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Point of View Matters

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I was nearing the end of my undergraduate program when an instructor recommended that I add a sentence to an analysis that said what my goal was. With those exact words: “My goal is…” I was floored. Throughout my entire academic career, I had it repeated over and over that academic writing is always done in the third person, which means I would never say I will do this, or my goal is that. But here was this type of document that allowed for use of first person, and I had an instructor who preferred it. I shrugged my shoulders and added it in.

Later, feeling comfortable using first person in my writing, I tried the same thing in a different course and was met with a fury of red pen: NO FIRST PERSON! Whoops. I guess not every instructor feels the same. This is why it is important to consider the points of view available to us as writers and the process in choosing which to use and when. So how do we consider which point of view is best to use in scholarly writing? Let’s walk through them each to learn more.

Point of View Matters

First Person Singular (I, me, my, mine)
As the writer, if you choose to use first person singular, you are referring to yourself and only yourself. But in scholarly writing, if you use first person in “I think” or “I believe” statements, you are actually weakening your writing. It is better to present your opinions without the use of first person. Take this for example:

Before: I think that legislation banning specific dog breeds is unethical.

After: Banning specific dog breeds is unethical

With the simple removal of the “I think” phrase, this sentence says the same thing but comes across with more power. Why is that? When a sentence begins with “I think” the subject and action of the sentence are you thinking. That means the main idea is just that you have an opinion. However, when a sentence begins with the actual main idea, banning specific dog breeds, that means the main idea is your actual topic and not yourself.

Walden has an official statement on the use of first person, and when it comes to choosing when to use first person or not, I recommend reserving it for times when you (and the actions you take) are the subject. For example, if you are conducting original research, we would want to see I will do A, B, and C. Additionally, if you are writing about your personal work and academic experiences, first person is required.

First Person Plural (we, our)
First person plural is less of a gray area. As we know, first person means you are referring to yourself, but the plural here means you are referring to yourself plus other people. In most academic writing situations, I advise against using first person plural because it assumes that your reader is in the same group as you, and we can’t guarantee that. For this reason, it is better to name who you mean.

Before: We must implement these leadership changes.

After: Organizations in transition must implement these leadership changes.

In the original version, the writer assumed every reader was part of a transitional organization. The edited version names who must implement the changes, and it is much clearer for that. As you can’t know the specifics of all your readers, it is best to always avoid first person plural in academic writing. Other forms of writing that are more casual, like blogs, or audience-specific, like an email to your team, benefit from first person plural.

Second Person (You, yours)
Using second person means you are speaking directly to your reader/s as if they were there in front of you. This can be powerful when giving a speech to an audience or proposing an idea to your supervisor, but it is trickier in academic writing when your audience isn’t in front of you. Second person, like first person plural, assumes things about your reader which might not be accurate.

Before: When conducting rounds, you should assess the care environment.

After: When conducting rounds, a nurse should assess the care environment.

In the original sentence, the writer assumed that all of their readers are nurses who conduct rounds. That can’t be guaranteed, so it is preferred to name who you are writing about. The revised sentence accurately identifies who should assess the care environment.

As we want to avoid assuming things about our reader, it is best to avoid second person in most formal forms of academic writing like course papers, major assessments, and any capstone document. However, you will probably find it useful to use second person when responding to a discussion post. If you know exactly who your “you” is, then it is appropriate to use it, which tends to be the case for a lot of writing outside of academia.

Third Person (it, he, she, they, them, their, theirs)
Third person singular and plural is the most preferred point of view in academic writing. This is because it is the most specific and accurate point of view. As we looked at, first person plural and second person can be unclear, so readers may wonder who is the “we” or “you” if it doesn’t refer directly to them. Clarity and accuracy are key in academic writing, and third person requires these things as writers must name the groups of people they are referring to. Third person also removes any assumptions a writer may make about their audience. As scholars, you should be striving for objective and research-based conclusions. While choosing a third person point of view should be your starting point for all academic writing, do note the times and situations where first person singular or second person may fit in.

As each assignment and situation differs, it is important that you think through your choice behind point of view. If you have any questions about what point of view would be most appropriate, ask your instructor for clarification and their preferences. Before you leave, consider going through this blog post to see what points of view I used throughout and why I may have chosen to use those.

