Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

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The Easiest Way to Avoid Plagiarism

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As you can tell from this post’s title, this week, I want to share with you the easiest way to avoid plagiarism in your writing. Here it is:

WriteCast Episode 11: "Doesn’t Meet Requirements"—Strategies for Following Your Assignment Instructions

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doesn't meet requirements
"So, you may have had this experience...where you feel really, really strong about something that you turn in into your course. You've spent a lot of time on this assignment, you've put a lot of effort into it, and you're probably feeling really proud of it. And then you get it back with your instructor's comments on it, and you find that you've lost points because your instructor says that the paper doesn't meet the requirements or follow the assignment instructions. Now, if you've ever had an experience like that, I think you'll find this episode really helpful." - Host Brittany
This month, Nik and Brittany talk about strategies for understanding and following your assignment instructions. Stream or download this month's episode below, and share your thoughts in the comments!


is hosted by writing instructors Nikolas Nadeau and Brittany Kallman Arneson and produced by writing instructor Anne Shiell. Check out the podcast archive for more episodes. 

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Dissertation and Scholarly Research: Simon and Goes Provide Recipes for Success (Book Review)

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If you are writing a dissertation, doctoral or project study, or any other doctoral-level capstone research project, chances are it is the first time you have done anything of the kind. While you have years of practice with what it means to participate in the classroom, complete proscribed assignments, and even conduct original research, the doctoral capstone research project is a unique document and a unique task. Why not take advantage of any number of excellent resources available for helping you through the various steps and stages of tackling a project of this size?

Book review: "Dissertation & Scholarly Research" by Marilyn K Simon and Jim Goes
Image (c) www.dissertationrecipes.com
Authors Marilyn K. Simon and Jim Goes have done just that, and they just happen to be Walden faculty to boot. In their resource, Dissertation and Scholarly Research: Recipes for Success—A Practical Guide to Start and Complete Your Dissertation, Thesis,or Formal Research Project, Simon and Goes (2013) have crafted a guidebook that addresses students working outside of traditional brick-and-mortar institutions to complete their degrees. Their use of metaphor (specifically, food) helps make what could otherwise seem like a dense and complex process more, well, digestible.

The mnemonic devices, “cutting board” exercises, and links to outside resources offer practical and accessible advice, and the guide offers help with everything from how to formulate your research questions to what to do when it comes time to format your document for final submission to ProQuest.

While you could certainly sit down and read this book cover to cover, one of the guide’s strengths is in offering a breadth and specificity of information, so you could just refer to the table of contents and read those sections that pertain to your current needs.

One thing that can be frustrating at times when conducting this level of research in a virtual space is how to know where to go for the right information and how to get a hold of who can answer your questions. This guidebook is particularly relevant to Walden student needs in this regard because it addresses content and design as well as APA and scholarly style. Simon and Goes did a particularly thorough job really explaining to the reader how everything fits together and how the way you craft and express an idea can support and inform your research.

As with any comprehensive guide, the sheer amount of information can seem daunting at first, but everything is organized and presented in such a way that a reader will not feel overloaded. Dissertation and Scholarly Research: Recipes for Success should be high on the list of any Walden student looking for that extra bit of guidance and support while beginning this next step as a scholar-practitioner.

Lydia Lunning

Lydia Lunning
 is a dissertation editor and the coordinator for Capstone Resources in the Writing Center. Lydia also helps oversee the Walden Capstone Writing Community, a place where doctoral students working on their proposals and final studies can connect with colleagues and get support through the capstone writing process. Outside of Walden, Lydia enjoys literature for children and young adults, writing pedagogy, contemporary cinema, and cooking.

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Defining a Gap in the Literature: On Proving the Presence of an Absence

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It’s standard in any study to point out the gap in the literature you're seeking to fill. (Else why do the study—unless it’s a replication study?) Like the hole in the donut, the gap is defined by what surrounds it. Yet it’s common to read statements in the literature review such as (a) “I could not find anything on [the issue] in the literature” or (b) “Very few studies, if any, talked about [the issue].”

donut image

The problem with (a) is that it raises a series of questions in the reader’s mind: If you couldn’t find anything, gee, where did you look? What databases did you use? What keywords did you use? What was your time range? What exactly did you find? Reporting your search strategy should cover all but the last question.

