‘I Got the Kick I Needed to Finish My Paper and Feel Inspired’
From December 16–18, the HSE Academic Writing Centre held a ‘Writers’ Retreat’ aimed at giving HSE University researchers an opportunity to look at their texts from a different perspective. The participants and facilitators of the event spoke with the HSE News Service about the importance of self-editing and peer review.
AWC came up with the idea of such retreats several years ago, and held one in 2018 in collaboration with NES. This time, it was decided to hold the retreat online so that more researchers from different campuses would have an opportunity to participate. The centre spent a lot of time and effort ensuring that everything would run smoothly, conducting training sessions for facilitators and putting together teaching and learning materials.
The retreat was held in five small groups of 3–4 people. The online format attracted participants from various disciplines, including finance, education, culture studies, and others across all campuses of HSE University.
Its main purpose was to give the participants an opportunity to look at their texts through the reader’s eyes. To facilitate this, AWC ran input sessions with Talinn Phillips, Associate Professor of English at the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio University, and Svetlana Suchkova, Director of HSE AWC.
The participants discussed their research with peers, talked about their research in detail, exchanged feedback, asked clarifying questions, and discussed strategies for improving texts. Some participants rewrote abstracts, some restructured their whole papers, and some made their contributions clearer.
Idalia Fedotova, Lecturer at the HSE School of Foreign Languages, facilitator at the Writers’ Retreat
This writers’ retreat was conceived as a writing booster for HSE faculty. We also wanted to establish a culture for giving facilitative feedback. I worked with participants in linguistics—two of them were trying to adapt their research in Russian to requirements in English (Dialect corpus of Russian, Morphosyntax of Ancient Greek). One participant had written a full draft in English but needed to work on clarity.
The drafts were complete research papers with all the necessary sections. However, the participants needed to work on the logical development of their arguments and editing
The event was a huge success. I believe such retreats should be a regular thing, but in a variety of formats. The format of the long retreat should definitely be kept. There should also be an opportunity to participate in a one-day retreat, be it online or on campus.
Iuliia Papushina, Associate Professor at the HSE Campus in Perm School of Management, participant at the Writers’ Retreat
I felt I needed a magic kick to start the major revision of the text I have been working. The retreat happened just in time to help me do this. Also, I thought that feedback and discussions with colleagues about the text would make me see the text from a different perspective. When you have been working on a paper for some time, assessing the text's drawbacks and weak spots can be complicated.
The majority of my skills in self-editing come from the course 'Self-Editing: How to Become Happy with What You Write' organised by AWC. Studying theoretical aspects of academic writing is beneficial for evaluating your text and understanding what's right and wrong in it. Another helpful tool is asking questions. There are many questions to see if your text communicates what you want it to. Finally, what always helps me to detach from my text is time. After a pause, I always see how much I can improve. So, it's crucial to incorporate this break into the writing process.
I worked on a paper about quality management in the PermOdezhda clothing factory in the 1960s–1970s. I'm satisfied with the results of the retreat. I got my magic kick
For me personally, the Talk-It-Over session was the most beneficial. Our group's facilitator, Natalia Smirnova, is a master of asking questions. The discussion with her provided me with a different perspective on the text I was working on. Thanks to Natalia, I know what to ask myself to develop the essential parts of the introduction. And hopefully, I improved my capacity to give better feedback on my colleagues' articles in case they ask me.
Svetlana Zemicheva, Research Fellow at the HSE Linguistic Convergence Laboratory, participant at the Writers’ Retreat
The retreat was a chance to communicate with highly qualified experts and meet new people who are interested in academic writing. I am executive editor at the Russian journal Voprosy Leksikografii and a reviewer of scientific papers, so it is important for me to be part of that community.
Peer-to-peer reading helps me to see my work from another prospective and find gaps in my work and fragments that I need to clarify. I learned about systems for self-editing and I want to test them.
I managed to write the abstract and change the title of a draft article during the first day and finalise the conclusions during the second day. These parts of the article are the most important.
It was interesting to learn about different types of feedback from Talinn.
I remember that evaluative feedback is the simplest, but useless: the person receiving it has nothing to respond to
I also learnt that even negative experiences may be useful—at least as material for future work, as Talinn demonstrated.
From our discussion in a small group, there were several major takeaways for me. It's better not to use terminology which is not common or widely known. As linguists, we should demonstrate a good level of English. I like active constructions in English—they help me feel my contribution while writing about results.
It was important and reassuring to know that the problems we face are pretty much the same
I hope to finish my current paper and send it to the journal by the end of January. I got the kick I needed to finish it and feel inspired. I will take into account the feedback I received, and I learnt some tips I can use for future articles and in my activity as a reviewer as well.
Diana Akhmedjanova, Associate Professor at the HSE Institute of Education Department of Educational Programmes, facilitator at the Writers’ Retreat
One of the main goals of the Writers’ Retreat was to give academic staff an opportunity to work on their publications. The experience also allowed participants to provide and receive feedback, which might contribute to some of the ways they approach English texts.
In my group, one of the participants worked on a journal article, and another participant was preparing a publication as part of the conference proceedings. All of the texts were based on empirical research studies.
Self-assessment or providing feedback on one's own work is the hardest writing task. However, it is an important exercise writers should do regularly
One of the ways to facilitate this process is to have a set of criteria for assessing writing. For example, criteria could be derived based on the requirements of an academic journal such as word limit, sections of an article, formatting, etc. Some journals include a checklist with criteria authors can use.
I really enjoyed the experiences as a facilitator. I would love to have another opportunity like this in the future.
Daria Tomasova, Research Fellow at the HSE Institute of Education Laboratory for Educational Innovation Research, participant of the Writer’s Retreat
I had expected the retreat to give me inspiration and shared energy with the tutors and other participants, but I did not expect there to be so many useful workshops and such high-quality recommendations and feedback from tutors.
The comments from my classmates allowed me to look at the text from another perspective
Readers see semantic gaps, double meanings and inconsistencies that I do not notice due to my familiarity with the paper.
A big insight for me was the use of the principle of interconnection between abstracts and the first sentences of a paragraph. As soon as I pull this ‘common thread’ through my text, it becomes easier for me to better organise it and make it more comfortable for my reader. An important discovery for me was the value of metadiscourse as a sign of concern for the comfort of my reader.
I started writing a paper on educational ecosystems. Before the retreat, I only had an idea for an article and the results of literature analysis and interviews. The article started to evolve during the retreat. I have made significant progress in my work, completing the introduction and drafting the methodological part.
Discussions with a tutor helped me realise that an English-language article cannot be translated—it must be written anew in accordance with a different logic of building abstracts and paragraphs
I will use the methods for working on academic texts I learned in my further work on research papers, as well as in preparing abstracts for conferences and book chapters.
As a result of the Writers’ Retreat, members of one of the groups decided to continue their collaboration and are planning to organise a writing group to have regular meetings. They believe that the energy gained at the retreat will help them boost writing culture at the university.