Answers to questions you may have about how the programme works and what it is and isn’t for.

Writing partnerships

Q: What’s the process for getting a writing partner?
A: Use the contact form, or email Emily directly, to register your interest. We’ll send you a link to a baseline survey that includes questions about your working habits as well as about your preferences for your writing partnership. If you complete it by the start-of-term deadline, you’ll be allocated a partner in the main matching process for the term; if not, Emily will do more matchings at intervals depending on how many new requests are submitted.

Q: What information do I have to give?
A: The baseline survey includes a series of questions on the past 7 days, as well as on your working life more generally, and how you feel about it. The partnership-specific section invites you to specify your preferred meet-up frequency and duration, preferred days and times, preferred locations (once meet-ups can be in person again), and any other requests, as well as what you want to get out of the partnership.

Q: How do you decide whom to pair up?
A: Emily tends to prioritise logistical compatibility (e.g. number of sessions per week, available days and times) over research interest overlap. She also does her best to predict fit based on stated intentions for the partnership, and to take into account other stated preferences, e.g. re a partner’s career stage. But some of the decision-making is done by intuition as much as explicit rules!

Q: What’s the point of having a writing partner?
A: A writing partnership offers you the chance to introduce more structure and variety into your writing practice, to help writing become more regular, frequent, enjoyable, reflective, or anything else you want it to be. Participants in the programme have reported that having a writing partner is particularly helpful for getting more writing done, feeling better about how much writing they’re doing, adding structure to their week, and improving their ability to focus, but they also report benefits on many other dimensions.

Q: Will this programme help me learn essay/thesis-writing skills?
A: The primary purpose of the programme is to help participants create conducive conditions for writing, more regularly and frequently than they might otherwise manage to. We find that this often indirectly resolves many difficulties with writing that may feel more technical, because practice in sustaining focus, zooming out on writing problems, using exploratory/preparatory exercises (e.g. via the writing tips on the resources page of the site), discussing obstacles and progress with a writing partner and other peers at writing events, etc. can make such a difference. But of course there are other writing challenges that may not respond to these kinds of change, and the programme is not explicitly designed to focus on technical skills development. Programme participants have the option to book 1-1 writing consultations with the coordinator, which we can use to discuss any aspect of writing practice that’s in need of attention, but this is a one-off form of intervention rather than ongoing training or support. We encourage you to contact your department/faculty about relevant writing skills training if you don’t feel the writing programme will meet your needs. 

Q: What would I actually do with a writing partner?
A: We encourage you to start simple. Decide together on a regular slot, get it in your calendars, and follow the cheat sheet we provide for your first meet-up: do some introductions and partnership planning, then make and share goals for your (first) writing session, set a timer, get rid of phone and email, and write. At the end, review and set goals for a second session, if you’re doing one. Discuss how the meet-up went and make sure you have the next one scheduled before you leave. Every week in term, Emily shares a writing tip that includes something you could do during a meet-up, so you could make using the tips a regular thing, or just choose to do so when there’s one you’re both interested in.

Q: What if I want to share work rather than just writing alongside each other?
A: If one of your aims for the partnership is to share drafts and give each other feedback, please say so in the baseline survey. Most people don’t commit to this from the outset, but some find that as the partnership develops, they naturally start to explore more options for work-sharing or other kinds of feedback and support. Some of the writing tips also involve reading short pieces of your writing aloud to each other. If you only want to share work and don’t want to write alongside each other, then I’ll do my best to find someone for you, but the probability of a good match will be much lower. Please bear in mind that any feedback your writing partner may offer is peer-to-peer (even if they are at a more advanced career stage than you) and should be treated only as one opinion.

Q: What can I expect once I join?
A: If you submit your baseline survey before the start-of-term deadline (typically Wednesday of 1st week), you can expect to receive an email introducing you to your new writing partner before the orientation session the following week. If you submit it late we’ll do our best to pair you with someone as soon as possible, but you may have to wait a while. You should contact your new partner as soon as you can to arrange your first meet-up. You’ll receive emails weekly during full term, and less frequently over the vacation, sharing details of a weekly writing tip to try out with your partner, upcoming writing events, the termly partnerships competition, consultation slots, and other news and resources. At the end of term you’ll be asked to complete a feedback survey to help you reflect on your term and to help us learn about your experience, with four £50 voucher prizes to be won for those who meet the deadline.

Q: Can I just be paired up with a friend?
A: There are good reasons to keep your writing partnership distinct from your friendships, even though many successful writing partnerships do develop into rewarding friendships. Difficulties encountered by people who have tried to convert an existing friendship into a writing partnership have included: being too ad hoc or ‘relaxed’ about scheduling and too at-ease with being late, not observing writing/chat boundaries strictly enough during meet-ups, and growing overly dependent on each other for other forms of support beyond writing. However, with careful planning, good communication, and a readiness to take action if problems seem to be arising, the ‘self-sourced’ partnership can work well. Please indicate in your baseline survey responses if this is what you’d like to do.


Q: What’s the point of the writing events?
A: They’re designed to help you reflect on and recalibrate your writing habits through intensive bursts of highly structured writing time. The writing itself is surrounded by activities to help you prepare and plan for writing and restore yourself after it, as well as to get to know other graduates and early-career academics in the Humanities. The events all have rules which you will be expected to follow; these are created and enforced in the interests of helping you shed unhelpful habits and try out new ways of working and writing. If you have no unhelpful habits or interest in trying out new things, these events are not for you.

