15 Top tips from our writers retreat

As June drew to a close, the third HEREN/Teaching fellows writing retreat was held at Heriot Watt. This year we were also joined by colleagues from the School of Nursing which created a great mix of people from across the university. Recognising the combined knowledge and expertise of the group I asked everyone for their top tips at the end of the retreat. Here is what they came up with.


 1.       ”Use peer support”

Realise your concerns or worries about writing are very common, most people find it challenging!

 2.       “Talk through the theory and argument of the paper with another interested person”

Create opportunities to get peer feedback on your drafts and regularly discuss your writing with others. 

 3.       “Share writing goals with someone to help you stick to it”

Make yourself accountable. Buddy up with a colleague and encourage each other to keep going, or find a community of writers that will help you keep on track. You could use social media like the twitter feed #acwri to publically announce your writing goals.

 4.       “Identify your golden thread and try to articulate it to someone”

Understand and define the ‘golden thread’ that weaves together all the various aspects of your paper into a whole. If this thread is broken, it makes it much more difficult for a reader to follow your argument or to see how you have contributed to the field. Keep to the language of any theory or methodology to enhance the golden thread.

 5.       “Start with the structure and put the amount of words in brackets next to each heading”

This can really help you to focus and get the balance of your article right. It can also create a sense of satisfaction when you complete a section.

 6.       “Email the editor to check if they are interested in your topic”

Often the first question an editor asks will be ‘is this a good match for our journal?’ Don’t waste time writing for the wrong target journal.

 7.       “Stick rigidly to author and journal guidelines”

Journals try to help us get published. There are always guidelines for the author, aims and scope of the journal or editorials to help us figure out if our piece would be a suitable topic for that journal.

 8.       “Find a quiet space”

Sometimes we just need to find a quiet space with no interruptions to really focus our efforts. It’s important to figure out where and when you write best. Find what works well and stick with it!

 9.        “Switch off the internet access / wifi”

Don’t be tempted to just check a couple of emails before you get started, save them as a ‘reward’ for finishing your writing session. There are apps that can block your internet access for a set amount of time.

 10.   “Schedule writing into your diary”

Scheduled writing sessions means are more likely to happen than a vague idea that ‘sometime next week I will do some writing….’

 11.   “Protect writing time in your diary”

Defend it – just like an important meeting or teaching prep – otherwise it will disappear.

12. “Little, often”

The retreat was that rare opportunity of three days to focus on writing, but these don’t come along very often.  Rather than wait for that unlikely week where you have no other competing demands for your time, making regular writing a habit – ‘snack writing’ rather than bingeing.

 13.   “Write fast, edit later”

When we talk about writing sessions – we mean writing. No stopping to read the latest paper, or to double check that crucial reference. Editing that sentence till it shines or reformatting the article headings into Ariel from Times New Roman is not writing!

14.   “What seems difficult can become much easier tomorrow morning when you’re not tired”

I am sure any writer is familiar with the experience of staring at a paragraph for 20 minutes and realising you have only written two new sentences. Using short regular writing sessions can help keep you focused.

15.   “When you finish up writing for the day, always leave a note to say exactly what you’re going to do when you come back to it”

Always signpost where your writing will be going next – that way you spend less time trying to remember what you were thinking from the last session.

Do you have a strategy or tip to help stay focused when writing a paper? If so, why not share it with the HEREN community via the blog!

Blog author: Dr Grainne Barkess, Reseacher Developer at Edinburgh Napier University and Writing Retreat Facilitator



Getting on the road with your education research

In this week’s guest blog, Dr Charlotte Chalmers,  Lecturer and Teaching Fellow, within the School of Life Sport and Social Sciences at Edinburgh Napier University, reflects on her recent experiences of developing education research.

During the past year, I have been fortunate enough to travel to India and China as part of our development of joint programmes with overseas partners. These visits (as well as being fascinating) have given me an insight into how Higher Education in the UK (and particularly Scottish education) is viewed by other countries. For example, in China, I visited a city with a medical/nursing college as large as Edinburgh Napier University. Here, in a country not short of specialist teaching expertise, there was great enthusiasm amongst the staff for the opportunities provided by our programmes not only for the cultural exchange, but for the teaching of critical thinking, developing students who take an analytical approach to their subject, and reflect on their practice. This got me thinking about the importance of education research in Higher Education. Perhaps part of the reason why our education system is so valued by our overseas partners is that we adopt that same questioning and analytical approach to our own practice, and continue to investigate what works in education, and why.SAM_0512

Since becoming a Teaching Fellow, I have undertaken several studies into teaching and assessment practice, taking advantage of the funding available via the “teaching development” grants. The questions I have pursued are ones which interest me, they are not likely to bring about an earth shattering discovery of some teaching or assessment method which transforms Higher Education, but progress and change are made up of small steps, and of course it is important to question practice, and to support developments with evidence. Sometimes ideas come from personal experiences of learning, for example, the latest piece of work I undertook was to investigate how the language used in feedback seems to vary according to the medium used. This followed a visit I made to a museum at which I used one of the audio guides, and was really impressed by how much easier it was for me to take on board audio information, compared to reading endless “interpretation boards”. I felt that for students, receiving audio feedback would provide an opportunity to take in information in a different way.

