
of what I’m doing, and how I might do things differently. For example, I am now
much more confident to start in the middle of a piece rather than feeling like I have to
have a perfect introduction before I can move on. I feel a bit more playful about how
I have also tried to use language a little more playfully to make it interesting for the
reader (we’ll see how that goes).
In the first comment, the participant points to the use of creativity in the process of
generating ideas, describing how they approach the writing task in a more creative and
playful way. In the second comment, the participant points to the use of creativity in the
process of rewriting, describing how they are more willing to experiment with forms of
expression (and through this play with words the participant is also refining meaning).
This feedback from participants as well as our own reflections on writing suggest that there
are opportunities to foster creativity in academic writing, both when initially generating
ideas and then when writing recursively to develop these ideas.
A second form of writing know-how involves technical knowledge. Although this was not
something we covered in the initial writing workshops, we have run additional writing
workshops to develop technical skills, with one workshop being designed around
Bonnett’s (2001) discussion of constructing arguments and another designed around
Williams’s (2007) guidance on writing clearly and gracefully. These workshops have
provided the basis for fruitful ongoing discussions with graduate students in individual
Demystifying Academic Writing
supervision sessions as we work with them to refine and clarify their ideas and arguments.
However, we strongly believe that when addressing technical writing know-how it is
important to be cognisant of not only the emotional struggles that many beginning
academic writers experience but the tenuous process of developing a sense of self as a
writer (the focus of the next section).8
Becoming Academic Writers
In this section we turn to the third aspect of writing that we see as critical to the academic
writing process—developing a sense of self as an academic writer. Developing an identity
and voice as an academic writer results from the process of coming to terms with writing
emotions and developing procedural and technical writing know-how. Even so, we believe
there are strategies that can help novices establish a surer sense of themselves as academic
One way we can help develop this sense of self as a writer is to position novices as
academic writers. For example, in the workshop exercise when we asked novices to read
how rather than what others write, novices are being positioned as legitimate authors who
can read and engage with others’ published works on writerly and authorial terms.
Through this type of exercise we, in Althusserian terms, interpellated, or hailed, novices as
academic writers (Althusser, 1972). Butler (1997, p. 160) summarizes interpellation as a
theory that “appears to stage a social scene in which a subject is hailed, the subject turns
around, and the subject then accepts the terms by which he or she is hailed”. In the original,
Althusser describes the subject as being hailed by a figure of authority in the form of a
police officer. Even if we take Butler’s less literal reading of interpellation (the idea of a
subject who is constituted through a twofold process of being called and accepting that
call) the theory highlights several things that are going on in the context of
interventions like the writing workshops. The workshops create a social scene where there
are others to act as witnesses to the call and its acceptance, and where an authority figure
associated with an established order (a supervisor) hails participants as writers. For us this
points to the limits of relying only on published material to guide novice academic writers; in
reading there is no social scene and no direct call from an authority figure, and therefore no
opportunity for novices to accept the call and to have their acceptance witnessed.
In the three-month feedback one participant commented on how they were using this
reading strategy and in a sense continuing to hail themselves as an academic writer:
“[I have been] paying more attention to how other writers construct their work. After the
workshop I am more aware that I should be taking the opportunity offered by my reading
to not only learn about the ideas, but how people construct their arguments and how they
write”. Focusing on how authors write can have powerful effects. As already noted,
workshop participants identified that one of the features they appreciated about the writing
they loved and adored was how authors made them feel included as part of a conversation.
In other words, participants perceived how their chosen authors were thinking of readers,
whereas in their struggle to write participants tended to think of themselves. For workshop
participants this led to the critical realization that they could turn their attention away from
their struggle to write and think of their readers. Some participants commented on this
realization in their feedback at the end of the workshops, for example: “[I learned about
the] importance of the reader—of being much more aware of the audience and that this
may mean being less self-focused in parts of the writing process” and “[I learned about]
J. Cameron et al.
the whole angle of writing struggles as self-centred and yet our appreciation of good
writing depended on being addressed appropriately as the reader”. Participants continued
to comment on this in the three month-feedback, for example: “I now think of the audience
more. It never occurred to me before the workshop to do that. I think this has made my
writing more readable, and made me think about the structure of my thesis in terms of the
audience”. Unexpectedly, by interpellating novices as writers and by getting them to focus
on how others write, they were able to turn away from their own struggle to write and think
of their readers and how they might better engage with them.
