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5. Encouraging candidates to write and giving appropriate feedback
Candidates need to produce written work throughout their studies to articulate what they are thinking, to reflect upon their findings, and to gain feedback. But candidates may prove reluctant to write particularly in the early stages and need encouragement and support from their supervisors to do so.
- Encouraging candidates to write from the start of their studies.
- Supporting the development of academic writing.
- Giving timely, constructive, and actionable feedback.
The traditional view was that writing could be left to the end when the final submission was produced. But the consensus now (see for example Kamler and Thomson 2006, Bitchener 2018) is that writing is or should be an integral part of the research process and that candidates need to start writing at the beginning of their studies and continue throughout.
That said, it is not just a matter of producing text but of producing what is a highly specialised form of writing, namely academic writing. As a number of studies (see Can and Walker 2011, Lee and Murray 2013, Lindsay 2015) have shown, doctoral candidates rarely arrive at the start of their studies with the capacity to produce such writing and, left on their own, they may struggle to acquire it. In recognition of this, many institutions now provide courses in academic writing for doctoral candidates.
But, it is still you as their supervisors who are the first readers of their texts and who at least arguably should provide guidance about their writing (see Aitchison 2010, Wellington 2010a, Carter and Kumar 2016, Wegener et al 2016).
Giving feedback on written work is of course one of, if not the, most vital functions of the supervisor. Such feedback needs to be timely in the sense of enabling candidates to move on with their studies (see for example Odena and Burgess 2015, Carter and Kumar 2016). It also needs to be constructive; as numerous studies (see for example Whitelock et al 2008, Wang and Li 2011, Can and Walker 2011, Aitchison and Mowbray 2013) have shown, candidates have a very strong emotional investment in their draft submissions, and criticism is often taken personally.
Finally, as McAlpine and Amundsen (2012) have pointed out, it needs to be actionable in the sense that candidates can understand the points being made and incorporate changes.
- Do you encourage the use of research journals/diaries? How has this worked, in your experience?
- Do you set mini-projects involving written reports? If so, how have these been received by your doctoral candidates?
- Do you refer candidates to good examples of writing in your disciplinary area?
- Have you demonstrated how to re-write a paragraph and how to structure academic writing? What has worked, in your experience?
- What use have you made of peer writing groups for doctoral researchers? How successful were these?
- What is your approach to giving timely, constructive, actionable feedback? Have you experienced occasions when your feedback was misunderstood? How did you resolve that?