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 85% of participants who complete the follow-up questionnaire tend to meet for 1 or more meet-ups with their assigned partner, and around three quarters of those report meeting once a week or more. 

Over 85% of respondents so far 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, adding structure to the week, and improving their ability to focus. These benefits continued to be observed during lockdown in the summer term of 2020. 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).

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 ≈ 140)
getting more writing done87.8
feeling better about how much writing you get done89.3
improving the balance of writing to other work75.5
improving the balance of work to other things73.4
adding structure to the working week92.9
improving decision-making about task priorities76.5
improving confidence in ability to complete tasks successfully and on time78.1
improving ability to estimate how long tasks take72.7
improving ability to focus94.2
increasing how much you look forward to work 73.9
increasing how much you look forward to writing82.6
improving ability to describe research to others78.4
improving social connectedness89.9
improving career confidence38.6
encouraging you to devote energy to career exploration30.4
Table 1: Helpfulness of the writing partnership, as rated by programme participants to Trinity Term 2020 inclusive.

Which aspects of the programme are most helpful?

Type of supportPercentage of respondents who rated it as quite, very, or extremely valuable (n = 24-63)
Weekly writing tips91.5
Thoughts for the week88.4
Orientation session90.7
Writing breakfasts/afternoons100
Writing bootcamps100
1-1 writing consultations and other personal contact with coordinator100
Table 2: Helpfulness of other programme support, as rated by programme participants to Trinity Term 2020 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 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 degrees of structure in their working week, low connectedness with their peers, low ability to focus when they sit down to work and to estimate how long tasks take, combined with high levels of anxiety about work and low levels of career confidence.

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.

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 (positive and mixed) from the termly programme feedback

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.

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.

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.

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

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!

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

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

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

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