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Walden University Writing Center

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APA Refresh: How Should I Refer To My Anonymous Research Participants?

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For some of your work at Walden, you may need to conduct surveys of your own participants. In these cases, you may be wondering—how should I refer to these research participants who want to remain anonymous? Do I need to cite them? Read on for some examples and APA tips on referring to the participants in your research.

APA Style Refresh: Anonymous Participants


You can use a variety of techniques to refer to research participants, and APA has some specific recommendations. According to the APAStyle Blog, these include but are not limited to: their roles, pseudonyms, initials, case numbers, or letters of the alphabet. The APA Style Blog also suggests that you can alter some characteristics to make participants less distinguishable, leave out some information about the participant, or combine participant statements into a composite participant. For more detailed examples, see section 1.11 of your APA manual, but I’ve also listed a few below.

Initials: CH stated that they “love writing and visiting the Writing Center”.

Numerals/Case Numbers: According to participant 7, an online student, “the Writing Center is the best.”

Composite Statement: Several survey participants indicated that they enjoy and plan to visit the Writing Center again in the future.

You may notice here that none of these examples are cited—this is to protect the anonymity of the participants and it is not necessary to cite your own anonymous research participants. If a participant would like to go on record, then you should use personal communication rules for referring to and citing that participant in text.


Keep these rules and handy resources below in mind if you’re conducting your own research and have anonymous participants.


Claire Helakoski author photo
Claire Helakoski is a writing instructor at the Walden Writing Center. Claire also co-hosts WriteCast, the Writing Center's podcast. Through these multi-modal avenues, Claire delivers innovative and inspiring writing instruction to Walden students around the world. 
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WriteCast Episode 54: Meet Your Reviewer: Tasha Sookochoff

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In this episode of WriteCast, meet writing instructor Tasha Sookochoff. She joined the Walden Writing Center in September 2017, and now she gets to sit down with Kacy and Claire to talk about her own writing experiences as student, writer, and instructor. Tasha shares her approach to working with students on their papers, some of her favorite Walden Writing Center resources, and the one question she asks before finishing anything she writes.





To download the episode to your computer, press the share button on the player above, then press the download button. Visit the Writing Center's WriteCast page for our episode archive and transcripts. Happy listening!



WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers is a monthly podcast written, produced, and published by staff in the Walden University Writing Center. Join us each month for a dialogue between two experienced and trained writing instructors. Possible episode topics will always be considered from listeners--share your questions and suggestions in the comments. 


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Can Social Change Start At the Sentence Level?

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As a Walden student, the main focus of your academic work is likely creating positive social change. Your scholarly research may be on finding therapies for treating PTSD or addressing a lack of housing assistance in your community. These goals may seem distant while you pour over research and critically analyze texts. However, as you are taking notes, developing your thesis, and synthesizing your sources, change can occur on a smaller, local level. One by one, the sentences you write can in fact be a source for good. By using active, rather than passive voice in your research writing, you can create positive social change one simple sentence at a time.

Can Social Change Start At the Sentence Level?


When active voice is used, the subject becomes the focus of the sentence. This emphasis on the subject clarifies who is performing the action, and therefore, agency is given to the subject. Using the active voice can create clarity and concision in your writing, but it can also be a tool for giving your subject power.

For example, let’s take a look at a sentence in passive voice: “The connections between BMI and heart disease were analyzed.” Here, the attention is on what comes first in the sentence, “the connections,” rather than who analyzed the connections. In passive voice, the researchers themselves would not be important. Instead, what the researchers analyzed would be emphasized.

Now, look closely at a similar sentence that has been revised for active voice: “The researchers analyzed the connections between BMI and heart disease.” Because the researchers come first, and they are performing the action, the focus of the sentence is on the researchers and their work. The reader’s attention is drawn to the researchers, rather than the connections they analyzed.

While active voice can be used to clarify, it can also be used to give a subject power and control. By using active voice in the following sentence, I demonstrate patients’ agency over their own healthcare: “Every day, the patients share their mental health concerns with their social worker.” In this sentence, the patients are in control of their health, as they share their concerns. The patients are not standing by while doctors and social workers engage around them.

In the following example, passive voice takes away the agency of the patient: “Every day, the patient’s mental health concerns are shared with their social worker.” In this sentence, it is unclear who is sharing the patient’s health concerns with the social worker. Perhaps a doctor or staff member is providing this information on behalf of the patient, but the patient is no longer in control. These may be small differences between sentences, but with active voice, it is clearly communicated to the reader that the patient has agency in the situation.

Let’s look at another example. In the following sentence, passive voice emphasizes the object, trauma: “By using cognitive behavioral and psychodynamic therapies, the trauma was worked through by the patient.

Alternatively, you could use the active voice to emphasize the patient’s ability to overcome their trauma: “By using cognitive behavioral and psychodynamic therapies, the patient worked through their trauma.” Here, the power or control the patient has over their trauma is the focus. By using active voice, the patient’s agency is celebrated, rather than trauma itself becoming the focus.

