The Need for Graduate Writing Coaching

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What is graduate writing coaching? I define it as the practice of using communication to improve the motivation, writing skills, and publishing rates of early career academics. With a Ph.D in Communication, I have oriented my coaching practice around productive conversations. Through conveniently scheduled meetings, my conversational approach has helped graduate students complete dissertations, articles, and conference papers in the social sciences. And after three years of serving as a writing coach at UC Irvine’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences and five years as a freelance academic editor, I’m currently looking for another University client interested in supporting their graduate students!

The need is clear: professors agree on the need for an additional layer of writing support to help graduate students acquire “second-order literacies” for publishing. I’ve developed this phrase to refer to the gap in higher-order skill sets that connect writing practices with successful publishing. This literacies gap isn’t surprising, since most publishing knowledge exists in a “gray area.” Students often need bespoke support to acclimate to academic norms. For example, graduate students may have never been explicitly taught how to make an argument or tailor a manuscript for a specific journal. Even responding to a “revise and resubmit” from a submission can be a nerve-wracking challenge that professors simply don’t have time to help students navigate. First-generation and international students in particular can feel like the University system isn’t really “for them.” As a result, they can lack the confidence to work independently on writing projects. Yet once shown the path for publishing together, I’ve found that graduate students can easily walk down it again themselves.

My practice also takes a goal-driven approach to writing coaching. I’m not simply another campus writing center that will dispense common knowledge about grammar and spelling. Instead, the first question I ask students in a meeting is: “What are our goals today?” Once we have developed rapport and set goals, I walk them through specific steps to hone their writing and achieve their publishing goals. For example, they may want to complete a dissertation or to publish in a leading journal to graduate be more competitive on the job market. They could simply wish to better understand how to summarize qualitative data like interviews, or write a compelling introduction. Regardless, each of these larger goals can be decomposed into steps, personalized to each student’s background, that we can work on together over several weeks. At each step I employ a combination of writing activities, co-writing (when we work on the same document simultaneously), and conversations in which all questions can be asked. By the end of each session, they’ve made progress towards their publishing goals and feel more confident about the publishing process.

I’ve also found that graduate students prefer an “outside ear” to guide them. First-generation and/or international graduate students particularly worry about not being able to write or publish at levels that professors expect. (Ironically, I hear the same worry, even from full professors! Everyone seems to feel that their writing just isn’t quite good enough.) Because I’m separate from the University structure and don’t report back to professors about their students, students are comfortable being more candid with me about the real problems they’re encountering. Regardless of how imposing the challenges they confront are, I work with graduate students until they’ve achieved their goals.

Simply put, hiring a freelance writing coach is also a pragmatic decision for departments and schools. Institutional channels to improve writing often aren’t tailored for students’ publishing needs. Hiring full-time staff often takes time and money that budgets can’t accommodate. By contrast, a school or even a small department can hire a writing coach like me on a yearly basis for a reasonable cost. Because I’m a certified Small Business (SB), smaller contracts with my LLC are typically exempt from the usual University overhead. I can also orient my practice to specific challenges your students confront, and the types of publications they need to get ahead. In these ways, I can hit the ground running and immediately improve your students’ confidence and publishing rates.

Dr. Aure Schrock is the Senior Editor at Indelible Voice, an editing service for academic book proposals, book manuscripts, and journal article manuscripts. You can find them on Twitter at @aschrock.