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Walden University Writing Center

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MEAL Plan Variations: Building Paragraphs From a Structured Foundation

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If you’ve ever attended a Writing Center webinar or participated in a paper review appointment with one of our writing instructors, you may have heard mention of the MEAL plan. The MEAL plan is useful model we at the Writing Center often use to outline the fundamental components of an academic paragraph. The MEAL plan is composed of four parts, including: 

E- Evidence
A – Analysis
L – Lead Out Sentence 


The MEAL plan can be an insightful and helpful tool for creating effectively organized paragraphs that have both a single focus and an even balance of outside evidence and your own analysis and synthesis. In other words, when your mind is still filled with questions of how to get your ideas down on the page, the MEAL plan makes it easy to ensure this information is communicated in a concise, organized, and scholarly manner. You might consider it like a foundation upon which to build the presentation of your ideas. 


MEAL Plan Variations


However, it is important to remember that the MEAL Plan is a general model. It does not often translate to a perfect, four-sentence paragraph with a sentence dedicated to each aspect of the MEAL plan. If only, writing could be that neat and tidy! More often, academic paragraphs require additional space and flexibility to address an idea fully. As a result, how the MEAL plan comes to be applied to your writing and what it looks like on the page can vary from project to project or even paragraph to paragraph. Therefore, the goal of this blog post is to explore a few examples of how the MEAL plan might be applied. 

Variation 1: The MEAEAL Plan Paragraph
For example, one example of the MEAL Plan that I often employ myself includes a give and take between E-Evidence and A-Analysis, where I take the time to explain different pieces of evidence before highlighting my conclusion in the L-Lead Out Sentence:

M- Utilizing Walden Writing Center’s resources is an effective way students can advance their writing skills and reduce stress. E- Mattingly (2019) reported that students often come to the Writing Center lacking confidence but walk away with greater knowledge and awareness of their writing abilities. A- This recommendation highlights students’ potential to advance their writing skills through the Center’s resources and reflects a welcoming environment of instruction and learning. E- Philbrook (2019) similarly noted that many students find the Writing Center a safe place to explore writing anxiety and locate related resources on writer’s block, mindfulness, and self-reflection. A-Each author highlights a unique way Walden’s Writing Center works with students to develop stronger writing skills and reduce stress. L- The Writing Center, in this regard, can have a meaningful and healthy impact on students’ scholarly writing skills and overall wellbeing.

In this example, there are various places where the E-Evidence and A-Analysis components of the MEAL Plan appear. By taking this approach, you can demonstrate a greater level of critical thinking and engagement with your source material, as you take the time to explain the meaning of all evidence before moving ahead to incorporate additional research that advances and strengthens your argument. This approach can work well for assignments that require comparing or contrasting or identifying common themes in the existing research as is common to literature reviews

Variation 2: The MPEEAPEL Plan Paragraph
Another version of the MEAL plan might include a more detailed demonstration of your own perspective and point of view through a combination of personal experience (which I'll mark with PE in the paragraph below), evidence, and analysis:

M- The Writing Center’s paper review service is a vital resource for Walden students seeking to become not only better writers but also scholarly communicators. PE- Upon enrolling at Walden, I contacted the Writing Center to learn about resources available to students and was invited to set up a paper review appointment. E- These paper reviews, according to Walden’s Writing Center (n.d.), are designed to “help students develop their academic writing skills as emerging scholars and encourage students to engage in an ongoing writing process” (para. 4). A- The Writing Center promotes an environment where students’ writing projects are viewed as part of a larger process of professional and scholarly development. PE- Though reluctant at first, I quickly found the paper review service to be an invaluable experience in my growth as a scholar because I received personalized feedback that highlighted patterns in my writing style and made me more prepared to communicate my research. L- The Writing Center’s paper review service helps students see how daily writing projects relate to an ongoing process of scholarly development and communication. 

It is quite common in coursework for you to be asked to draw on your own experience and analysis in order to present argument. Making sure to support your experience with evidence is essential to demonstrating how your ideas and expertise aligns with the existing research and can boost the overall credibility of your claim. The MEAL plan would likely be applied differently in this case; however, it is still beneficial in making sure all the required elements are present. Thus, in the above example, the main piece of E-Evidence is introduced not only after the M-Main Idea but also a personal account. It is then followed by more in-depth A-Analysis and L-Lead out sections.

How ever you come to apply the MEAL plan, be sure to make it your own. The MEAL plan may not be appropriate for all academic paragraphs, so make sure you understand its limitations and follow up with your instructor if you have questions about its application to an assignment. The most important thing to remember is the MEAL plan is not designed to be a hard and fast template that should be applied exactly the same way to each paragraph in your project. Rather, it is a flexible writing tool intended to make the principles of scholarly writing easier to spot and incorporate into your writing. As such, you should feel encouraged to experiment with the varied applications of the MEAL Plan. In fact, doing so will make you a stronger scholarly writer as you gain greater familiarity with the core components of an academic paragraph and move fluidly between them as you write.   