While active voice creates clarity and concision in your writing, more importantly, it is a way of holding the microphone for those who have been silenced. It can be the means through which you share the stories of others and give them control over their own experiences.  Perhaps the steps towards social change really do start at the sentence level. Through the structure of a simple sentence, you can begin to write the steps for change.



Tasha Sookochoff author image

Tasha Sookochoff is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. Along with earning degrees from the University of Wisconsin, Stout and Depaul University, Tasha has written documentation for the U.S. House of Representatives that increases government transparency, blogged for DePaul University, copy-edited the Journal of Second Language Writing, tutored immigrants and refugees at literacy centers, and taught academic writing to college students.

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Thursday Thoughts: Top Ten APA Nuances

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Many people are familiar with APA format in terms of citations and reference list entries. However, there are other APA formatting rules which may seem arbitrary but are in fact important. APA style is not just about building a writer’s credibility through the effective use and integration of reputable sources. APA is also about enhancing your readers’ understanding and respect for your work through format clarity and using non-biased language

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If you would like to learn more about some of these other APA nuances, check out our page on “Ten Common APA Nuances.” Whether you are a beginner in building your APA knowledge or want a refresher, these top common nuances provide a nice, quick reference! 


What APA nuances do you struggle with?

The Walden Writing Center provides writing resources and support for all student writers including paper reviews, a podcast, live chat, webinars, modules, and of course a blog.




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Set a Writing Goal to Level-Up in Graduate School

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Graduate school is a lot of work. There’s always new content to learn and new assignments to complete. When you’re constantly trying to stay on top of your coursework or capstone project (not to mention all of your responsibilities outside of school!), adding something else to your plate is probably the last thing you feel like doing.

Set a Writing Goal to Level-Up in Graduate School


A graduate degree is about mastery of skills as well as content, and one of those skills should be academic writing. You’ll likely do a lot of writing here at Walden even if you never take a writing course. That’s why setting a personal writing goal is a great way to help yourself build this professional skill alongside your disciplinary knowledge.

Brainstorm your writing goal by thinking for a few minutes about where you currently are as a writer and where you would like to be by the end of this term or even your degree program. You can then use that brainstorming to develop a SMART goal, a goal that is:

S–Specific: focused and specific; avoids generalizations and abstractions

M–Measureable: you can track your progress and completion

A–Achievable: this goal is within your control; you have the necessary resources for success

R–Relevant: this goal impacts your skills set and where you want to be

T–Timely: this goal has a reasonable timeline and completion date

I often see this goal when working with students on paper reviews: I want to write at the graduate level. This is an admirable goal, and one that makes sense for a writer working towards a graduate degree, but it’s not a SMART goal. With a little bit of thinking, though, this student writer can break this big, abstract goal down into several smaller goals that will be much more manageable.

First, the student writer needs to figure out what “writing at the graduate level” actually means. There’s a great overview in the archived Writing at the Graduate Level webinar, which can be watched anytime. From watching that webinar, the student writer will see graduate level writing broken into four components: argument and analysis, paraphrasing, scholarly voice, and APA Style.

From there, it’s best to choose one area to focus on. Maybe that’s an easy area to improve, maybe it’s an area that the student writer thinks is really important, or maybe it’s the area where they feel least confident. Even though the student is choosing only one area of focus right now, they can always come back to the others later.

Many students struggle with APA Style when they start at Walden, so let’s come up with an APA goal for our student writer. Something such as I want to use APA Style perfectly is once again admirable, but not SMART. Instead, let’s focus on just one element of APA Style: citation frequency. Here is a more effective writing goal regarding citation frequency: 

SMART Goal: My faculty told me that I don’t cite my sources enough and could be penalized for plagiarism. My writing goal is to cite frequently enough to prevent plagiarism.
This goal is specific because it deals with just one element of APA style, measurable because the student writer can track progress, achievable because there are lots of resources to learn about citation frequency, relevant because if the student writer doesn’t cite sources properly there could be consequences, and timely because they can reasonably achieve this goal within the current term.

To achieve this goal, the student writer will want to start by making sure they understand adequate citation frequency in APA style by reviewing Writing Center resources such as the citation frequency webpage, the archived recording of the How and When to Include APA Citations webinar, and the Basic Citation Frequency module. They can then apply what they’ve learned to their course papers. They can get feedback on whether they are citing sources frequently enough by making a Writing Center paper review appointment and letting the instructor know about their goal. They’ll also get feedback from faculty when their papers are graded, which will allow them to evaluate progress towards this goal.

Once the student writer feels they have mastered this goal, they can go back to the other issues of APA Style or graduate level writing that they’ve identified to narrow in on and work towards another goal. With this kind of sustained effort, they’ll make some great strides towards becoming a graduate-level writer by the time they graduate.

What are your writing goals? We would love to hear about them in the comments or in your paper review appointment!


Cheryl Read Author Image

Cheryl Read is a Writing Instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. Her current not-so-manageable writing goal is to finish her doctoral dissertation. When she’s not helping student writers at Walden, Cheryl stays busy playing with her son and getting outside in Minnesota.

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