In navigating the chaos of clinical practice, teaching, and committee service, it can be difficult for family medicine faculty to prioritize scholarship amongst other weekly—or even monthly—responsibilities. Possible barriers to scholarly activity include the increased need for didactic or experiential teaching, lack of awareness of different forms of scholarship, and few role models or mentors for scholarship.1
Formation of a writing group or writers’ circle is one method to garner peer support or augment faculty mentorship programs with regards to scholarship.2-5 Here, participants have a forum to discuss potential projects, get suggestions for research dissemination, and receive feedback on current projects. More importantly, writing groups encourage faculty to schedule and protect time for scholarly activity. Faculty participation in writing groups has resulted in an increased number of publications and improved confidence among junior faculty.5
How do you set up a writing group? Here are five steps for success:
Identify colleagues who will hold you accountable—this is your tribe.
A tribe is defined as a group of people with common characteristics, occupations, or interests. Your writing group should consist of individuals who have a variety of expertise, are open to discussing scholarship, and share an availability to meet at least once a week. Most writing groups described in health professions literature have approximately four to ten participants.2-5 They do not necessarily need to be collaborators on existing projects. However, writing group participation could most certainly lead to new collaborations!
Simulate an ideal writing environment.
Do your writing group members prefer having elbow room? Drinking coffee? Listening to soft jazz? A survey of participants can identify elements of a comfortable writing environment. Examples of personal preferences include morning or afternoon session, room size and location, refreshments, and ideal session duration. You can encourage individuals to bring their own beverages, headphones, or other materials to facilitate scholarly productivity (eg, printed articles, laptop computers).
Discuss expectations with group participants.
How often does your writing group plan to meet? How many minutes/hours is each writing group session? How many sessions should each participant attempt to attend? It is important to review expectations and outline the session structure to best utilize the participants’ time. Weekly attendance is highly recommended to improve scholarly habits and prioritization of scholarship.
Track weekly goals, progress, and participation.
A shared document such as a Google spreadsheet is a free, easily accessible method for each participant to document tasks and progress toward weekly goals. Participants are held accountable for their actions by publicly sharing this information among other group members. Additionally, the recognition of attendance could be a small but meaningful extrinsic motivator for faculty.
Recognize each individual effort.
Peer-to-peer writing groups aim to facilitate scholarly productivity in an informal, collegial manner. The appreciation of each participant’s progress is essential to building confidence in scholarship—this is especially true for junior faculty or those who lack research experience. When discussing progress or goals, it may be necessary to discourage comparison talk and/or self-minimization of accomplishments. I constantly remind myself to run my own race at times where I feel inadequate.
More often than I would like to admit, I lack motivation after a long day of precepting students, educating patients, and writing notes. This is why I have found great value in peer accountability to overcome this challenge. Peer accountability works for me, whether I am training for a race or compiling the background for my next review article.
Since forming a writing group, my peers and I have incorporated scholarship into our weekly agendas, eliminated the habit of binge writing prior to deadlines and decreased time spent catching up on postponed projects.
So what are you waiting for? Go out and create a writing group that best works for you! The cost to implement and sustain a writing group (eg, coffee and cookies) is minimal compared to the benefit of increased scholarly productivity for you and your fellow faculty.
Writing Group Resources
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/fac_development/career_path/wags.html
- University of Texas Southwestern: https://www.utsouthwestern.edu/about-us/administrative-offices/faculty-diversity/faculty-development/writing/
- Smesny AL, Williams JS, Brazeau GA, Weber RJ, Matthews HW, Das SK. Barriers to scholarship in dentistry, medicine, nursing, and pharmacy practice faculty. Am J Pharm Educ. 2007;71(5):91. https://doi.org/10.5688/aj710591
- Ness V, Duffy K, McCallum J, Price L. Getting published: reflections of a collaborative writing group. Nurse Educ Today. 2014;34(1):1-5. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2013.03.019
- Brandon C, Jamadar D, Girish G, Dong Q, Morag Y, Mullan P. Peer support of a faculty “writers’ circle” increases confidence and productivity in generating scholarship. Acad Radiol. 2015;22(4):534-538. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acra.2014.12.006
- Lord JA, Mourtzanos E, McLaren K, Murray SB, Kimmel RJ, Cowley DS. A peer mentoring group for junior clinician educators: four years’ experience. Acad Med. 2012;87(3):378-383. https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0b013e3182441615
- Fleming LW, Malinowski SS, Fleming JW, Brown MA, Davis CS, Hogan S. The impact of participation in a Research/Writing Group on scholarly pursuits by non-tenure track clinical faculty. Curr Pharm Teach Learn. 2017;9(3):486-490. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cptl.2016.12.004