Miranda Mattingly author image

Miranda Mattingly is the Manager of Writing Instructional Services and a former Writing Instructor at the Walden Writing Center. When working with students, her primary focus is on encouraging students to have confidence in their skills as writers and to cultivate their voices as critical thinkers in an increasingly global community. 

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Thursday Thoughts: Practice and Test Your Writing and APA Knowledge

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Looking to test and practice your knowledge of sentence structure or grammar? How about your knowledge of APA and avoiding plagiarism? In addition to many of our web pages that provide “knowledge check” links for students to test their writing knowledge, the Writing Center also has interactive modules on several different grammar topics, sentence structure, APA style, plagiarism prevention, and even paragraph development  and transitions.

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You can access our modules at any time, so check out one or more of our modules today!
Once you check out our modules, tell us what you think—what modules did you try and how have they helped you continue to practice and test your knowledge of writing and APA?

The Walden University Writing Center creates content to help students with a range of topics related to scholarly writing, APA style, and the writing process. We host webinars, and offer paper reviews, live chat, and a podcast.


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Keep Your Writing Organized With Seriation

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Some weeks ago, I was offering some feedback on a student essay when I came to a section that should be formatted using a bulleted list. Instead, the author used a numeric list (audible gasps from the gallery). It was at this point that I asked myself this question: “Why is it that a bulleted list is conventional here?” This may be an unpopular observation, but APA generally doesn’t stipulate arbitrary rules. There is usually some explanation for choosing one feature over another. Put differently, there is a guiding logic that dictates why we do things a certain way in APA formatting style. 

Person writing in a journal with the post's title text

So, I set off to answer this “why,” question. With a deep investigation into the different kinds of seriation that are present in APA style, how they are subtly different from one another, and when each should be employed. What follows is a breakdown of the different kind of seriation: sentence-level seriation and seriation within a section of a piece that will help to answer the age-old question: When crafting a list, why do we do things one way over another?

Sentence-level Seriation
When it comes to seriation within a sentence, there are a number of ways to format a serialized list. Each has some different features depending on how you are constructing that list and the items that you are including in it.

The simplest and most common is the serialized list where items are separated using a comma. This is known as a serialized list. When you have three or more equal items in a list, you separate these using commas. Here’s an example of what this can look like: For lunch I ordered a salad, a side of raw carrots, and a hot fudge sundae with extra hot fudge. It is important to note that there is a comma between each of these three items, including the last item. This is the simplest for of seriation and one that many students are familiar with. For more information about seriation generally, take a look at page 63-65 of the Publication Manual of American Psychological Associations (3.04 Seriation).

You can also use lowercase letters to distinguish between specific items in a serialized list. This shows the reader what information belongs to each specific item in the list. Here’s an example of how this could look: My dog has toys that are used for specific occasions: (a) a stuffed football that he plays with outside; (b) a blanket, which he lays on to take naps; and (c) a bear, his companion inside the house. Here, you can see that each item is distinct; the lowercase letters break up this list and make it clear what information belongs to what item. For more information on this, check out page 64 of your Publication Manual of American Psychological Associations (3.04 Seriation)

Seriation Within a Section
At times, it is appropriate to craft a list that expands beyond a single sentence, taking up most of an entire section. This becomes common and conventional especially when looking at larger pieces like dissertation documents or articles for publication. When doing this, you can use a bulleted list or a numbered list; each contains specific attributes that are important to consider when deciding between the two.

As with sentence-level seriation, the most common seriation within a section is also the simplest: the bulleted list. When you have items that are meat to appear in no particular order, you should use bullets. Here’s how this should look:

  • Dusek (2018) argued… [paragraph continues]
  • Philbrook (2016) posited… [paragraph continues]
  • Dado (2018) found… [paragraph continues

As you can see, these imply no chronology, importance, priority, etc. These are simply separate pieces of information that appear in no particular order. For more information on how to do this, you can look at page 64 of the Publication Manual of American Psychological Associations (3.04 Seriation).

If the order of the elements in your list matter, however, you should use a numbered list. This is very similar to a bulleted list, only you use numbers, and these numbers show the reader a specific order that the listed items appear in. This order can be a chronology, a significance, a priority, etc. The point I’m driving at here is that the order matters, and the numbers in the numbered list tell the reader the order that the information should come in. Here’s an example of this:

1. I wake up in the morning… [paragraph continues]
2. As I come to midday… [paragraph continues]
3. At night time… [paragraph continues]

This list reflects the chronology of a day. The order that these items appear are important. Reading them out of order would give the reader an inaccurate impression of the day. More information on this can also be found on page 64 of the Publication Manual of American Psychological Associations (3.04 Seriation).