A second way we can position novices as academic writers is to show them that they are
already doing the things that academic writers do. Through the storytelling and discussion
of procedural know-how we could highlight how the things that participants perceived as
writing problems were essential to the academic writing process. So participants were
reassured that concerns and fears (such as not being able to write a perfect first draft, or
writing ‘into a corner’ and therefore having to rethink the whole argument) that made them
feel as if they were not successful academic writers were the very things that experienced
academic writers do to create meaning. Again this led to a critical realization for some
participants, with one participant stating, ‘bad writing is part of the process of doing good
writing’ (see also DeLyser, 2003, pp. 170– 172).
Strategies that position novices as academic writers can, we believe, help beginning
academic writers develop a stronger sense of their legitimate voice and contribution. It is
striking that in the three-month feedback participants commented on how they were
developing the confidence to project their own voice, rather than relying on and even
hiding behind the voices of others (see Table 4). These comments are evidence of
participants’ shift in sense of self and a strengthening academic identity.
But there was a second refrain in the three-month feedback. Some participants also
commented on how old feelings, practices and ways of thinking were reasserting
Table 4. Feedback three months after the workshop on a developing identity as academic writer
Three months after the workshop:
† The workshop was a turning point for me as a PhD student and a writer. I think it was the first time
that the idea of taking authorship hit home—in terms of selecting both which data/literature I will
refer to, and how I will use it in my writing (original emphasis)
† When I write I am regularly checking in with myself that I am writing in my voice and not
someone else’s. I have been doing this to the chapter I have been rewriting. I am focusing on
presenting my argument. To do this, I have completely restructured the chapter. I have brought my
argument up front, and let the literature substantiate my argument (emphasis added)
† The writing workshop has made me feel more confident about approaching writing. I am currently
re-writing the chapter, which was reviewed by two people during the workshop. Prior to the
workshop I was at a bit of a standstill with it. I was putting off working on it and always finding
other things to do. The feedback from reviewers was really constructive and directional, and the
discussions in the workshop have given me more confidence to just get in and write and edit now
. . . I feel braver than I have before about writing, about putting my voice up front (emphasis added)
† It is comforting to know that others also struggle to use their own voice. I also think that it has
encouraged me not give into the temptation to believe that I can’t express an idea as well as
someone else has done before—I don’t need to rely so heavily on quotations, I have something to
say as well and it will flow better with my ideas if I use my own words (emphasis added)
Source: Selected statements from feedback three months after the writing workshops.
Demystifying Academic Writing
At first, yes [the workshop affected my writing practice]. I was working on
something that I felt much better about revisiting and editing, which has always been
my problem. Talking about that process at the workshop was helpful at first but
I think I’ve lapsed back into my old paranoia about rewriting. (emphasis added)
Initially after the workshop I was writing fairly regularly (3 – 4 times a week), but I
have found that that has slipped back (to not at all!). More regular contact would
help with this . . . (emphasis added)
I’d have to say that this far down the track that I’ve lost most of the good intentions I
had straight afterwards! (emphasis added)
Follow-up contact would be helpful. I find it hard to stay motivated!
These comments highlight how the journey of becoming an academic writer, of managing
the emotions and developing know-how is ongoing work, and that while one writing
intervention is helpful, novices need further support—which may be delivered through
forums like writing groups or writing workshops or through individual supervision
sessions. It is also worth noting that in her discussion of Althusser’s theory of
interpellation Butler (1997) emphasizes the importance of repetition. One call is never
enough to constitute the subject, rather the subject must be called over and over.
Caffarella and Barnett (2000, p. 39) refer to the “seemingly mysterious process of
scholarly writing”. We have argued that, particularly for novice academic writers, this
process is mysterious largely because important aspects of academic writing tend to be
ignored, assumed, and/or learned by trial and error in the training to become an academic.
