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Writing Across Boundaries

The Writing Across Boundaries project is dedicated to supporting social science researchers, and particularly those using ethnographic methods, who are seeking to engage more effectively with the practical and intellectual issues that arise in the quest to produce texts that are engaging, accurate and analytically insightful.

Please follow the navigation bar at the top to find more pages about the programme.




Writing on Writing is an initiative in which scholars who have made a significant contribution to the social sciences offer personal reflections on the process of writing. The anthropologist Dame Professor Marilyn Strathern of Cambridge University made the first contribution to the series and this has been followed by contributions from similarly eminent scholars from a wide range of disciplines. Our latest contribution comes from Michael Carrithers.

As you read the effortless and insightful prose of the luminaries in your discipline, do you ever wonder how they do it? We certainly have, and as part of the Writing Across Boundaries project, we decided to ask them.

We have written to a number of scholars who have made a significant contribution to the social science literature and asked them to write a short piece (500 to 1,500 words) offering their personal reflections on the process of writing. In these pieces, scholars from a variety of social science disciplines share their thoughts, feelings, pearls of wisdom, anecdotes, theoretical musings and much else likely to give insight and inspiration to those in the later stages of doctoral writing.


We have had a good response and been able to assemble a series of thought provoking pieces. We have a list of scholars lined up to provide their insights in to writing but why not let us know who you would like to see produce a piece by emailing us.


The first contribution came from:

  • Dame Professor Marilyn Strathern of the University of Cambridge with a piece called 'Outside desk-work', in which she reflects on her personal response to dealing with the 'data-theory gap'.


She has been followed by:


Still to come....

    • David Silverman, with 'Tips on Writing a PhD'


Postgraduate Workshops 


Writing Across Boundaries was initially set up by Bob Simpson and Robin Humphrey as a collaboration between the universities of Durham and Newcastle. It was developed with support from the ESRC via the Researcher Development Initiative. Since 2017, Cathrine Degnen and Tom Yarrow have taken over from Bob and Robin in developing and delivering the programme. You can read more about the programme here.

Writing Across Boundaries forms part of the Northern Ireland and North East Doctoral Training Centre's (NINE DTP) programme for advanced training for doctoral students in the social sciences.


Each year the Writing Across Boundaries Project runs an intensive, two-day, residential workshop for social science PhD students in their third year to explore analytical and practical approaches to writing and offers participants an opportunity to reflect on the writing process itself as a form of social science thinking.

Eligible Participants

The workshop is targeted at PhD students in the social sciences in their third year of study, who:

  • Have used qualitative methods of data collection;
  • Are at the point of translating this data into written out-put for a thesis; and
  • Have completed their fieldwork and have data that they have begun to process.



The provisional programme for the workshop is available here.


How to Apply Note for Tom/Cathrine - pls update!

There are only 45 places available on our 2016 workshop. If you are interesting in attending please complete our online application form by Thursday, 11 February 2016 (5pm). Candidates will then be contacted by the Project Team by Tuesday, 1 March 2016 (5pm) as to whether they have been selected to join the workshop.

Please note that the online application form requires a letter of support from your principal supervisor to be attached. This letter is crucial in evaluating your application, as it is important that the needs of participants are closely matched as possible to the style and content of the workshop.


Costs Note for Tom/Cathrine - pls update!

The workshop registration is free for those from our regional and Northern Irish universities (Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Teesside, Sunderland, Queens and Ulster). For those from outside the Northern Ireland and North East Doctoral Training Partnership, we are charging £60. This includes lunch on both days and an evening hot buffet.


There will be limited overnight accommodation available at one of the Durham University Colleges, if needed, for £50 per night. If you accept a place on the workshop, you will be provided with a link to book your own accommodation online. Unfortunately we are not able to assist with accommodation or travel costs for any of the participants.

Participant Feedback


The impact [of the workshop] has been phenomenal. I was losing sleep before but when I came back I got straight on to it and wrote reams and reams, so it was like opening a floodgate - it gave me the opportunity to move on as a writer.

Doctoral Candidate in Education, Workshop 2


I was scared before I got there, I felt challenged about things I didn't know about, that I wouldn't know enough. But when I got there I wasn't intimidated at all, everyone was very willing to share. It gave me permission to let my creative intuition take me forward.

Doctoral Candidate in Gerontology, Workshop 3


As someone with a natural science background, qualitative data is still new to me and analysing and writing up 'words' rather than numbers is a daunting process.

Doctoral Candidate in Environmental Science, Workshop 3


More Info

Please contact Cathrine Degnen on, or Tom Yarrow on , if you require any further information about the Writing Across Boundaries workshop.


Read a blog entry from a former participant here.


Postgraduates on Writing


In Postgraduates on Writing we publish short pieces from research postgraduates on any aspect of the process of writing in doctoral study. We hope that this feature will be a valuable resource for postgraduate students engaged in writing their dissertations and we welcome contributions. The latest contributions come from Soibam Haripriya, with Abandoned Chapters, a poem about writing a PhD; and Sarah Russell, with Doctorate Blues.


Have you something you want to share about writing? Or perhaps something to get off your chest as a postgraduate about the writing process?

We invite research postgraduates from around the world to submit short articles (500 and 1,500 words) to us on any aspect of the process of writing in postgraduate study.


You can submit your article by emailing it to us here. You can ask for your piece to be anonymous, if you would prefer, or for your biographical details to be included and links made to your webpage or blog. The decision to publish the piece on the website will rest with the Writing across Boundaries project leaders, Tom Yarrow and Cathrine Degnen.

Postgraduates on Writing collection


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