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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

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On Fishing and Writing

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Last summer, I had the opportunity to go fishing with my father up in northern Minnesota.  As we sat in the boat, mindfully casting out our lures and occasionally pulling in Northern Pike, I was struck: Writing and fishing have a lot in common!
How are fishing and writing alike? Read on!
It’s a process. 
Experienced fishermen and women take time to prepare for the day of fishing. As I watched my dad spend 30 minutes loading the boat, sorting through the tackle boxes, securing the straps around the trailer, planning our route, and filling water bottles, I was reminded that effective writers take time to prepare too.  When writing, remember that it’s a process and that taking time to prepare (through critical reading, outlining,drafting) can help make the process go more smoothly.

You can’t keep them all. 
When fishing, sometimes the fish you catch seem perfect as you bring in the net, but then you measure or weigh them and realize that they’re too big or too small to keep.  Sometimes it’s hard to throw back the fish after they’ve been caught, but you must. It’s the law.  With writing, the same rule applies.  Sometimes you write beautiful sentences or paragraphs, but when you go to revise, you realize they’re too long or too short. So, you have to cut them.

Sometimes you don’t make progress. 
It doesn’t happen often in northern Minnesota since fish in the lakes are bountiful, but every once in a while, you don’t catch any fish.  It can be tempting to stay out longer and spend more hours trying to get that elusive fish, but it’s important to remember that there’s more to life than just fishing, and sometimes it’s okay to go home empty handed.  Occasionally, the same thing may happen with writing.  You may sit and try to write for a few hours without making progress.  Rather than being upset about this, go ahead and call it a day and come back to it tomorrow.  Maybe things will be different then.

The rewards at the end of the day are great.
Fishing is laborious and requires a lot of hard work and concentration. At the end of the day, it’s all worth it because you’ve caught your own dinner and spent some quality time outdoors.  Like fishing, writing can sometimes be really challenging and can require a lot of focus and concentration.  However, at the end of the day, when you’ve met your writing goal or completed your course assignment or dissertation chapter, the rewards are so strong.

Thanks for reading!  Do you have any other ideas for how fishing and writing are alike? If so, let us know in the comment box below.

Jes Philbrook is a Writing Instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She’s taught and tutored writing for the last nine years. When not working, Jes can be found outdoors, likely walking, canoeing, fishing, reading a book in a hammock, or playing with her adorable nieces and nephews.

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Thursday Thoughts: Your Cat Can Inspire Great Writing

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This week, in deliberation about the Thursday Thoughts post, I was trying to think of a catchy acronym that would allow me to share with the world a picture of my beautiful cat, Lucy, and I realized: Writing well requires care, attention, time, and space... or: Writing well requires C (care) A (attention) T (time) S (space). That's right, writing well requires cats.

Having a pet cat requires your care, attention, time, and space. Likewise, writing well requires care, attention, time, and space. If you have questions about what I mean, like I hope you do, read more below!  

Adorable kitten sits on a bed looking contemplative. Text overlay reads "Thursday Thoughts: Walden University Writing Center"

Writing requires care, in that - when given the opportunity - you should always choose to write about something you care about. Chances are, if you're seeking a degree at Walden, you are enrolled in a program because you care about it, so this should be easy. Audiences of your writing will be able to tell whether you care about your topic. Your audience includes your professors, your partner, your classmates, and your friends. Your audience is bigger than you might think, and trust me, they will be more likely to care about your topic if it shows that you care about it, too. To read more about how to demonstrate care in your writing and let your audience know you care, checkout this blog post titled, "Reading the Room: Adjusting Your Writing to Engage Your Audience." 

Writing well requires attention to detail. I've been the student who writes a 10-page paper the day before the paper is due... don't get me wrong. However, that writing process made me feel really scattered and disorganized. I couldn't pay proper attention to all the moving pieces of my paper, and I lost track of important details that would have otherwise strengthened my text. So, my argument is that any attention given to your paper should be focused attention, and this begins first with organizing your galaxy of articles and quotes and ideas into clear, easy-to-navigate notes. Lucky for you, we have some great resources on how you can organize your ideas so that you can begin writing with a good foundation. Beginning from a foundation of organized details is likely to result in a piece of writing that feels stronger overall. 

