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



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:


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.

TF logo

Academic Writing Month


Do you have a paper to complete, conference presentation tugging at your conscience  just waiting to be transformed into a paper, or have you recently completed a project and the report needs written, got a book chapter waiting to be written? What’s stopping you? Need to set deadlines and get some moral support achieving them? Then #AcWriMo may just have come in time…

The 1st of November sees the start of academic writing month which is a public scholarship project lead by Dr Anna Tarrant. Academic writing month or #AcWriMo was started last year as #AcBoWriMo and based on the Novel writing month. The idea is to make public declarations of writing targets for the month of November on the PhDtoPublished and “call in” with your progress at regular intervals via twitter using the #AcWriMo hastag or on the PhDtoPublished blog site.

I have made my declaration on the blog and also posted to my own PhD blog 



There is also peer support available from Literature Review HQ as well as the PhDtoPublished blog and on twitter through using the hashtag #AcWriMo.


Thinking, great idea but rubbish time of year? Well there is never a good time so why not joining in and see how you get on?

Remember we also have the monthly silent writing sessions  on the first Wednesday of the month from 8am to 1pm on the fifth floor of the library in Sighthill and the Crofters Club at the last Monday of the month so you can get some face to face contact too.


HEREN events

The start of the new academic year makes us all think ahead. So what’s in store this year for HEREN?

The HEREN core group are meeting in early October to discuss and plan HEREN activities, both locally in the schools and faculties, and wider networking events. If there is something you think would be useful to support education research activity, please feel free to contact your local HEREN core group member so they can bring this to the meeting in October.

There are a number of events available in the researcher development programme, as well as a monthly informal events like the Crofter’s Club, which is a monthly meeting for like minded academics, to discuss the scholarship of teaching and learning over a drink, and the monthly writing group which meets on the first Wednesday of the month, at the Sighthill Campus from 8am to 1pm for silent writing time, and the chance for peer review. Please contact Svetlana Vetchkanova for room details.