This situation feeds, in powerful ways, the often crippling self-doubt that beginning
academic writers experience. They do not know that struggling with writing is common
because, generally, they have not had opportunities to discuss the writing process with
other academics. They do not understand that the recursive nature of academic writing
entails initial messiness and failure because they see only the finished product of other
academics’ work and not the process by which that work came to be. They are
overwhelmed by their own internal critical voice and are yet to develop techniques for
fostering academic creativity. As a result, graduate students and early-career academics
often struggle with claiming an identity as an academic writer.
Based on two initial workshops with beginning academic writers we have identified
strategies that can help novices understand more about academic writing and their
relationship with writing. One strategy is to confront and talk about rather than ignore the
difficult emotions that writing stirs up. This can result in two potentially enabling insights
for beginning academic writers. They learn that their feelings are not extraordinary but
commonplace, and therefore not something to be anxious about. And by finding that their
feelings are shared by more experienced writers, novices learn that difficult emotions need
not get in the way of writing, can be managed rather than erased and might even be
productive in the writing process. The second strategy is to explicitly address procedural
know-how and expose what goes on in the writing process. This provides novices with
J. Cameron et al.
information about strategies for productive writing, and assures them that what they
currently perceive as failings (such as having to write and rewrite multiple times) are the
very means for producing good writing. Novices learn that they are not deficient or lacking
in skills but doing exactly what experienced writers do. Related to this, the third strategy is
to interpellate or hail novices as academic writers—to use social settings, such as writing
workshops, where novices, in the presence of others, take on tasks as if they were already
experienced writers (for example, to read the work of an admired author not as a student
seeking wisdom, but as a one writer inquiring into how another writer writes). The
feedback from participants suggests that the combination of these three strategies helps
develop a stronger sense of self and ability as academic writers. However, the feedback
also highlights how this process is tenuous, and how important it is to mobilize these
strategies on an ongoing basis both in group settings (such as writing workshops or writing
groups) and in individual supervision sessions.
The three authors would like to thank all participants in the writing workshops for their wonderful contributions
and reflections on the process. The comments from reviewers helped sharpen their ideas and writing. The editors
also provided invaluable support. Jenny Cameron also acknowledges the encouragement of John Forester,
Katherine Gibson and Julie Graham, and the support of Griffith University’s Urban Research Program and
Environmental Planning programme for the writing workshops.
We have also incorporated these strategies into undergraduate teaching. And while writing needs to be
explicitly addressed at the undergraduate level, in this paper we are concerned with the practice and
struggle of academic writing at the graduate and early career level, when what is at stake is an academic
vocation and identity.
A few comments on the workshops are, however, necessary. The first workshop was run in June 2005 at
Otago University, New Zealand by all three authors (and with eight participants); and the second
workshop was run in September 2005 at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia by the first author
(and with 12 participants). For more information about the format of the initial and subsequent
workshops, readers can contact the first author.
At the end of the initial workshops participants were asked four questions: (1) What are three things you
have learned from this workshop? (2) What have you got most out of the workshop and/or what are
some things you might put into practice? (3) What were (up to) three things/activities/aspects that
worked well during the workshop? (4) What were (up to) three things/activities/aspects that would need
to be changed for future workshops? The three-month feedback followed a similar format asking
participants to comment on: overall impact of the workshop on their writing approach; specific impacts
on actual writing practice; activities or discussions from the workshop that stand out, and why changes
should be made to the workshop (and any extra comments). All participants provided feedback at the
end of the workshops and 11 of the 20 participants provided three-month feedback. The feedback
process was approved by the human research ethics committees from Griffith University and the
University of Otago. Given the requirement for anonymity we cannot tell whether comments are from
graduate students or early career academics.
Which is not to say that such feelings are immutable. In her discussion of the person-centred approach to
therapy, Bondi reminds us of people’s capacity for change particularly through reflection and selfunderstanding (2005, pp. 441– 442). As we are suggesting in this paper, intensive writing experiences
(such as writing workshops, writing groups and writing retreats) offer a context for reflecting on and
potentially generating new self-understandings ab…
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