Q: How are they meant to intersect with the writing partnerships?
A: Your partnership is at the centre of your programme participation: you meet regularly with your writing partner and use the meet-ups to progress your writing and learn about writing and the routines that best support it. But you can complement this with optional group events if you’d like to try a different form of experimentation and learning. This programme as a whole is about habit change: about optimising your writing (and, as part of that, your wider working and living) habits to work better for you on whatever dimensions you care about. Habit change is hard; sustaining habit change is harder. Your writing partnership is a great anchor for experimenting with change, and the events are provided to help you experiment in different ways from how you might otherwise. A few events are intended for writing partners to attend together, but for most you can attend independently if you want. You should feel free to you to make use of the various programme offerings, or not, depending on how your term is going and what kinds of support your writing needs.

Q: Are they open only to people with writing partners?
A: The events are advertised first to people on the current programme mailing list, and then opened out to the full Humanities graduate and postdoc lists if places remain. Regardless of whether you’re taking part or not, you can always keep an eye on the programme homepage for the latest listings.

Q: How many events do you run?
A: The frequency varies, but there will normally be at least one event every two weeks during full term, and at least one or two each vacation. Longer events (e.g. multi-day bootcamps) may be run before the start and/or after the end of full term (e.g. 0th or -1st week, 9th or 10th week), and multi-session writing sprints are often scheduled for around the middle or towards the end of term.


Q: Is the programme open only to people in the Humanities?
A: The programme is designed to cater to graduates and early-career academics in the Humanities at Oxford, but occasionally people from Social Sciences also join. In principle there is nothing Humanities-specific about most of what the programme does, but in practice we don’t have capacity to cater to all four Divisions.

Q: Can undergraduates take part?
A: At the moment the programme doesn’t cater to undergrads, although if you know of someone else who could be your writing partner, it may be possible for you both to join.

Q: Can I join for longer than a term?
A: It’s up to you how long you’d like to remain part of the programme. At the end of term you’ll be prompted to discuss with your partner whether you’d like to continue meeting. You’ll also be asked to complete a questionnaire at the end of each term you take part, to help us gauge and improve the efficacy of the programme. If you don’t complete it, you’ll be removed from the programme mailing list.

Q: Are there any conditions of participation?
A: By registering for a writing partner, you’re committing to give your partnership a good try for the term in question, or to let us know if it doesn’t work out. This allows us to be confident that in pairing you with someone else, we are giving you both a positive opportunity to benefit your writing and yourselves. See the Writing partnerships page for the full list of commitments you make by registering for the programme. The writing events are subject to separate terms, including that if you’re repeatedly late or don’t turn up without good reason, you won’t be able to book onto future events. See the Events page for the philosophy underpinning the events.

Q: What happens to the data I provide?
A: Taking part in the programme involves sharing data via Accessplanit, Smartsurvey, and the University’s Nexus365 email. Any information you provide within the context of the writing programme may be shared with the Researcher Development and Training team. Emily will take into account the information you provide when choosing a writing partner for you. If you mention learning or mental health difficulties, a disability, or any other personal circumstances, what you say will be treated in confidence.

Q: How is the programme funded and run?
A: The programme is funded by Baillie Gifford, as part of their DPhil scholarship gift. This money pays for Emily’s time, as well as catering and other running costs. It’s managed by Emily in collaboration with the Divisional Researcher Development team.

Q: Do you offer any support via faculties/departments?
A: Yes, faculty/department-specific events and other support can be arranged on request. Events can be structured in an open-ended Q&A style, or can involve writing-related topics and activities designed in advance. Optimisation of writing should be somewhere in the mix, but events can centre on other themes like time management, focus and creativity, failure, etc. We’re also happy to discuss other forms of input into faculty/department-level initiatives. Get in touch via the contact page.

Q: What’s the plan for the future?
A: The programme has guaranteed funding from 2018 to 2023. After that, its future isn’t yet certain. We’re investigating options for expanding into offering a more ambitious programme of 1-1 consultations along the lines of a North American Writing Center, but it’s still early days. Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss our future plans.

I have become a much more mindful writer, thanks to this programme. I am so grateful to have this opportunity to participate. 

I have developed a much healthier work-life balance thanks to this programme and to Emily’s advice. I am also capable of feeling less guilty about my progress being slow, accept this fact, and just keep working.

In the current context, the most helpful part has been realising that I am not the only one struggling, and that even one has bad days (which is ok), there is progress happening.

The very fact that we meet periodically twice a week has brought a great level of organisation to my academic life.

I have massively improved my attitude to writing and essay writing through this scheme. I stress a lot less, cry less, and feel more productive and relaxed, knowing I will get my work done. Chunking my work into smaller tasks or smaller amounts of time has been especially helpful, and also acknowledging that writing can also include thinking and talking – and that doesn’t mean I am being lazy!

I find the writing programme incredibly useful, especially for preventing feelings of isolation and being able to socialise while also getting work done (which is quite hard to do normally)! I am much more attuned to when things aren’t working so well or I’m in a slump with my work and also given me the resources to try and work it out and get back on track as quickly as possible.

The sense of solidarity (in these bizarre, remote-uni circumstances) has been wonderful; someone else going through similar experiences with comparable demands, someone to laugh or vent with over work-related issues; someone who “gets it”. From where I’ve been living and working this term, there is no-one around me in the same academic “world”. Meeting with my writing partner once a week helped me to feel connected, supported and more rooted in what I’m doing, many miles away from Oxford.

This whole first year at Oxford has been a rollercoaster for me; things were already pretty wacky and tough on a personal level *before* the pandemic hit and then, well, the rest is history. There have been times when I’ve found myself questioning my capabilities and my ability to even be in academia as a life path, and I have to say that connecting with fellow students through this term’s writing programs has helped allay some of those fears. Everyone is working through different issues and the fact that we’re all able to come together to make deliberate space for writing and intentionality is really special. So thank you!

Thanks to Katherine Fender for the image.

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