The UKERC Writing Retreat

24 Nov 2022

Joining the writing retreat, I was intrigued, having never attended one before I didn’t know what to expect. Kicking off the day, we were immediately thrown into a warm-up activity of writing our biographies, using these snippets to introduce ourselves in small groups and reflect on the activity.

Goal setting and silence

Individuals were then split into smaller writing trios to set their personal goals for the retreat and define the tasks they were planning on tackling. It was clear that there were a multitude of different projects being confronted, including bid proposals, paper outlines, chaptering a thesis, writing up papers – including writing up 2018 UKERC paper.

Periods of group activity and feedback were interspersed by blocks of studious silence, reminiscent of an exam or library space. With Christine Bell facilitating the day and holding us to time (and insisting on silence during these key writing blocks), it was difficult to avoid the task at hand, with the tapping of keyboards really setting the pace.


Writing retreat attendees in their first writing block

Writing retreat attendees in their first writing block

Expert input

During the retreat we had expert input from both Nicky Dean, Chief Editor, Nature Energy, and former Energy Minister, Charles Hendry.

Nicky provided some hints and tips for writing for publications, including key do’s and don’ts. He highlighted that as “we write to be read”, tailoring content to the audience is everything.  The session was then opened to questions, with topics ranging from the role of opinion in papers and graphical abstracts, to the use of jargon and acronyms.  Nicky highlighted the importance of capturing a reader’s attention in the first few paragraphs of a paper, referencing journal heat maps which show that readers often engage with the top 15% of a paper, but this is followed by a rapid drop off rate.


Nick Dean presenting a slide on key do's and don'ts

Nicky Dean presenting

Throughout the day attendees had the opportunity to have short one-to-one meetings with Nicky, and as he put it: “They were really valuable, as when delivering a presentation, you can never be sure it is quite hitting the mark, so it’s great to have the opportunity to provide personalised advice.”

Former Energy Minister, Charles Hendry then joined us for dinner to share insights from his time in Parliament. He highlighted the importance of capturing attention through writing, drawing on his experience of being required to read the many papers in the daily red box – those that were brief and easy to read were tackled first, with lengthy documents often pushed to the bottom of the pile. He highlighted the challenge of being a minister and therefore being expected to know “everything about everything”, so if given the opportunity to brief a minister, academics should remember that they are experts on their topics, so “be bold and brave and tell them what you really think… the more direct the better.” Charles remained with the group after dinner, talking to individuals and responding to questions, further sharing his knowledge and expertise.


Charles Hendry speaking after dinner

Charles Hendry speaking after dinner

The value of providing an inclusive writing space

The feedback from those that attended the retreat was really positive, with individuals sharing that they had struggled to engage with or ‘get into the zone at’ writing retreats organised by their universities. Key to the programme we delivered in Birmingham was the creation of a shared and inclusive space, developing a community of practice, and as one attendee eloquently put it “through the silence we made our connection”. Many who joined were keen to build on the experience and explore how it could be taken forward, the creation of a group WhatsApp group indicting the cohesion and connections that they had built over the two days and three nights.


Group picture taken just before departure from the retreat

Group picture taken just before departure


From sitting in on the group elements of the retreat, I can really see the value that an event such as this delivers, both in terms of providing a dedicated space in which to write, but also in creating a community. We hope that many of the connections forged will be taken forward.

As UKERC, we plan to host future writing retreats, so please get in touch with Kajsa if you would like to be involved with future events or have any ideas that you think could help build on the experience we developed.