If you decide to go ahead with an application for a TF development grant, you will need to think about the ethics of your study. You must apply to the relevant ethics committee which are found under the Faculty web pages (for example http://www.napier.ac.uk/faculties/health-life-social-sciences/research/ethics/Pages/Ethics-Research-Governance-Committee.aspx) and be given approval before you collect any data, but in order to write your application, you will need to detail what you want to do, how, and why. Understandably, an ethics committee is not going to allow anyone to charge ahead with data collection which has no achievable outcomes, but might upset your student or staff sample in the process.

In applying for a TF grant, it is worth considering the short time frame in which you have to spend the money! Once your application is submitted, and your ethical approval forms are in, there is a wait of a few weeks, so you will lose some of the semester in which you might be planning to collect data. So, plan well in advance, have all your documents ready for submission, and if you make an application in August, you might do your data collection in the second trimester, so long as you use your TF money before the end of June the following year.  Avoid trying to appoint a research assistant to your project, there just isn’t time to go through this process.

So, get started, ask the questions, think about what we do and why, and don’t lose sight of the fact that the approach we take to our own practice is something which we can transmit to our students, both here and overseas.

2013 Writing Retreat

The 2013 Teaching Fellows/HEREN Residential Writing Retreat will be run in collaboration with the School of Nursing Midwifery & Social Care. The retreat will be held from 24th to 26th June 2013 at Heriot Watt University. This venue provides each participant with their own space for uninterrupted writing. There is also a communal lounge area which will facilitate discussion, feedback and support on your writing efforts.

The aim of the Writing Retreat is to provide feedback and collegial support in order to increase the scholarship and writing productivity of participants. The Retreat can be adapted as required, but the anticipated outcome should include each participant completing a piece of writing (for example – manuscript for a peer-reviewed journal; book  chapter; conference proceeding; literature review); or, a conference  presentation from work already in development but stalled due to lack of time or  competing priorities (bottom drawer phenomenon).

The facilitators are experienced authors, journal reviewers and journal editors, and they will provide support and direction to help you succeed in drafting your manuscript over the three days. We seek to support staff new to writing for publication, and, also provide the time and space for those who are experienced writers.heriot watt

This retreat is primarily for staff who are Edinburgh Napier Teaching Fellows or members of HEREN or academic staff who work in the in the School of Nursing Midwifery and Social Care.

Prospective participants will be invited to complete a short application form outlining their writing plans (Please email Ruth Lough for applicaiton). The application needs to be supported by the head of school or department and submitted to Ruth Lough by 22nd May.

Launch of new open acess journal

The Hub for Education Research at Edinurgh Napier is very excited to announce the launch of a new open access peer-reviewed journal in academic practice. The Journal of Perspective in Applied Academic Practice is very unique, as it is not just another open access journal, it specifically aims to support early career academics in all aspects of publishing, through supporting new reviewers and providing editorial internships. This journal is a collaborative venture between Edinburgh Napier University, University of Dundee and Aston University. You can follow the journal on twitter @JofPAAP.

With a focus on developing early career academics, Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice aims to provide a supportive publishing outlet to allow established and particularly new authors to contribute to the scholarly discourse of academic practice (both generally and in their discipline area) through the publication of papers that are theory-based and supported by evidence, as well as through the publication of Opinion Pieces and ‘On the Horizon’ papers on emerging work.

This developmental ethos manifests itself in a range of activities and opportunities that currently include the following:

  • Direct support for authors who are seeking to publish their first paper in one or more of the thematic areas of the journal, through assigning ‘critical friends’ from within the editorial team who will be happy to advise on the development of initial ideas for the formats of paper we publish. Prospective authors wishing to discuss an idea should in the first instance e-mail JPAAP@napier.ac.uk .
  • Peer support for those new to reviewing The Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice welcomes academics with experience in the thematic areas of the journal, but who are new to the journal submission reviewing process, to become involved as reviewers for the journal. This will include an opportunity to work for an initial period of reviewing with a colleague who is already experienced as a reviewer.
  • Editorial internships The journal will soon be offering editorial internships, normally two a year, for academics who are experienced in the thematic areas of the journal, have some publications of their own and experience as a reviewer, and who wish to develop knowledge and experience on the editorial side of journal publishing. Further information on our first round of editorial internships will be forthcoming.
  • Special issues The Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice welcomes the opportunity to work alongside colleagues in the field to develop Special Issues of the journal dedicated to particular themes or emerging areas of work. Having a good idea for a special issue, and being willing to take on Guest Editor responsibilities for the special issue (with support provided from the regular Editorial Team for the journal), is much more important than prior editing experience.