As I've written long and longer pieces of writing, I've learned that writing well requires a timeline and clear goals. My cat, for instance, loves snuggling with me when she wakes up in the morning and, later in the afternoon, she loves to charge around the house from bedroom to bedroom. She has a timeline for each and every day, one that is unique to her and her preferences, and I think that a piece of writing, too, should be approached with the same ideas in mind. Writing, in and of itself, takes time... choosing a topic you care to write about, organizing your ideas about that topic, and sitting down at the computer to begin your introduction are all part of the writing timeline. The step in this timeline where you actually begin writing your paper is discussed here, in our blog post titled, "Don't Just Write a Paper: Take a Trip." This blog post can help you to set up your writing timeline.

Taking space away from your writing can be a means of self-care. As a writer, you are used to looking at the same words on a screen for hours at a time, and sometimes, after so many hours, those words can begin to feel jumbled. To negate this feeling, my suggestion is to take a break. Grant yourself the ability to create some space between yourself and your writing. Do something you love. Pick up a sweet treat from your local cafe; go for a run; watch an episode of your favorite guilty pleasure TV show. Whatever you do, let go of paper pressure during that time. Creating this space to practice self-care should calm you and allow you to return to your paper feeling refreshed. More ideas to create space and practice self-care can be found here, with tips and tricks from fellow Walden students. As a writer, who will likely be writing for years to come, this practice will benefit you long-term. 

Now, I hope it's clear: You do need CATS to write well. Maybe you don't need a cuddly kitten charging around your house to write well, but it will benefit you as a writer to care for your writing by paying attention, making time, and taking space. If you have any questions about these tips or the resources provided within this blog post, feel free to send us an email at writingsupport@waldenu.edu. Until next Thursday, happy writing!

The Walden Writing Center offers to Walden students 1:1 writing support and offers to students and non-students alike all the writing expertise, tips, and information a writer could want.

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The Writing Center's Top 10 Tips for Writing Useful Topic Sentences

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We've spent a lot of time lately discussing topic sentences on this blog lately because this concept is one of the most important elements of writing sound, coherent paragraphs in your academic writing. So to add a few layers to our discussion, check out these top 10 tips for writing useful topic sentences.  

In academic writing, as well as most other forms, well-developed topic sentences will ensure that your reader understands the exact focus of that specific section or paragraph.  In understanding the importance of their placement, as well as the detail needed to make them targeted and specific, you have the ability to frame your argument in a way that is more easily understood and retained by your reader.  These short but important sentences also provide a structure to your writing that makes revising and editing much easier and less time consuming.  So without further introduction, I would like to invite you to read of my 10 quick and dirty tips and tricks for writing strong topic sentences!

Tip #1: Make sure each topic sentence works hand-in-hand with your thesis statement.
The topic sentence will inform the reader of the main point of the paragraph and essay, which should easily connect with the thesis statement of the overall essay. As the thesis provides detailed information about the overall argument of the paper, the topic sentence gives the reader a more focused understanding of this material.  A good way to see if this connection is made successfully is to read only the thesis statement  in your introduction and the topic sentences of your body paragraphs. If you are able to connect the broad idea of the paper with each topic sentence through the thesis statement, then you have written a well-crafted topic sentence and a detailed thesis!

Tip #2: Avoid using a direct quote or paraphrase for your topic sentence.
In academic writing you want to avoid using direct quotes in the first sentence of your paragraph.  Instead, the material in this position should be your contribution to the argument. In using your own original thoughts and ideas for these instances you are showing the reader that you fully understand the materials, and you are using the research of others to supplement the reader’s understanding of the materials you are presenting.  This way the reader understands that you are an expert on this material, and are providing them research from other sources to further their understanding.

