Doctoral Writing Courses Work, Randomized Trial Findings


Doctoral writing courses significantly reduce doctoral students’ feelings of anxiety about receiving negative feedback or rejection, while improving their research habits, according to a new study.

Researchers who attended a three-hour writing workshop twice a week for five weeks were also significantly less likely to suffer from writing block or complain of a lack of inspiration, according to researchers. Americans say it is the first randomized controlled trial to examine the impact of Ph.D. writing training.

In the study published in Innovative higher education, scholars from the Irvine and San Diego campuses of the University of California recruited 35 doctoral students in the fields of social sciences, humanities and education, all of whom received 30 hours of writing lessons . Half initially served as a control group while, of the 32 who completed the course, half were also offered follow-up support by academic mentors for a further five weeks.

The sessions began with a 30-minute “silent writing” period and included sections on positive psychology, research planning, time management, and maintaining wellness. Participants were asked about their feelings throughout the program, and PhD students – especially those who received follow-up mentorship – felt much more positive about their studies and their ability to write at the end. courses, compared to the control group.

Lead author Barbara Sarnecka, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine, said she hoped the study would provide much-needed evidence for the importance of this type of training, the value of which was largely based on “anecdotal evidence”. .

“It’s all beautiful and interesting, but it’s still just impressions and stories – nothing is actually measured, no data is rigorously or systematically collected, and there are no falsifiable assumptions. “, Professor Sarnecka said.

Those who took the course also approached writing in a different way, the study explains: When asked what the minimum time needed for useful writing was before class, doctors answered 42 minutes in average, but that time dropped to 17 minutes by the end. However, the study found only weak evidence that classes increased the amount of a student’s writing, and no evidence that the quality of their writing improved.

Professor Sarnecka hoped the study could debunk the misconception that “dissertation writing happens separately from other parts of research. Many people think that “doing research” – designing studies, collecting data – is different from “writing it”. But you write every step of the way, to understand what you’re thinking.

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