Melissa Sharpe author image

Melissa Sharpe is a Writing Instructor in teh Walden University Writing Center. Her favorite part of working with writers is helping to facilitate the writing process. 

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August Live Webinar Events from the Writing Center

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Starting tomorrow, August 6th, the Walden University Writing Center has an entire month of exciting live webinar events planned. Our webinars are created and presented by Writing Instructors and Dissertation Editors who work closely with Walden U scholarly writers of all degrees, programs, and levels. We know what you're going through, and we create our live webinar sessions to deliver the most learning impact possible. 

Live webinars are a great way to learn about a specific or general writing concept. But what makes these events even more enjoyable is that you are learning, in real-time, with a group of like-minded individuals who are also eager to further their writing skills. Writing and learning within a community of people can increase your motivation, your enjoyment, and your skills, all at the same time. 

If you're unable to join us for any of the live sessions below, don't worry! We record all of our sessions and you can access them from our Webinar Archive any time. Click here to access previous recordings of live webinar sessions

Here's the menu of our live webinar sessions offered this month from the Walden University Writing Center. Enjoy!

Title:Citations Part 1: Methods to the Madness
Date:Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Time:1:00PM - 2:00PM EST
Audience:All Students
Title:Grammar for Academic Writers: Identifying Common Errors
Date:Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Time:7:00PM - 8:00PM EST
Audience:All Students
Title:What About Me? Using Personal Experience in Academic Writing
Date:Monday, August 19, 2019
Time:3:00PM - 4:00PM EST
Audience:All Students
Title:Practical Writing Skills: Using and Integrating Quotes
Date:Tuesday, August 27, 2019
Time:1:30PM - 2:30PM EST
Audience:All Students
Title:Successfully Writing Doctoral Capstone Abstracts
Date:Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Time:12:00PM - 1:00PM EST
Audience:Doctoral Students Working on Final Capstone Draft

Walden University Writing Center

The Walden University Writing Center supports undergraduate and graduate students throughout their programs with paper reviews, webinars, modules, a podcast, and a comprehensive website.

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Writing Introductions for Discussion Board Posts

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Problem: You have to write a discussion post, but only have a certain amount of words/characters you are able to use. You know you need an introduction, so that your reader is not confused, but you aren’t quite sure how to draft one given the limited amount of characters and space you can use to draft a discussion post. But have no fear! In this post you will learn how to draft a perfectly acceptable three-sentence introduction for this type of assignment in no time!

Writing Introductions for Discussion Board Posts

Solution: It is perfectly acceptable to write a 3 sentence introduction To do this, the Walden University Writing Center specialists are here to help you learn about code shifting. Code shifting is the ability to change our writing based on what we are writing.

Code Shifting
Say you have a bad day at work. Your boss was mean. Your sandwich was soggy. Your coffee was cold. Is the text you write to your best friend complaining about this the same as the text you would write to your mother? To your grandmother? To a workmate?

Doubt it. Grandma needs a little less slang, best friend can understand emojis and abbreviations, and mom prefers to speak on the phone. The point of this is that we all have different communication methods when we are communicating in different ways. Writing is no different. Sure, you need an introduction for that discussion board post you can only use 500 words in. But it doesn’t need to be a full-scale academic introduction with 7-8 sentences and a problem statement. 

This is where your code shifting comes into play. You will want to use the strong writing skills you already have to master the more concise writing that takes place on a discussion board. So How Do You Do This?

First: Outline Your Ideas
One of the biggest things we see in the Writing Center when students are working on shorter documents is that they have a lot to say! And rightfully so! However, when you write out everything and go back and edit it you end up losing a lot of time that could be spent with your family, friends, sleeping, or even on other assignments. Outlining your ideas first will make sure you understand what the most important issues are that you need to touch on, allow you to omit some of the more minor issues, and it will give you a sense of direction for this discussion board post, which means you will do less work overall. Hooray!

Second: Write Your Body Paragraphs
Say what you have to say in your first draft. This is a little bit different than how you may do some of your other writing, but allowing yourself to see the focus of the body of your post will allow you to not only have a more focused and targeted thesis statement, but it will allow you to see what is needed and what is not needed before you go into your second round of drafting: actually writing your thesis statement/introduction.