Seriation allows an author to get a lot of information across to the reader at once, but there are some specific rules that dictate how lists should be used in APA style. Asking “why,” led me down a path to see what these rules actually are. Through this, a seemingly arbitrary rule of APA gained an order and a logic. I encourage you to be curious writers and seek answers to questions derived from instances that don’t make sense to you. Doing so can have benefits like, reduced anxiety, true understanding, knowledge application, happiness, fulfillment, etc.


Michael Dusek author pic

Michael Dusek is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. He enjoys working with students and improving their writing skills. The idea that an essay is expressive as well as formal is a cornerstone of the way he views writing. He believes that approaching a writing project as a creative problem-solving activity can alleviate apprehension that students often encounter. In his personal life, he enjoys the outdoors, books, music, and all other types of art. 

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Virtual Conference Invitation: Water is Toxic and Food is Scarce. What Will We Do?

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On behalf of Dr. Savitri Dixon-Saxon, Vice Provost, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Dr. William C. Schulz, III, Director, Walden Center for Social Change, you are hereby invited to an exciting event happening tomorrow, March 8th. Please join us for Walden University's free, virtual social change conference from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. eastern time. 


Flyer for the social change conference with text describing the event's details


The conference, A Social Change Challenge: Water is Toxic and Food is Scarce. What Will We Do?, will engage in a robust exploration and dialog related to the direct and underlying causes that contribute to ongoing food and water insecurity and quality problems across the globe. This virtual, interdisciplinary conference will support Walden University scholar-practitioners in their collaboration for positive social change. 

You can find the detailed conference agenda here.

Click here to reserve your spot for the conference

If you'd like to learn more about Walden's Center for Social Change, please follow this link.

We hope to see you tomorrow, March 8th. 

Walden University Center for Social Change Logo

The Walden University Center for Social Change
is a connective hub that promotes, facilitates, and supports collaborative partnerships, action research, and projects that lead to purposeful action for sustainable positive social change.

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A Brief History of the DOI

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When I started university digital object identifiers (DOIs) were not a thing. Well, they were, but no one used them yet. We PDFed copies of books, used links that would often break or disappear, and go to physical libraries to hunt down paper copies of books to use for our research. Now, I can access materials from all over the world, that will always be there, from the comfort of my dog-filled home while drinking some espresso in my PJs. What a life!

A brief history of the DOI

However, it was a long road in the making. One that involved me learning multiple different academic formats, library resources, and how everything changed every few years (and no amount of eye rolling could change it), and I was often left thinking to myself: Huh, this bookmark to my source used to work.

Then everyone started using DOIs, I didn’t have to re-research my research when links expired, and my life as an academic became much more enjoyable.

Because I obviously love this resource as a researcher, I am going to share some information that will give you my favorite academic super power: The ability to find and cite references quickly, easily….and have them stick around forever.

History
The digital object identifier (DOI) is a unique identifier that had first been standardized for use with identifying academic sources, but has recently moved to including many additional online sources such as videos, commercials, eBooks, and data sets.

So, what does this mean for you as academic scholars? It means that the DOI system is housed in many places, which is different from local library identification systems (think ISBNs), that are only available through a single publication. This makes them super valuable, and as Marc Langston and James Tyler noted in a study on linking to journal articles, the DOI allows for readers to access materials through permanent channels including, but not limited to, the URL, journal page, or PDFed forms.

Locating the DOI
Option 1: Check the article PDF
Locate the PDF of the article. Many publishers include the DOI along with other citation information on the first page of an article. Look in the margins, header, and footer.

Option 2: Check CrossRef.org
CrossRef.org is the organization that facilitates the creation and use of DOIs by publishers and scholars. Its database contains citation information for all articles that have been assigned DOIs.
1. Go to the CrossRef.org website.
2. Click on the tab to Search Metadata.
3. Copy and paste (or type) the article title into the Search Metadata box, and hit the Enter key or click the Search icon.
4. Locate the result that matches your title. The DOI is listed at the bottom of the result as part of a link. Disregard the beginning of the link (http://dx.doi.org/...) since this is not part of the DOI. All DOIs start with the number 10.

Pro Tip: Crossref DOI search walkthrough

Note: If your article does not show up in the result list, you can learn some tips to find a DOI in our help guide. In addition to this, if CrossRef.org has no DOI listed, you can assume there is none for the article you searched and cite this source as an article with a URL.

Additional Resources for Reference Citing without a DOI:
Find more details on citing electronic sources.

Take a look at a PDF flowchart that addresses how to cite sources with and without DOI numbers.

See some common reference entry examples on the Writing Center's website

So now that you have your newly learned academic super power you can more easily and clearly identify your DOIs… And hopefully save a bunch of time along the way.


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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