To find out more about the journal please visit the journal website and follow the journal on twitter for regular news and annoucements.

Reflections on ECEL 2012

slide1_ecelIn this week’s guest blog, Elaine Mowat, Academic Developer, within the Professional Academic Development team in Human Resources and Development at Edinburgh Napier reflects on her recent conference attendance, the European Conference on e-Learning, which was held in Groningen. 

With participants from Japan, Jordan, Iran, the United States, Canada and New Zealand, along with just about every country within Europe, the European Conference on e-learning (ECEL) 2012 was a lively and cosmopolitan gathering. The focus of the conference was on looking ‘Beyond the Gadget’ to find the value in e-learning and the wide spectrum of contributions provided a snapshot of current practice and research across many different educational contexts. For example, we could hear about the experience of using blogs as an assessment tool in Catalan Higher Education and the mobile dissemination of computer based learning in rural India, as well as approaches to elearning evaluation and ideas about how Web 2.0 technologies are affecting academic roles in higher education.

Julia Fotheringham in the Academy Building at the University of Groningen

Julia Fotheringham in the Academy Building at the University of Groningen

From Edinburgh Napier, Julia Fotheringham and I shared our experience of action research into online peer assessment in our presentation Peer to Peer – The Full Cycle: Investigating Online Peer Assessment through Action Research and Keith Smyth reported on Sharing and Shaping Effective Institutional Practice in TEL through the 3E Framework. The buzz and interest generated by Keith’s session underlines the value we have in our benchmark for the use of technology in modules. Colleagues Aileen Sibbald and Mammed Bagher from the Business School were also at the conference to contribute their views and catch up on developments.

The highlight for me was the chance to hear Eric Mazur from Harvard University talk about his rigorous and influential research into peer instruction, as this has greatly informed our use at Edinburgh Napier of the TurningPoint ‘clicker’ student response system.  His keynote lecture ‘Confessions of a Converted Lecturer’ provided an honest and uplifting account of his development as a teacher and underlined the importance of taking the effort to investigate your own practice and to adjust your approach accordingly. As Mazur demonstrates, the impact on the student experience can be tangible and significant.

The Academy Building at the University of Groningen provided a handsome and dignified backdrop for our discussions and the conference was extremely well administered by Academic Conferences International. The destination for ECEL 2013 – Sophia-Antipolis in the south of France – sounds most congenial – I recommend that you consider the call for papers!

You can find out more about the call for papers for this year’s ECEL conference  at:


Twitter: a central connection to professional life.

Dr Hazel Christie, is a Student Learning Advisor in the Centre for Learning and Study Support in Student and Academic Services at Edinburgh Napier University. In this guest blog Hazel reflects on her experiences of using twitter. You can follow Hazel on twitter  @christiehazel

Hazel_Donegal_biggerAcademics are often sceptical when I talk about twitter.  They don’t see the appeal of the 140 character tweet, which can, at best, give only a headline comment or a snapshot of a situation, and, at worst, fill your tweet deck with banal details about a random group of individuals.  Twitter is yet another task to be prioritised amidst the mounting piles of assessments, the e-mails that need to be answered, the lectures that needs to be written, the research project that needs attention.  And, of course, twitter is never ending.

For me, twitter started as an escape route from a particularly testing time in my personal and family life.  It was an unexpected oasis of stability and tranquillity that I could retreat to when things were very difficult.  And although I didn’t anticipate it at the start, twitter has become a central connection to, and an integral part of, my professional life.  It’s a very efficient and effective way both to keep in touch with colleagues here at Edinburgh Napier, and to become networked into a wider community of practice, for me in the field of teaching and learning in higher education.

