Does it work?

In a word, yes. The vast majority of programme participants report significant benefits on a range of writing-related dimensions.

Our data-gathering: Methods and findings

Everyone joining the programme and making a new writing partner request completes a “baseline questionnaire” which gives us a snapshot of how new participants feel about their working and writing habits before being matched with a partner. At the end of every term we ask all programme participants to complete a questionnaire reporting on the term’s experiences and how helpful the different elements of the programme’s support have been.

The results speak for themselves. Around 88% of participants who complete the follow-up questionnaire tend to meet for 1 or more meet-ups with their assigned partner, and over 80% of those report meeting once a week or more. 

So far, over 86% of respondents report being quite, very, or extremely satisfied with their term’s writing achievements. Over 88% have reported that having a writing partner has been quite, very, or extremely helpful in terms of getting more writing done, feeling better about how much writing they get done, improving social connectedness, adding structure to the week, and improving their ability to focus. These benefits have continued to be observed during the pandemic. Benefits have also been reported on many other dimensions; the full aggregate data so far are below (Table 1).

The programme’s other forms of support (including weekly emails and writing tips, events, and 1-1 contact with the coordinator) are also reported to be valuable by a large majority of participants (Table 2). Pre/post event polls also show significant average increases in event participants’ confidence that they will complete the writing project they worked on during the event to an appropriate standard and on time, and in their confidence about writing in general, as well as significant decreases in how overwhelmed they feel. Event participants on average rate their event experience as being between very and extremely helpful.

The feedback we gather, including both the simple ratings and the free-response comments, are crucial for helping the programme run well and for generating support for it to continue into the future. We hope that as a participant you’ll find the termly feedback a not entirely unpleasant invitation to take stock of your term’s progress and reflect on your habits. Everyone who responds is entered into a prize draw for four £50 Amazon vouchers or National Book Tokens, and a PDF of your start- and/or end-of-term responses is always available on request. Thank you in advance for taking the time to help us build our dataset and refine our offering!

In what ways is the programme most helpful?

Type of helpfulnessPercentage of respondents who rated having a writing partner as quite, very, or extremely helpful (n ≈ 260)
adding structure to the working week 93.6
improving ability to focus92.4
improving social connectedness90.9
getting more writing done88.6
feeling better about how much writing you get done88.3
increasing how much you look forward to writing81.7
improving the balance of writing to other work tasks80.6
improving confidence in ability to complete tasks successfully and on time80.5
improving decision-making about task priorities 80.0
improving your ability to describe your research to others77.2
improving the balance of work to other things 76.8
increasing how much you look forward to the start of the working week76.6
improving ability to estimate how long tasks take75
improving your career confidence46.8
encouraging you to devote energy to career exploration35.5
Table 1: Helpfulness of the writing partnership, as rated by programme participants to Trinity Term 2021 inclusive.

Which aspects of the programme are most helpful?

Type of supportPercentage of respondents who rated it as quite, very, or extremely valuable
1-1 writing consultations with the programme coordinator (n = 27)100
Other individual contact with coordinator (n = 111)99.1
Writing events (n = 266)97.3
Orientation session (n = 123)90.2
Weekly writing tips (n = 245)90.2
Thoughts for the week (n = 236)89.0
Table 2: Helpfulness of other programme support, as rated by programme participants to Trinity Term 2021 inclusive.

Why this matters

We know that life as a graduate student or early-career academic can be hard.

Our baseline dataset shows that reporting on the past 7 days, the majority of participants (50 to 70%) report dissatisfaction with the quantity and quality of work they’ve done, as well as with the balance of time devoted to work and other things, and to writing versus other work tasks. Reporting on their current situation overall, a majority of participants report low connectedness with their peers (66%), low degrees of structure in their working week (65%), as well as low ability to estimate how long tasks take (60%) and to focus when they sit down to work (54%). These problems are combined with high levels of anxiety about work (85% are quite, very, or extremely anxious) and low levels of career confidence (57% are not very or not at all confident).

It’s not all bad, of course.

There’s a more positive picture as regards confidence in ability to complete tasks successfully and on time, looking forward to getting back to work on a Monday morning, looking forward specifically to writing, and finding it easy to describe one’s academic research to other people, with a majority of respondents (60 to 80%) reporting some degree of confidence/enjoyment/ease on these dimensions.

We want to help reduce the bad and increase the good. We hope this programme will help do that for you, but we know it can still be improved, and we also know that however good it gets, it can’t do everything. The programme was created in response to wider problems that can’t be solved overnight.

Each term we invite your ideas for improvements or additions to the programme. At any time, if you have a thought or request you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. Use the contact form or email Emily or the training team to let us know what’s on your mind.