Third: Read Your Body Paragraphs TwiceFlip your paper over, cover your monitor, close your eyes (if you can write with your eyes closed) and see how you can summarize all of the wonderful things you covered in your body paragraphs in one sentence. This should give you an idea of what your thesis statement is going to be.

Last: Re-read Your Body Paragraphs
Re-read the thesis statement you drafted. See how you can add a topic sentence and even, possibly, a lead-in sentence that moves your reader from your topic sentence to your thesis statement. It is completely acceptable to have a three-sentence introduction for a discussion board post! In fact, it is advised, as it allows you to spend more time and space on the ideas that matter the most in your post, while still giving your reader the direction they need. Some people can even swing this type of introduction in two sentences. It may be something you want to play with—but I would say start with 3 sentences first, and see how that goes.

And, Voila! You now have an introduction, topic sentence and thesis statement for a discussion board post. You have saved an hour or so in your writing/drafting due to outlining first. And your reader knows exactly what your post is about and gets a lot of valuable information due to you drafting such a focused and specific discussion board introduction. Go you!

Stay tuned for a future post on how to draft a conclusion statement (instead of a full-on conclusion) for discussion board posts. I promise to save you even more time with the next set of tips! We'll update this space with a link when the post goes live in the near future. 

Meghan K Barnes author image

Meghan K Barnes holds a BFA in Professional Writing & English, an MFA in Nonfiction Literature, and a MAT in Post-Secondary Adult Online Education. These degrees lead to multiple opportunities including a Fulbright Scholarship to study the nonfiction work of Sylvia Plath in England, three Pushcart Prize Nominations, and four book publications.

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How To Write A Lot

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On WriteCast, the Walden University Writing Center's writing-focused podcast, we recently shared a “book club” episode in which two of our writing instructors discuss the strategies in Paul J. Silvia’s How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. This is a great book for Walden students who have to write a lot as students at an online university! Today, I’m following up on that episode with some key points from Silvia’s book and some questions so that you can join our conversation. You can access WriteCast episode 65 on our podcast homepage by following this link. 

WriteCast podcast logo: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers

Make a Writing Schedule
Silvia’s primary recommendation is to schedule your writing time. Look at your schedule, figure out when you can write, and protect that time like you would any other appointment. There’s a romanticized idea that writers write when they are inspired, but Silvia points out that inspiration doesn’t really factor into academic writing. In fact, by showing up for your scheduled writing sessions consistently, you are more likely to feel inspired and less likely to experience “writer’s block.” (Note: I've put this term in quotes because Silvia argues that writer's block doesn't exist. We discuss this in the WriteCast episode, so if you'd like to consider this idea more, check out the episode!)

I find that I am best able to keep my commitment to my writing time when I schedule it for first thing in the morning. Then, it’s less likely to be interrupted by emergencies, and I won’t be tempted to schedule a doctor’s appointment when I should be writing.

When do you like to schedule your writing time, and how do you protect it?

Shift What “Counts” as Writing
Once you’ve scheduled your writing time, think about what you’ll do with it. If you’ve scheduled yourself for an hour every day, you might be wondering how you can possibly spend that much time writing. The idea of scheduled writing is much more palatable if you follow Silvia’s advice and expand your definition of what counts as writing to include all tasks that move your project forward: this means everything from initial research to final formatting.

This holistic definition of writing has been really important for me to stay consistent with my writing. Earlier this week, I rolled out of bed after my toddler had kept me up in the middle of the night. I convinced myself to sit down at my desk and get started, but I couldn’t seem to focus on the revision task I had planned for that session. Rather than abandon my writing entirely, I decided to spend the time formatting my references. This task wasn’t what I had planned, but it still needed to get done and still moved me closer to my goal.

What are tasks that need to get done before you can submit your work but may not feel like “real” writing?

Track your progress
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed with how far you have to go, especially when it comes to longer writing projects. To combat these negative feelings, Silvia recommends tracking your progress with objective data like minutes spent working or words written. Then, when you feel like you haven’t done enough, you can look back at your data and be proud of how far you have come.

