Writers’ Workshops


Writers’ workshops are used by the pattern community to improve our patterns. These workshops are the primary focus of PLoP conferences and in them we discuss accepted papers.

The format of Writers’ Workshops has been adopted from poetry review. Each writers’ workshop contains 5 to 8 papers, which authors must read before the conference to be able to give each other feedback on their work in a peer review session of around one hour per paper. Richard Gabriel has written a book on writers workshops.

In each session, the authors of the paper under discussion remain silent while the others discuss it and explain additional insights and views they have about it. From these sessions, authors get a lot of feedback and suggestions from fellow authors and others about how they can improve their work.

Non-authors are free to choose the writers’ workshop they want, but are supposed to stay with their workshop over the entire conference, to benefit more from it. Paper assignments to workshops will be posted well before the conference.

Structure of 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 writer’s workshops.

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 and style.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 chance to get to know the author a bit.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. The session closes with the audience thanking the author for writing the paper.

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 making comments.