Feedback’s coming home!

Our helpful and honest panel of PGRs at the PGR Writing Summer School 2018. L-R: Martine, Sian, Anna, Farhan, Frankie, Tom

This week, we’ve had the annual PGR Writing Summer School, with a range of insightful workshops on various aspects of academic and thesis writing.  And, of course, we’ve had national excitement around England’s place in the semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.  I’d been wondering how to tie these together for this blog, when this article on football psychology caught my eye, and chimed with a couple of comments made during the Writing Summer School.  How can we build our resilience to tackle a fear of failure and deal with difficult feedback constructively?

In his workshop on “Writing for a purpose” (enrol first for access), Paul Thompson talked about ways we can identify the purpose and audience for our writing, and tailor it to meet that purpose.  He used journal article publication as an illustrative example, and mentioned the peer review process:

Most articles are sent back for revision … even well-known professors get rejections.

Being adept at receiving feedback, criticism and rejection is just part of the academic writing process.

This topic also came up in discussion with our panel of PGRs who have recently submitted their theses.  The panel all agreed that receiving and responding to feedback from supervisors was critical in developing their writing skills and in producing the final thesis.  They had arrived at the start of their PhD after successfully completing both undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes, but quickly discovered that their writing skills were not up to the standard of doctoral writing.  However, the panel acknowledged that this was often a difficult and emotional process.  Some of their advice was:

  • Seek feedback early. Ask for comments on a structural plan for your article/thesis chapter before you start writing, or even send a single paragraph to check you have the tone and style correct.
  • Take some time between reading feedback and dealing with it. On first reading, feedback can be upsetting, so giving yourself a day or two to process those feelings allows you to come back to deal with the feedback more objectively.
  • The panel contrasted harsh words on the page with the nice-ness of the person giving the feedback. If the written feedback seems harsh, arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss it in person.
  • Deal with the small stuff first, to give yourself a feeling of achievement and progress, before returning to the tricky and time-consuming stuff.
  • Tom observed that he had been upset to receive a critical peer review for a manuscript he had submitted, but on coming across it again six months later, had to admit that he agreed with everything they said!

Much like Gareth Southgate and the England football team, PGRs need to deal with pressure (for many PGRs, much of this is self-inflicted), reframe emotions to see opportunities to develop instead of threats, and build resilience to learn from perceived failure.  Dealing effectively with criticism and feedback on writing is a critical part of the PGR journey.  Listen to the whole PGR panel discussion (enrol first for access).

Have you received feedback that produced negative emotions?  How have you overcome this to develop your writing?

One thought on “Feedback’s coming home!”

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Helen Kara

Writing and research

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