If you’re a programme participant, the single most important way for you to support the programme is to complete the termly feedback, which allows us both to optimise the existing provision and to gather valuable evidence about problems and solutions within the sphere of graduate and early-career research. Thanks for contributing to our growing dataset!


Comments on changes observed, and the mechanisms supporting it, from the termly programme feedback

The Writing programme has contributed immensely to my progress, especially amidst such a difficult situation where I have been removed from my usual working conditions.

Just knowing that I’ve got to be at my desk on Tuesday mornings is really helpful — and being able to assign myself work to do during that time and know that I’ll actually make meaningful progress on it!

The Writing programme has contributed immensely to my progress, especially amidst such a difficult situation where I have been removed from my usual working conditions.

It is now my second term of writing partnership and I can see a great improvement. When I did it last Trinity I didn’t know how to set goals and stay focused during the sessions, while I can now see that I am learning to do both. It is also great to be working with another DPhil student.

Writing sessions are a great way of ensuring that I make the best use of the little time I have to write each week. They provide a lot of structure and motivation, particularly at the moment when I’m working solely from home. Usually I would go to a cafe or library to focus, and the writing session gives me the ability to get into a focussed space even though I have to stay at home. The writing sessions help me to create a clear cut off between my day job and my thesis. Sharing obstacles and difficulties can be helpful, and hearing someone else’s problems helps me to be more sympathetic with my own problems (i.e. I become more self-compassionate).

didn’t meet regularly enough for it to be that useful, but was good nonetheless

I got basically nothing done in our sessions but the scheme has really forced me to reflect on academic work and priorities, what it is I am able to achieve in term time, and how I write. The tips have also been extremely helpful and I have gone through most of them on my own every week. 

After a pretty shoddy record last term, I said to x at the beginning of term that we should meet up and make a STRATEGY for this term. We had pizzas, got out our diaries and a notepad, and set a timetable which we knew would work for us EVERY WEEK. And then we more or less stuck to it!! Being intentional and looking ahead really helped.

I’m probably still as overworked that I was at the start of the term, but the writing partnership programme has injected a lot more fun and social connection within the work week, which is already quite a big win

One of the reasons that I did not sign up before, is that I was afraid that I would not have enough writing tasks to work on every week (all my writing projects were due in the second half of the year, and my course is very teaching heavy on the first half of the year). Looking back, I think this is really a pity as I enjoyed it such a lot to take part in the programme. I wish I’d signed up before!

I think I’ve had difficulty maintaining focus post the first hour, and sometimes struggled to keep track of my thoughts. I’ve been grateful however, for whatever little amounts of writing I have been able to do, so not seen it as a failing of the writing session, and more the consequence of being at home for months on end.

We could have been a bit more strict but I think we’ve both said that it has helped us in our process and that we’d like to continue writing together!

Having a writing partner is the difference between fretting over unmet weekly word-count goals and actually finishing the week with pages of good writing to edit.

I haven’t yet found a way to use remote meet ups to create the same boost of energy that comes with meeting up together in a physical space, and the stimulation that comes with it

I don’t think my writing partner and I were on the same page of what we wanted out of a writing partner. He wanted to get feedback on his writing, but I wasn’t familiar with his topic. I was not looking for feedback, but structure and someone to “keep me company” while writing as an accountability measure. We had difficulty communicating our needs to each other.

I hope she would say that it has been useful as a tone setting for the end of the week. we shared with each other in our last session (when my partner submitted the essay she had been working on, hoorah!) how valuable the sessions have been for us both and how appreciative we both are of one another! We are going to continue to meet throughout the vacation.

Like many DPhil students I have a tendency to get distracted by more reading or administrative tasks, and a guaranteed 4 hours of writing per week (which usually leads to more) has led to progress in my doctorate which would otherwise not have happened.

Going to the library with another person rather than alone, even if you don’t interact much during the session, is a huge motivation booster and makes a trip to the library more enticing. And since going to the library tends to lead to more productive hours than time spent studying at home, those sessions did my thesis a world of good.

The most helpful about the writing sessions with a partner was having a time dedicated that I could structure the rest of the week around–for example, if I was meeting on Tuesday, I could plan to read more and organize notes on Monday. In other words, it was a valuable anchor.

Having time blocked out on my calendar so that I knew writing would happen and could anticipate my progress over the course of the term.

Planned meetings mean the decision to attempt writing that day has already been made. Most of the time I‘m able to write fine once the session has begun. If I therefore can‘t write during the meeting (e.g. because of physical unwellness), I know it really is because it‘s not possible that day. This means both writing and not writing are acceptable outcomes because I have shown up for my sessions in either case. 

Hearing how my partner plans his writing has been useful to me and I have incorporated it into my work plan.

My writing partner has become a friend and the only person in Oxford I am connected with academically – my department and my degree cohort are essentially in hibernation. So having someone to talk to about my thesis and to work alongside fills a hole left by the pandemic.

