Writing tips, templates, further reading…
Use these resources when they feel right for you, whether you want to try out a new writing technique or streamline your daily routines.
Note that the linked resources require single sign-on (SSO) login, so are available only to Oxford University members.
Everything you need to begin well.
- Programme guidance booklet (includes sections on effective scheduling, planning, writing well, peer support, staying flexible, and further resources)
- The latest orientation session content outline and accompanying slides (you can work through these with your partner or a friend or colleague, or on your own, if you missed the session, or just look back over them if you want to remind yourself what we covered)
- Cheat sheet for your first meet-up (read this to get your partnership off to a strong start)
- Writing meet-up goals diary (in Word or PDF, for you to print or adapt as you like)
- Writing session, day, and single project planner/tracker templates (in Excel, to help with calculations and overview; also includes a list of writing session tactics)
Ideas to enhance your academic writing and planning.
- Tip 1: Setting and achieving goals [download goals diary and planner/tracker templates above]
- Tip 2: What are you writing about and why? (Motive spot check) [download template a or template b]
- Tip 3: Hearing what your writing sounds like
- Tip 4: Changing places
- Tip 5: Thinking aloud
- Tip 6: Remote meet-ups
- Tip 7: Lucky dip
- Tip 8: CV review
- Tip 9: Thinking through your metaphors
- Tip 10: How to plan and give a talk
- Tip 11: Role and goal mapping
- Tip 12: Regular professional review
- Tip 13: How to write an abstract
- Tip 14: Keeping an ideas list
- Tip 15: How to have a good summer
- Tip 16: How to plan your day
- Tip 17 (Prewriting I): How to generate a good research question
- Tip 18: How to stop procrastinating and get started
- Tip 19: Why and how to write by hand
- Tip 20: How to write a book review
- Tip 21: Responding to feedback
- Tip 22: How to have a good term
- Tip 23: Taming the inner critic
- Tip 24: Transforming negative attitudes to writing [plus behavioural experiment templates here]
Books to consider buying; blogs to consider following.
- How To Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing, by Paul Silvia (2019), 2nd edition.
A no-nonsense guide to getting academic writing done, including plenty on scheduling and self-motivation, as well as some genre-specific advice for papers, books, and grant bids, and perspectives on prioritisation of specific writing tasks, and the pros and cons of writing groups. On Amazon here.
- Stylish Academic Writing, by Helen Sword (2012)
A data-driven case for the importance of good style in academic like all other writing, full of examples and quotes, large-scale and line-by-line analysis, and ‘things to try’ for each chapter. Covers topics including pronouns, voice, perspective, and register; titles and openings; storytelling and illustrative examples; jargon; and referencing systems. Google Books preview here. On Amazon here.
- The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, by Steven Pinker (2014).
A beautifully readable demolition of senseless pedantry, full of examples and principles for writing well in contemporary contexts. This Guardian review gives some nice examples of his no-nonsense take on grammar ‘rules’. On Amazon here.
- Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide, by John Cleese (2020). A short, entertaining, and immensely practical guide to learning to be creative (rather than believing you were or weren’t born that way). Particularly good on letting the generative phase of creativity do its thing without getting freaked out by the uncertainty and imposing the critical mode too soon. Google Books preview here. On Amazon here.
- Atomic Habits, by James Clear (2018). A quick, punchy read with an excellent breakdown of habit change strategies that work and how to apply them. Which ones will help you transform your writing-related habits? On Amazon here.
- Burnout: Solve Your Stress Cycle, by Emily and Amelia Nagoski (2019). A powerful female-centric guide to all the ways in which stress and overwork wreck lives, and what to do about it. Google Books preview here. On Amazon here.
- Thesis Whisperer, by Ingwer Mewburn, Director of Research Training at the Australian National University.
Covers all aspects of how to complete a PhD, including plenty on writing. See also her ebook How to Tame your PhD plus a list of other book recommendations.
- The Research Whisperer, by Jonathan O’Donnell (Senior Research Initiative Coordinator for the Faculty of Science at the University of Melbourne) and Tseen Khoo (Senior Lecturer in Research Education and Development at La Trobe University).
‘Just like the Thesis Whisperer—but with more money.’ With the wide topic remit of ‘doing research in academia’, the blog explores things like research communication, research culture, funding, and career strategies.
- Explorations of Style: A Blog about Academic Writing, by Rachael Cayley (Associate Professor, Graduate Centre for Academic Communication, University of Toronto).
