Consider accountability emails in place of a writing group (opinion) – Inside Higher Ed

December 13, 2021 by No Comments

We’ve all heard the research productivity mantras that float around academe: write daily, even if you have only 15 minutes. Ensure you have projects operating at multiple stages of a research pipeline. And don’t forget to participate in a writing group for accountability.

Those strategies work well for many academics, and with good reason: they’re tried-and-true methods to engage in ongoing, systematic production of scholarship. But what about those of us whose work lives are less, shall we say, systematic? As we struggle to balance complex teaching, service or administration workloads or serve as caregivers to others, it’s unlikely we can engage in a daily writing practice or commit time to an accountability group.

The two of us tried for years—and failed—to reproduce the lockstep writing and accountability processes we’d read about. And then in a workshop on research productivity, writing coach Kathleen Vacek invited us to reflect on how we could dip our toes into an accountability relationship. Did we have time for more meetings or supporting multiple writers in a group? No. But could we send a few emails? Yes, that we could manage.

So for more than a year now, we’ve been communicating about our research goals through weekly email. At each week’s start, Sarah emails Ann her goals for the week, and Ann replies with her own. At the week’s end, Ann emails a recap of what she accomplished, and Sarah replies in turn. Each semester, we start a new email chain. Keeping our goals modest, focusing on wins and allowing for change has made our process successful—and here’s what we’ve learned.

Be realistic. We each had sizable long-term goals for the year—book chapters and articles to write, conference presentations to deliver, a book to edit for one of us, and new data to collect for the other. But week to week, we set manageable goals to make it more likely we’d reach them.

We followed Cathy Mazak’s advice to break projects into one-hour tasks to ensure we avoided nebulous plans like “finish article.” In some weeks, our goals were measured in time: to spend two hours on research or to touch a project on three separate afternoons. In other weeks, goals were measured in deliverables: to send important research emails, request library resources or change a manuscript’s citation style.

Modest weekly goals meant we regularly earned small wins; they also helped us plan ahead. When our weekly calendars were particularly heavy with meetings and teaching obligations, we set smaller goals rather than pretend we’d have more time for research, …….



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