Tip #3: Read your topic sentence out loud to make sure that it transitions smoothly into the next sentence.
Reading out loud is one of the most powerful ways writers can revise their work, and it is especially important for topic sentences!  It allows you to make sure that your writing is attention grabbing, fluid, and that it transitions into the rest of your writing smoothly.

Tip #4: Avoid introducing multiple authors or topics within a single topic sentence.
Often when we include too many authors or topics in a first sentence, the reader will become confused and lose focus on the important ideas you are presenting to them in your paragraph. 

Tip #5: Read the last sentence of the previous paragraph to make sure you have included enough information to make a seamless transition into your next paragraph.
Think of the topic sentence of your body paragraph as the chorus of a catchy song.  If you don’t have good lyrics leading into the chorus it isn’t as effective, and you might night start humming along when you get to it.  With a strong conclusive statement in the paragraph before you can set up your next topic sentence to be even more powerful— just as powerful as a chorus or jingle that gets stuck in your head!    

Tip #6: Read the topic sentences of an author or professor you admire.
One of the best ways to become a stronger writer is to read, read, read!  Reading the work of respected scholars in your field allows you to absorb different writing techniques and apply them to your own work!

Tip #7: Read the topic sentences in the publications to which you plan to submit your academic writing.
Often times you are able to see, and mimic, the expectations of the publication by reading through previously published work.  Not only will this make your writing stronger, but it will increase your chances of a submission getting accepted by that publication.

Tip #8: Avoid repeating phrases, subject-specific terms, author’s names, articles or any key concepts more than once in a topic sentence.
Have you ever started to read a book or story where the author introduced so many characters you lost track of who they were and gave up on reading it?  Me too! The same thing can happen with academic writing, so you want to be sure that you introduce terms, articles and names with purpose.

Tip #9: Make sure the establishing sentence that you use for your conclusion sets up the closing remark you make in the last sentence of your assignment.
The first sentence for your conclusion will need to support the last sentence, or conclusive statement of your paper.  A strong first sentence will reaffirm the importance of your topic, and when paired with a strong conclusive statement you will be able to make a valid and poignant argument that will stick with your reader long after they have finished your paper!

Tip #10: Have fun!

Writing doesn’t have to seem like work!  Use your passion and excitement for the topic you are writing about to craft topic sentences that get the reader just as excited as you are! 

Meghan Barnes
is an instructor and writer based in the South. She has two dogs, and a handful of composting worms  that she enjoys feeding scraps to. When she is not writing, editing, or reading, she enjoys playing kickball, softball, and other active sports. 

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Thursday Thoughts: A Writer Doesn't Have to Be Lonely

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Did you know? Each of the Writing Instructors at Walden's Writing Center provides Walden students with roughly 20 hours of 1:1 writing support per week. This means we see a lot of requests. Students wonder: Does my writing make sense? Does this flow? How is my introductory paragraph? And what about my transitions between ideas? But our top requests from students during paper reviews are to focus on whether or not the text is grammatically sound, whether it meets APA guidelines, and whether it fulfills assignment guidelines.  

We should say, first, that it's tough to create a a grammatically perfect paper that adheres to every APA guideline and fulfills assignment expectations. That's why we are here. The expectation to go by is that 1) our center exists for a reason and 2) the reason is that all writers need support. 

A woman looks out over a body of water to the horizon. Text reads: "Thursday Thoughts, Walden University Writing Center""

You see, it may seem sometimes like you are out there on your own against the great big world, with a daunting, blank Word Document in front of you, but the truth is: We are here! The Writing Center was created to help students combat the scariness of that blank Word Document, and you can take advantage of us by:

  1. 1. Setting up a 1:1 appointment with a writing instructor
  2. 2. Checking out our Grammar Overview pages
  3. 3. De-mystifying APA Citation Style
  4. 4. Reviewing our descriptions of Common Course Assignments  

Following these four steps will, at the very least, get you feeling a little more comfortable in the shoes of student who is also a writer at Walden University. Secondly, these steps, I am hoping, should make clear to you that we are here, and we want to be.

