Writing Groups: U can haz gud riting

Every Thursday morning, we get together and go over a portion of a thesis, a short paper, a conference submission, an abstract or suchlike that is in the process of being written by a member of the group. This morning was my turn: 4 pages, 1 hour. In the end, we only got through 2 1/2 pages. It's not that there were huge changes: it's more that we cover both grammar and meaning. And it was fantastically useful (see Matt, I can get the word "fantastically" into a work document! Or was it supposed to be fantastical?).

This writing group has been helpful to so many of us in our group, and my thanks go to Jen for starting it up. I highly recommend such a practice anyway. Not only does it encourage people to write more to ensure that each week is filled up, it also means that what comes out of our group is (hopefully) more consistent and more polished. Consistent because we have all started adopting group-wide conventions for dashes ("group-wide conventions"), commas (Oxford comma or no?), mixed casing (Web Services or web services?) and more; polished because we get an end result which is more cohesive, reads better, and is generally more succinct.

So, what would my tips be after getting a good set of comments this morning from the group?

  • Try very hard to give 18-24 hours' notice to the rest of your group. Often the paper doesn't get sent around ahead of time until 5pm the day before (as happened with my paper this week), and don't go too hard on them if that's the case. The fact remains, however: earlier is better. You'll get more complete feedback from your peers
  • Always bring along a copy of Strunk and White. Masters of concise writing and the answering of tricky grammar questions.
  • You might also like Truss' Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Humorous, and gives you the right idea about punctuation.
  • Send an editable version of the file if you are also sending a PDF. If you are a latex person, ALWAYS send the tex version around as well as the PDF. Not everyone can comment directly onto PDF, and making it possible for them to easily edit the tex file (and track changes) is really helpful.
  • A writing group is always useful, at any stage of the writing process. It doesn't matter how early on or late into the paper-writing procedure you are: other people always catch things that you haven't seen, no matter how often you've read it!
  • No more than 4 single-spaced pages, max! And, as I've said, even that is often too long. Takes less time for the group members to read, and it means you can get a greater depth of responses for the section you've sent out.

Summary: It's great. Go for it!

And the result? U can haz gud riting too. But maybe, you'd prefer a cheezburger.

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By Allyson Lister

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