I find tracking progress to be incredibly motivating. I do track the number of words I write each day, but I have found that using this metric alone doesn’t allow me to track my productivity on research-heavy days, when I am still working hard but may not be writing new words. In order to account for the different kinds of productivity that take place over the course of writing a dissertation, I also track time spent on the project each day, writing streaks (how many days in a row I’ve shown up for my writing), and have a calendar on my wall with a sticker for each day I’ve worked on my dissertation.

How do you keep track of your writing progress?

If you haven’t checked it out already, How to Write a Lot is a quick read with lots of great tips and a no-nonsense tone. Check it out, and let us know which strategies you’re using!

Cheryl Read Author Image

Cheryl Read is a Writing Instructor and the Coordinator of Asynchronous Course Visits in the Walden University Writing Center. She loves finding strategies to get lots of writing done. When she’s not helping student writers at Walden, Cheryl stays busy playing with her son and working on her dissertation.

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Annotated Bibliography Essentials: Application Writing

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In the Writing Center, when we talk about synthesis we often ask the “So What?” question—you’ve provided evidence and analysis related to your topic, but so what? What does it mean? If you haven’t answered this question in you text, you likely need to add an explanation of why this information matters so that your readers can follow your argument.

Annotated Bibliography Essentials: Application Writing

In the Application portion of an annotation, you similarly answer the “So What?” question. You tie the key information you gained from this article (provided in your Summary) and your understanding of that information (provided in your Analysis) to your own project. You situate that article in the context of your research and give the reader a sense of why it matters. It’s a bit like the Lead-out portion of the MEAL plan: as in a lead-out, your Application connects your evidence and analysis to an overall argument.

Let’s walk through how you might construct an Application portion of an annotation. Typically, the Application is about a paragraph in length. You could use whichever approach you prefer to structure this paragraph, such as the MEAL plan, PEAS, NO TEARS, or various other methods of constructing paragraphs not based on acronyms. (I’ll use the MEAL plan here for the sake of simplicity and consistency with our other paragraphing resources.) Your Application might look a little bit different than a typical MEAL paragraph because it needs to focus primarily on synthesis, but it should still contain the key MEAL components. You’ll need:

A main idea (M), which is usually your main takeaway from this article.

Some evidence (E). You’ve already provided evidence in your Summary, so you usually won’t need to restate it here. Instead, you might briefly reference one or two key ideas from your Summary to illustrate your main idea.

Some analysis (A) to convey your understanding of that key evidence.

A lead-out (L) to establish the article’s connection to your research project.

Let’s look at an example Application paragraph (taken from our Annotations webinar):

This study was valuable to my understanding of how a female police officer’s experiences may be different than a male police officer’s. While Thompson et al.’s conclusions are not generalizable, their literature review is helpful to any scholar first approaching the subject. However, the researchers also showed that more studies should be conducted to fully explore the possible differences in police experiences that they identified.

Notice that there are only three sentences here, which is okay—remember, the MEAL plan is a guide, not a formula. The important thing is that the Application paragraph provides each MEAL component.

While you’re in the process of writing an annotated bibliography, it can seem tedious to write an Application for each annotation. The answer to the “so what?” question might seem obvious or, alternatively, unimportant to you in that moment. However, doing the work of writing an Application for each of your annotations provides a basis for the next phase of your research. By articulating  your sources’ usefulness, you lay the groundwork necessary for synthesizing those sources later on (this is, in part, why you’re often asked to write annotations in preparation for a literature review), because writing an Application, as with all writing, clarifies your own thinking about your topic.

If you're curious to learn more, click here to view all of the posts in this five-part series on Annotated Bibliography Essentials!

Matt Sharkey-Smith author photo

Matt Sharkey-Smith is a senior writing instructor in the Walden Writing Center. He also serves as contributing faculty in the Walden Academic Skills Center.  Matt joined the Writing Center in 2010 with a BA in English from Saint John's University in Minnesota. He earned an MFA in Writing from Hamline University in St. Paul in 2011 and has worked outside of Walden as a technical writer, fact-checker, copy editor, tutor, and writing instructor.

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