Creating sustainable writers' groups


Communication skills

Target Group

Doctoral researchers of the Doctoral Schools of Ghent University and postdoctoral researchers.

This course has been successfully taught to scientific/academic writers from a wide range of discipline and levels: from the hard sciences to literary studies; from BA students to young professors. Although there are relative advantages and disadvantages to each, interdisciplinary groups function just as well as groups from a single discipline; single-level groups function as well as multi-level groups. Thus, the research backgrounds, disciplines, and experience levels of the participants are unimportant.


Dr. Sarah Haas has been working with writers’ groups internationally for over 20 years, actively helping bachelor’s students, master’s students, PhD students, postgraduates, and professors reap the potential benefits of writers’ groups. Her research on writer development began in 2006 at Aston University in Birmingham, UK. Since finishing her PhD at Aston, she has continued to conduct practitioner-based research that aims to further improve the teaching of academic writing, the optimisation of writers’ groups, and the facilitation of writer development. Relevant publications include:

Topic: Sustainable Writers’ Groups

Although writers’ groups have been found to be beneficial to research writers, some of those who would reap the benefits of writers’ groups might feel at a loss as to how to get them started. Others might have managed to set something up only to watch their group fizzle, and conclude that it “didn’t work” (Aitchison and Haas 2010; Haas, 2014).

This course takes participants through a research-based model of sustainable writers’ groups, focusing on the goal of setting up lasting groups in their own contexts. Various models of writers’ group activities will be presented, and put to immediate use, giving participants the theoretical and practical knowledge necessary to set up and maintain their own writers’ groups.

Learning Objectives

There are both theoretical and practical learning objectives:

  • Participants will come to an understanding of writers’ group theory
    • what writers’ groups are
    • the potential benefits for writers
    • the various ways writers’ groups can function
    • the main factors determining whether groups flourish or fizzle
  • Participants will use their understanding to
    • Conceptualise their own ideal writers’ group
    • Consider factors in their own contexts that might affect the functioning of a local group
    • Systematically plan/set-up a writers’ group in their own context
    • Collect regular reflections on/from their writers’ group
    • Use the reflections to optimise the functioning of the group

Time and Venue



This is a three-day course, split into two parts. The first two days (part 1) are consecutive; the third day (part 2) will take place four to six weeks after part 1. In between the two parts of the course, participants will set up their own writers’ group (or form groups with other course participants). Six weeks after the close of the course, participants will have an option for a follow-up meeting with the lecturer.


Part 1

Day 1


  • Introductions
  • Input sessions
    • Writers’ groups: definition, benefits and varieties
    • Brief-Write-Debrief (BWD) model of writers’ group typing pool
  • BWD session


  • Input session: Introduction to Pick-n-Mix model of sustainable writers’ groups
  • Workshop: contextualising the model
  • BWD session

Day 2


  • Input session: What makes writers’ group flourish or fizzle
  • Workshop: predicting needs
  • BWD session


  • Input sessions: Potential pitfalls and how to address them
  • Planning own writers’ group


Part 2 will be held approximately 6 weeks after Part 1. In the 6-week interim, participants will organise regular meetings or writing sessions with the writers’ groups they have set up - usually once a week/once a fortnight for a minimum of 2 hours. Participants will keep regular written reflections on the functioning of the group (reflections from themselves and other group members).

Part 2

Day 3


  • Debrief/regroup
    • Report on writers’ groups
      • Developments/insights/habits
      • General satisfaction (or not)
    • BWD session: reflection and re-planning



  • Input session: Reader Engagement model of feedback in writers’ groups
  • Workshop
  • (re)Formulating systematic plans for continuing writers’ groups




Six weeks (approximately) after the end of the course, participants will have the option to have a (virtual) check-in meeting with the teacher. Check-in meetings can be used for further questions/answers based on reflections/analysis of writers’ groups, or for re-forming writers’ groups if necessary (participants who are close to submitting theses, for example, often want to form groups that meet more often or for longer periods of time than the standard once a week for 2 hours).

Teaching Methods and Materials

This course starts from point of recognition that while there are underlying theories and principles for setting up and maintaining writers’ groups, each context is different. Thus, participants have the responsibility to systematically discover how they themselves can set up and manage their own sustainable writers’ groups.

The teaching is participant-centred and non-hierarchical; the general approach is inductive, guided discovery: Theoretical frameworks and models are introduced by using participants’ own experiences and knowledge as a starting point. All content is solidly grounded in research, however, it is emphasised that there is no one-size-fits-all method for managing writers’ groups.

Participants do not passively receive the theory, but rather actively apply all frameworks to their current situations. They are guided in making adaptations, both to the models and to their own ways of operating. 

Course material is minimal, as emphasis is placed on participants thoroughly  understanding and fully integrating several theoretical models related to writers’ groups (see course content).

Registration Fee

Free of charge for members of the Doctoral Schools and postdoctoral researchers. The no show policy applies.

Registration procedure

Registration is currently closed.



Evaluation Criteria

  • Fully participate in all sessions
  • Produce a principled plan for a writers’ group in participants’ own context
  • Systematically reflect on their own writers’ group and use the reflections to optimise the group

Number of participants

Twelve participants is ideal, but up to 15 participants can be accepted.