I have found joining the programme this term has had a really positive effect on my writing and overall progress, which is incredibly helpful at this stage of my thesis. It has also allowed me to approach supervision meetings with confidence, even if I haven’t submitted any writing for us to discuss, as I know how much I’ve done and how much I need to do to finish (and roughly how long that might take!). I have also really noticed the difference in my productivity since term has ended and the regular writing structures I had in place with my partner have changed, even though I am trying to stick to the same schedule. 

It has been very difficult to keep up my motivation during this term (and consequently, structuring my time), especially for my thesis work which was taking a back seat because of my tutorial work. However, the regular writing tip emails, the accountability from having a writing partner and just having someone to talk to with a genuine interest in my progress has been immensely helpful in feeling connected and engaging with my thesis at least at regular intervals. I’m very glad I joined the writing partnership programme, especially in a term like this. 

This programme has helped me a lot, not just to write more productively but also for my general wellbeing. In being more productive, I can have a better relationship with my work and not dread writing so much. Thank you!

When the partnership was working well, it was more helpful. Later in the term, the routine broke down and it became less useful, and ended up becoming a source of stress.

[The single most helpful/revealing element was] Talking through a specific goal for the session rather than just ‘sitting down to write’. It makes my writing more focused. in the term, the routine broke down and it became less useful, and ended up becoming a source of stress.

Goal setting is quite helpful. By communicating goals in the beginning of each meet-up and holding each other to them, we (at least I) really managed to get some writing work done!

Making me sit down and write while feeling sociable at the same time.

Sharing and setting goals for the hour, setting a timer, and being obliged to stay focused and write in a timed manner has helped immensely. It reduces stress and anxiety because I know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing for an hour or 45 minutes.

It has been most helpful to commit to working for 50 minutes with no distractions. Knowing someone is on the other end of the line held me accountable to actually get straight to work.

Word vomits. They helped me put to paper any thoughts I had about a topic, however scattered and undirected. From these I was able to improvise a plan for future reading and writing.

Self-accountability. I could sit behind the camera, mute myself and watch youtube, but I learned (the hard way) that not being accountable to myself is a really awful and guilt-inducing thing to do!

Setting a defined writing goal and addressing it has probably been most helpful! But it also helps to keep the sound and video on as a reminder of the partnership, a reminder that there’s someone else ‘in the room’ working ‘with’ you.

Allocated time to writing, no phone or music or social media. Knowing that both of us were working with the same focus and energy to complete our tasks was extremely motivating to not break any rules and complete the tasks we set ourselves!

I think that we both enjoyed it, so I hope that he would say that he found it to be as supportive, helpful, and generally lovely piece of structure for our week! I know we are both very proud we didn’t miss a single session, and continued into the holidays.

Hilary has been particularly challenging in terms of setting aside time to write, as I had massively overcommitted. The weekly meet-ups helped me realise when things were getting out of control and I expect it will help me manage my calendar and commitments more efficiently in the future

Stating the goal for the writing session has made me aware of how difficult I find it to predict accurately how long a task will take. I think slowly I’m starting to have a bit more awareness about the steps that are required to finish a piece of writing and a more realistic sense of how long it will take.

My work habits have improved so much – I wish I had discovered the programme in my first year!

We have learned to adapt to very different writing conditions across time zones and circumstances. I’m grateful for the consistency and friendship

It helped me realize I write better in the mornings and provided a model for how I can structure my days, even when I don’t have a writing meet-up.

Firstly obviously just the act of having the commitment, but also I guess the actual structure of the 2hrs itself has been quite helpful for realising how I can budget time to work efficiently – e.g. I’ve started to notice myself doing similar 2hr blocks with breaks in my own time because I’ve realised it works quite well.

My job is almost entirely research based and it can sometimes make me feel like I should be writing all the time (even though I rationally know it’s not doable or even desirable). I discovered that scheduling 3-4 writing sessions a week (two with my assigned partner, fortnightly writing lunches, and less regular sessions with another friend) is a great way to remove the guilt around not writing from the rest of the week for me. I think the key is that this time is so well defined that it feels more tangible than just writing on my own.

Due to term-time workload I often haven’t been able to use time with my writing partner for actual writing.  But it was still extremely helpful for structuring my days, with designated blocks of time to focus on the most important tasks of the day/week, putting aside emails/admin/etc.  Combined with regular 8.30am starts, this routine helped me achieve a far healthier work-life balance and daily sense of accomplishment

On many occasions the writing session would help me get back to work after hours, even days, of bad productivity.

The most helpful thing has been working with a very pure focus during the sessions – starting work right at the beginning of our allocated writing time, and not feeling a desire to check email, social media or the news. It has been a revelation knowing that I can work like this on demand!

The motivation to start, rather than doing nothing at all.

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