It’s not easy to prove a negative: This does not exist. Therefore, to define a gap, a precise and exhaustive search is needed to identify all the studies around—but not touching—your topic. Reporting what you did find, what is known (the donut) implies what is not known (the hole in the donut). The unknown is the gap, your topic.

The problem with (b) is that it leaves readers wondering about what you know; it asks them to just accept your claim with no support. If your search were thorough, you would know whether any or just a few studies talked about your issue. If there were none, then, just as in (a), you’d define the gap by identifying the studies around—but not touching—your precise topic. The number of studies required to make that point could vary. However, if there were some studies, then you'd need to discuss only those studies in order to confirm for your readers that something was indeed missing—your angle on the issue.

If your search was precise—if you named all the databases you used (not just the names of portals, such as ProQuest or EBSCO), if you listed all the keywords (not phrases) you used, and if you specified your time range—then your committee (and future readers) could have confidence that you were in the right ballpark. If you then described what was known—using a broad set of studies or a handful of specific studies—then your readers could have confidence in your claim because they could see your process, and judge the data adduced, to “prove” a negative and reveal the presence of an absence.


Tim McIndoo
, who has been a dissertation editor since 2007, has more than 30 years of editorial experience in the fields of medicine, science and technology, fiction, and education. 

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A Match Made in Heaven: Reference Entries and Citations in APA

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To me, knowing how and why rules apply to me always makes them more relevant and makes me more inclined to learn and use them. This approach makes sense when talking about APA because APA rules can seem so arbitrary. So, with the approach of helping students understand the reasoning behind the APA rules, let’s start at the beginning: the references list.

There is a relationship between citations and the reference list.

What is it? 

The references list is the foundation for citing sources in APA. In APA, writers include all sources they use within the body of the paper in the references list. This is a little different from a works cited or bibliography (lists of sources used in other citation styles, like MLA and Chicago), which sometimes include sources the author consulted but did not end up using in the paper.

In APA, if you cite a source anywhere within the paragraphs of the paper, it should also appear in the references list. Similarly, only sources used within the body of the paper are included in the references list. It’s always a good idea to proof for this relationship before finishing your paper. If you take just one thing away from this post, remember this: Every source cited in your paper must have an entry in the reference list, and your reference list should not contain any sources that you didn’t cite in your paper. This rule applies for almost every source you cite in-text. The only exception to this rule is personal communication citations, which do not have corresponding entries in the reference list.

What is its purpose?

The reason you need to list all of the sources you cite in the body of your paper in the references list is so the reader can trace the information you used to inform your writing. Imagine that you incorporate a statistic regarding high school graduation rates in your paper; you include a citation to your source in the sentence uses the statistic. The reader could then use that citation to find that source and its full publication information in your references list, allowing the reader to find the source itself.

This function of the references list is also why citations are structured the way they are. Because sources are listed alphabetically by author in the references list, citations include the author(s) of a source and the source’s publication year.

How do you create reference entries? 

Because the purpose of the references list is to help the reader track the sources you used, a reference entry must include enough information for the reader to find the original source. This includes the following basic information:

  • Author(s) of the source

  • Publication year of the source

  • Title of the source

  • Publication information of the source

Of course, the publication information for sources can vary widely because there are so many ways sources are published. It is the publication information, then, that usually varies from reference entry to reference entry, and it is the publication information that can cause confusion when creating a reference entry.  

The publication information is the part of the reference entry that will change the most, depending on the source.

Check out these great resources to help you create reference entries:

And, of course, if you ever get stuck creating a reference entry, simply let us know via e-mail at writingsupport@waldenu.edu.

Now that you know the reasoning behind a references list and how it relates to the in-text citations in your writing, I hope you’ll have a better understanding of why the references list is so important.


Beth Oyler
 is a Writing Instructor and the Webinar Coordinator for the Writing Center. She lives in Minneapolis and recently graduated with her MA in English.

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