Includes sections on all the main phases of the writing process, as they relate to three key writing principles: using writing to clarify thinking, committing to extensive revision, and understanding the needs of your reader.
- DoctoralWritingSIG, by Claire Aitchison (Academic Developer, Teaching Innovation Unit, University of South Australia), Cally Guerin (Research Training Scheme Officer, Careers, University of Adelaide), and Susan Carter (Associate Professor in English Literature, University of Toronto).
Themed categories on the dissertation/thesis, grammar/voice/style, writing practices, publication, and identity and emotion.
- Writing for Research, by Patrick Dunleavy (Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, LSE).
A range of insights on writing practices for nonfiction with a research focus.
- Cathy Mazak’s blog and podcast, on all things academic writing-related, with a focus on womxn and the intersection of personal and professional development. See e.g. tips on setting up a writing retreat and getting unstuck.
- The Professor Is In, by Karen Kelsky, Ken Weinhold, et al.
Hard-headed practical ‘pearls of wisdom’ on all things career-related, whether you want to stay in academia or not. The archive category Productivity is a good place to start.
- The Thriving Researcher, by Eleanor Pritchard, Researcher Development Coordinator for Oxford’s Social Sciences Division.
Material on academic work, life, and careers, as part of an initiative also including writing and other events.
- The Early Career Blog, by Steve Joy (Head of Researcher Development at Cambridge University) and Rachel Bray (Careers Adviser and Strategy Lead at the Oxford Careers Service).
Focused on careers advice for PhDs and postdocs, this blog has a few posts on writing and publishing, and plenty more on the academic world and how to navigate it.
If you’re at Oxford and looking for a more informal kind of writing support, visit the Oxford Writing Groups Facebook page to link up with others for scheduled or ad hoc writing sessions.
These tips are an incredible resource.
these weekly tips are GREAT. I think that’s the whole value of this programme in the first place — it really gets us thinking in MANY DIFFERENT WAYS about how to approach our writing and our lives as academics.
I found the writing tips incredibly helpful this term, though, especially the planning focused tips – I did the how to have a good term planning prior to term and reviewed it last week: I managed to tick everything off my plan (and it included some very uncertain elements like ‘get an internship’), which is amazing! I think doing this planning was the best thing I could have done for my term to stay on track.
I’m definitely converted to the planning term and vacation writing tips – they have made a massive difference to my progress in all areas of my life (writing, career and professional development, well-being).
I haven’t tried any of the tips in a formal way directly triggered by the emails, but I do read the emails and generally take their advice on and incorporate several of them into my own planning in a looser way. In my conversations with my writing partner we often think back to the advice we’ve generally collected from the writing bootcamp events and from the emails and engage it informally.
I have been doing a “writing partnership” style with one of my colleagues. During the sessions we have tried to follow similar tips that Emily has given us during the writing sessions and they have been extremely valuable. I still do prefer doing writing afternoons and mornings with Emily as it tends to be a bit more structured and productive; especially with tips such as the motive spot check – which I find a little difficult to do on my own.
Tip 21 on responding to feedback came at the perfect time, I was getting feedback for the first chapter I submitted and it helped me to manage my anxiety about the process and also make the best use of the feedback I received.
The how to plan your term tip was incredibly helpful for my productivity this term. I also recently used the ‘how to plan and give a talk’ tip to draft a conference paper and managed to get it all done in a day: much much faster than expected.
The tips are clearly written and structured, offering excellent support outside of the input sessions. Clearly Emily has put a great deal of thought into making these a useful source of guidance for a range of students and scholars.
I didn’t try out as many of the tips as I would have liked this term! I especially liked the prompt to think about something different each week, even if I didn’t end up actually following through on that tip.
I read the tips every week, but found that some of them weren’t directly applicable to my writing or not implementable within the context of our writing sessions (i.e. being in the library, not allowed to talk). However, the regular tips and thoughts about these various aspects of the writing process were still helpful to take a step back from the actual thesis and consider how to approach my work.
Coming to this list I feel a bit awful that we haven’t taken advantage of these writing tips more! That will definitely be on the agenda for next term. I know from the times I have read them in other terms that they have been valuable, so I’ll ask my writing partner if she wants to utilise them with me next time!
Maintaining the writing track sheet was enormously helpful to take stock of my progress.
I love these tips, I regularly recommend them to other Oxford students!