Reflections by a hermit on collaborative writing

I am fairly asocial. Not antisocial, but I tended, even before the current pandemic, not to go out very much. I geek out about SLA and teaching alone for the most part, but I do have chats with colleagues at work from time to time, and on Twitter.

I decided to work on a duoethnography with my colleague and former housemate Jon Steven last year as a way to try something a bit different to all of the quantitative work that I was reading about and basically immersing myself in as part of my MRes. I also noticed that part of the Vitae criteria that researchers are supposed to work toward (and as somebody looking toward getting a doctorate in the future, this is me), and Jon wanted to work on more publications. This seemed like a really good opportunity.

It really was, but it was also tough. Jon and I both worked as full-time part-time/freelance teachers, me in universities and at an orthodontic clinic teaching ESP, him at high schools, companies and an international supplementary school. I changed jobs in the middle of our big bulk of writing it, so finding time to write was difficult. We are both parents, so after work and being present with our families, finding time to check citations and page numbers was dependent upon how tired we were and how long we could procrastinate them.

A key quote from Jon: “Are we still doing that? I thought it had been abandoned!”

Oh yes, it took me best part of nine months to get down to checking two citations and making changes to a paragraph I highlighted “Drastically rewrite or cut”. When I was ‘in the zone’ it felt frustrating that Jon wasn’t, though I am also sure the same is true of how Jon felt when I should have been redrafting, filling out or pruning text.

In the end, though, we ended up with a duoethnography that is, according to our review, “rooted in the literature” and that we are both proud of, despite it being quite tiring to write at times. Despite being a bit of a challenge, it was quite fun to share our opinions and beliefs and explore them further in writing, boiling them down and distilling them, then egging each other on to explain ourselves further.

As with autoethnography being a bit ‘mesearch’, duoethnography can be a bit ‘wesearch’; it’s pretty much the whole point. It could have got fairly navel-gazing if it was only about us, but I think we did a decent job within our word count of situating us within a context and talking about how others might have similar feelings, anxieties and experiences as us. That, to me, is the value of autoethnographic research methods to the literature. While I am quite keen on quantitative studies, having qualitative studies to explain the human, emotional side of what happens to us in language teaching is also important, and also appears to be becoming a bigger part of my projects outside my MRes.

Given the right opportunity and circumstances, I would definitely write a duoethnography again. It was immensely rewarding to write it, and once I got myself sat down and prepared, even fun to revise it. I just wouldn’t ever consider writing one when in the midst of learning the ropes in a new job.