That being said, we are excited to work with you and provide you with 1:1 support. Take advantage of us and our services, and feel free to email us with additional writing questions at any time at writingsupport@waldenu.edu. 

We will see you soon! 

The Walden Writing Center offers to Walden students 1:1 writing support and offers to students and non-students alike all the writing expertise, tips, and information a writer could want.

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One Topic Sentence to Rule Them All!

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Thinly veiled LOTR reference
One Topic Sentence to Rule Them All

On this blog and the Writing Center website, we have talked at length about the topic sentence. You know, that sentence that sits at the beginning of your paragraph to tell the reader the main idea? But what if you are writing a long document such as a capstone, literature review, thesis, or final project that includes sections of multiple paragraphs? Each paragraph in the section has its own topic sentence, but the section as a whole should also have a sentence that unifies and leads in to the section’s focus. We could call this sentence by any number of names:

  • The Super Topic Sentence (it “sits above” the other topic sentences within the section)
  • The Sign Post (it acts as a marker along the way to guide the reader into the next major topic)
  • The Topic Sentence to Rule Them All (for Lord of the Rings fans; it essentially “rules” the other topic sentences within that section. The others should connect with that overarching idea.)

Let’s look at an example. Suppose you are writing a long essay promoting animal therapy for patients with anxiety disorders. To advocate your position, you would have to discuss anxiety disorders, current therapies for these disorders (specifically, why they don’t work alone), and animal therapy as an alternative or addition. These could all be different sections. Here is a visual of the layout, with section headings:

Animal Therapy for People With Anxiety Disorders [title]

Anxiety Disorders

Current Treatments for Anxiety Disorders

Animal Therapy As an Additional Treatment Option


If we were to write an establishing sentence for the Current Treatments section, it might look like this: "With anxiety disorders so widespread in the population, many therapies have been introduced, including drug treatment, psychotherapy, and music and art therapy."

Not only does this establishing sentence transition from the previous section (with mention of anxiety’s prevalence), but it sets up the three main therapies that will be addressed in the section. Now the writer can devote one paragraph to drug treatment, one to psychotherapy, and one to music and art therapy. In these paragraphs, the writer would describe the treatments, their efficacy, and the gap that they leave (which naturally could be filled by an alternative therapy).

As you begin to practice this important writing skill in your own work, here are a few additional points to consider:

An establishing sentence does not replace a section heading. You might think, Well, I have an establishing sentence, so I don’t need a heading. (Or alternatively, I have a heading, so I don’t need an establishing sentence.) These points in your paper actually serve two different purposes and therefore should both exist. The heading is brief and bold and ultimately aids scannability. The reader can quickly scan the essay to see the major topics as highlighted in the headings. The establishing sentence is integrated with the paragraph and serves the deeper purposes of organization and flow.

An establishing sentence should not simply duplicate a section heading. Suppose you have a heading in your paper labeled Strengths and Limitations. Your establishing sentence is This study has several strengths and limitations. Well, that doesn’t tell the reader much more than the heading itself, right? You want to dig deeper and get specific so that your establishing sentence carries more weight. A better establishing sentence would be The strengths of this study center on the researchers’ ability to remain objective, whereas the limitations involve sample size and study site.    

Where there is an establishing sentence, there must also be a section closing sentence. If you start something, you want to finish it. If you say hello, you must also say goodbye. At the end of the section, then, you want to guide the reader out. A section closing offers a conclusion for the idea so that the reader is not left wondering or questioning. 

Establishing sentence, super topic sentence, sign post, topic sentence to rule them all? Whatever we call it, this sentence is powerful and necessary for directing the reader smoothly through a longer document of many sections. 

Hillary Wentworth has been mentoring student writers through the Walden Writing Center since 2010. In addition to tutoring and teaching, she edits an online literary journal, writes her own nonfiction, and enjoys solving (or attempting to solve) crossword puzzles.

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