I’ve been using twitter seriously for over a year and, as time progressed, I started to reflect on why it has become a central crux of my professional life.  Like everything, you have to invest time and energy to learn how twitter works, indeed this is something that Hazel Hall has written about more broadly in her account of the social processes through which people engage in on-line environments (Hall et al 2010).  There’s the messy busy of finding people who are on twitter and who, more importantly, are worth following.  I check out a person’s twitter history before I decide to follow them, looking for the ones who have interesting and useful things to say about teaching and learning, or about what’s happening here at Edinburgh Napier.  For me, a lot of the appeal of twitter stems from how our colleagues here (or at least the ones I follow) use it in a very constructive fashion.  There’s the usual round of tweets that are in effect news or announcements about what’s happening in the University – calls for papers, details of upcoming conferences, success with research grants and so on.  Some of these are interesting enough to want to follow up the (obligatory) links, and others I give only a cursory glance to.  But I appreciate that colleagues are taking the time and effort to put information ‘out there’, and I find twitter a very easy, light touch, way to gain a sense of what’s happening in my university world.  It’s possible to stay connected and feel knowledgeable even if you aren’t actively participating in a round of tweets.

And perhaps more importantly, I try to find people to follow in my wider research area.  Again, it’s about finding the right people, and the right organisations, to follow.  And again, there’s a learning curve.  I’ve been lucky – there are lots of great people tweeting about teaching and learning, particularly as the ground is shifting so fast with changes in digital media culture, and the majority of the learned societies, professional bodies, policy units and so on in my field have an active twitter presence.  Some I’ve found by serendipity, perhaps picking up on an interesting conversation in someone else’s timeline, but the majority I find by design, by actively seeking out the twitter feeds that will give me a heads-up about what’s happening in my wider professional world.  I love the range of things I touch on every day, from tiny details about where people are at in the research process – their writing targets, new collaborative research project, the headline comments from conferences and workshops they attend – to bigger research and policy questions.  And it’s an active process.  I’ve followed up suggestions about how best to support students to write to deadline, and implemented these in my workshops; I’ve followed links to the processes which help student to become independent learners, and used these in my teaching; and I’ve gained insight into the research and teaching practices of people at the cutting edge of the discipline.  My timeline is full of information that useful to me in my job here; after all, I’ve customised it to suit my needs. And that, perhaps, is why I find twitter such a powerful way to connect to a professional teaching and learning community.


Hall, H., Widén, G. and Paterson, L. (2010) Not what you know, nor who you know, but who you know already: Examining Online Information Sharing Behaviours in a Blogging Environment through the Lens of Social Exchange Theory Libri, 60(2): 117-128

See also Hazel Hall’s blog on many things to do with information and knowledge management.

Five of my favourite twitter accounts for teaching and learning in higher education


Up-to-the minute headlines on what’s happening across the university, links to articles published in The Times Higher Education Supplement.


Aimed at research students but useful for all academics. Lots of hints and tips for PhD students, often linking through to thesiswhisperer’s blog, about writing and managing the research process.


Professor of Education, Pat tweets links to her blog on research methods, academic writing and public engagement.


Prolific tweeter concentrating on if and how our teaching and learning practices are being reshaped by technological shifts.


Based at the LSE, this account centres on the hard, skilled work required to write for research publications.  Looks also at how to use all kinds of writing in the process of public engagement.

For more information on how to use twitter in learning, teachign and research see the London School of Economic twitter guide.

What are your thoughts and/or experiences of using twitter? How do you use it for research? Do you have any further “follow” suggestions? Please feel free to leave comments below.

If you are interested in contributing to the HERENblog please contact Karen Strickland at k(dot)strickland(at)napier(dot)ac(dot)uk 


Edinburgh Napier Teaching Fellows Journal now available online

Want to find an old article from the Teaching Fellows Journal?

Can’t find your current printed edition to read an article?

Bookmark this link and you’ll never have to search again!


Our archive of the Teaching Fellows Journal is now available at http://issuu.com/teachingfellowsjournal.


Here you’ll be able to:


  • Find all our issues back to the first in November 2002, including the current version that you still receive as a printed copy.


  • Cite your written articles for reference using our unique ISSN for both online and printed copies.


  • Search for that article that has been on your mind or search on a topic that you’re researching to find contacts within the community.

How to search:

ž   Click on an issue

ž   Open the PDF then use the magnifying glass search feature

ž   Tick the box ‘Search all publications from teachingfellowsjournal ’ to search all issues or leave unticked to search only the opened issue.


  • Subscribe online ensuring that you never miss an issue.


  • Download PDFs if you prefer to print and read on the move. Don’t worry we’ll still be sending out printed copies of new editions too and archiving them here for future reference.


  • Direct others to read your articles online or share anything you read of interest.


Don’t forget we are still on the lookout for articles for our Spring edition 2013 – get in touch with tfj@napier.ac.uk, or any of the editorial team, with any proposals or thoughts for our next edition. Guidance on how to contribute can be found on our webpages at http://staff.napier.ac.uk/services/academicdevelopment/TFscheme/teachingfellowsjournal/Pages/Howtocontribute.aspx. We look forward to hearing from you.

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