How to Hold a Writer's Workshop
How to Hold a Writer's Workshop
This document represents the collective work of various people (e.g.,
Frank Buschmann, Ralph Johnson, Jim Coplien, Linda Rising, David
Delano, Erich Gamma, and Doug Schmidt) in the patterns
community. Jim Coplien has also written down patterns for
Structure of a Writer's Workshop
The writers workshop format is a particularly effective method to
review, evaluate, and improve pattern descriptions. The general
structure of a writers workshop has a group of ``discussants'' read
the paper carefully before the session. During the workshop the
discussants examine the strengths and weaknesses of each paper,
accentuating positive aspects and suggesting improvements in content
Although the author is present, he or she remains ``invisible'' during
most of the discussion. The author is expected to take notes and/or
have someone take notes for them during the discussion (so they can
concentrate on the discussion). Many reviewers also give their
marked-up copy of the paper to the authors with further written
comments. These comments are intended to help the author improve the
paper, but the author is not obliged to follow all the suggestions.
The entire process normally takes about an hour per paper.
Within a writers workshop session, papers are discussed in several
``rounds'' according to the following format:
Note that during the rounds 3, 4, and 5 the author of the paper is
only ``virtually'' present. He or she does not actively participate
in the discussion. Moreover, the reviewers do not address him or her
directly, i.e., the reviewers discuss the paper as if its author is
not present. In particular, the reviewers should refer to ``the
author'' in the third person and should not look at the author when
- The paper is discussed by a group of people including its author,
a moderator, and a group of reviewers who are familiar with the
contents of the paper.
- The author of a paper reads a paragraph of his/her choice. The
goal is to let the author express what he or she feels is
particularly important about the pattern, as well as to give
participants a change to get to know the author a bit.
- One or two reviewers briefly summarize the paper from their
personal viewpoint. The goal is to identify what the reviewer(s)
thought were the key points of the pattern. Since the other
participants should already have read the work, the summaries
should be concise. In particular, it's best to avoid debating
any inconsistencies between different reviewer's interpretations
of the paper at this point.
- The group then discusses what they liked about the paper, first
in terms of content and then in terms of style. The goal is to
identify and praise the strengths of the work.
- After presenting the positive aspects of the paper, the group
discusses how to improve the content and style of the paper. The
goal here is not to criticise the paper per se, but
rather to give the author constructive suggestions on how to make
the paper better. In general, the style for critical comments
is to first state the problem followed by a suggestion on how to
solve the problem.
- After this discussion, the author of the paper may ask questions
of the reviewers to clarify their statements. The goal is to
give the author a chance to better understand certain comments,
rather than to defend the paper.
- The session closes with the audience thanking the author for
writing the paper.
Suggestions for a Successful Writer's Workshop
The following are some suggestions for holding a successful writer's
workshop. The purpose of these suggestions are to foster creativity
and sharing of ideas and insights among the participants and to
respect and appreciate the contribution of the authors.
- Ensuring appropriate atmosphere -- It is very important that
workshop participants act professionally and courteously towards
each other and towards the author during a workshop. The goal is
to ensure that participants feel comfortable sharing their insights
and suggestions for improvement. We all feel uneasy when we are
being evaluated, and so authors will feel nervous under the best of
circumstances. If one of the workshop attendees is very critical
then the author will feel so bad he or she will probably never want
to come back.
It is the responsibility of the moderators (and particularly the
lead moderator) to ensure the atmosphere of the workshop is
constructive and conducive to insightful discussions, rather than
having people show off their intellect by attacking other people.
Moreover, it's very important to stress positive aspects of the
paper before presenting (constructive) criticisms.
- Contributions by non-authors -- Moderators should ask each author
whether they would like to include or exclude non-authors from
commenting on their paper during their workshop review. In
addition, moderators should let authors comment on the paper being
reviewed before asking for non-author comments. The goal is to
make sure that those who have contributed their effort to write
papers for the workshop are recognized accordingly.
We've found that non-authors usually have good things to
contribute, and authors would lose a lot if they didn't get their
input. However, we realize that most of the authors do not have a
lot of writing experience. They are expert developers, not expert
writers, so we are sympathetic and try to be as helpful as we can
be. The authors are sharing their hard-earned experience with us,
and we want to demonstrate our appreciation to them.
- Circle organization -- When possible, the
writer's workshops should be organized with the authors in the
workshop sitting in the inner circle, and non-authors sitting in
the outer circle. The goal is to recognize the authors, who have
contributed their efforts to making the workshop possible, and to
encourage the authors to contribute to the discussion.
Naturally, if the room isn't large enough to accommodate this,
then everyone should sit in a single larger circle.
- Rotating moderators -- It has been common practice at past PLoPs to
rotate moderators among authors in writer's workshops. The goal is
to give authors the opportunity to gain experience moderating a
writer's workshop. It is the responsibility of the lead moderator
for each session to help other moderators if questions arise.
- Workshop size -- To avoid overcrowding, please limit the
number of non-authors in a writer's workshop to around 10. The
goal is to disperse the non-authors relatively evenly throughout
the 7 workshops. Since we have almost 80 authors at PLoP '96
(and about 110 attendees) this should be fairly easy to do since
the average number of non-authors will be about 5 per session.
Back to PLoP '96 page.
Last modified 11:34:54 CDT 28 September 2006